How to raise smart children in the wrong zip code

By Heather Staker

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, June 6 2013 1:58 p.m. MDT

Online classes could help kids and parents enhance the school system.

Ed Andrieski, Associated Press

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Experts predict the housing market to heat up this summer. But house shopping can be frustrating for parents, who sometimes feel limited in their selection because of the spotty quality of public schools. A house nearby a top quality public school generally commands a premium.

The good news is that parents have new options for patching together a truly superior education plan for their kids, regardless of neighborhood. These ideas require legwork, but they are all becoming affordable possibilities for K-12 students. Here are four suggestions—two that work within the public school system and two outside the system:

First, mix advanced online courses into your child’s schedule. Most states either require districts to allow students to take online courses, or they let districts decide for themselves. To find your state’s policy, click on Digital Learning Now!, select a state, and then click “View State Profile.” That will link you to an overview of how friendly any given state is to online courses. Then check out Keeping Pace, which names specific programs within each state. Furthermore, roughly 20 states have a central website that lists approved courses, such as these: ACCESS (Alabama), MoVIP (Missouri), IDEAL-NM (New Mexico), NCVPS (North Carolina), TXVSN (Texas), and Wyoming Switchboard Network (Wyoming).

Utah has a particularly helpful policy for parents. It lets districts authorize course providers, which means that parents can work within their districts to get the best courses approved. Many students there are starting to mix a few advanced online courses into their schedules to replace courses that are unavailable or mediocre in the neighborhood school.

Even elementary school children can benefit from targeted online opportunities in places where such opportunities are otherwise missing. Many in the younger set are blending online foreign language, music, or tutoring into their extracurricular (and in some cases, core) activities.

Second, ask your classroom teacher to let your child “prove it or lose it.” A young teen was falling behind in her math class, not to mention starting to despise math. Her father worked out a deal with the teacher whereby the teacher gave the student a calendar with dates for all the unit tests. The student was free to learn the material however she wanted, provided that she still attended class and passed the unit tests when the teacher administered them in class. But she could sit on the side of the classroom and work on her own, and she did not have to complete homework assignments. If she didn’t prove her progress with each unit test, the deal was off.

Excited about her windfall of control, the girl chose an entertaining math software program, for which her father gladly paid, and worked in the corner of the classroom and at night to prepare for each unit test. Her math results, as well as interest in math, soared.

This approach seems like a reasonable compromise. It allows students to find their own learning path, but still complies with standards, testing, attendance requirements, and so forth. If your child is ahead, the prove it/lose it method could also work to allow him or her to continue to advance independently without placing almost any extra work on the classroom teacher.

Third, set up a half-the-work (for you), twice-the-learning (for your child) homeschool. I am homeschooling one of my children for a few months until first grade. Each week I help her set learning goals and then let her choose how to achieve them. Most weekdays she free reads for up to an hour, writes a letter to her pen pal, completes 20 minutes of Dreambox math, and does Piano Marvel. It’s half the work of homeschooling for me, because I rely on the Internet for the backbone of her academics.

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