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Homeschooling: a growing trend

A government survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics from 2006-2007 estimates that 1.5 million students are being homeschooled in America. However, it is thought that these statistics, because they were gathered as part of a survey, may vastly underestimate the actual number of homeschooled children in the nation. According to the same survey from years past, however, there has been a 74 percent increase in the number of homeschooled students in the past 10 years.

The homeschooling trend has reached McNairy County as well. In May, there were 12 students in the county registered as homeschooled with the superintendent’s office, with seven in church-related homeschool and five in independent homeschool. 

However, it is more than likely that these numbers, like the national ones, are much lower than in reality. There is no way to accurately determine the actual number of homeschooled students in the county because not all parents report to the Board of Education that they are homeschooling their children, and those that homeschool through a church-related organization are not required to report at all.

Stacy Donahoe, of Stantonville, chose to begin homeschooling her children in 1998 through the church-related homeschool group Gateway Christian School. Like many in the county and in the nation, there were religious reasons for her family’s decision.

“We chose to because God convicted us to,” said Donahoe. “We weren’t dissatisfied with the school system.”

It is estimated that 83 percent of homeschoolers nationally cite religious reasons for their decision, although dissatisfaction with the school system, caring for special needs children, and having more time to spend with family are normally cited reasons as well.

Kathy Parham, of Ramer, had a two- fold reason for choosing to homeschool her children. 

“My kids are apt to get in trouble if they are bored. I wanted to challenge them in a way that local public schools just don’t have the funding to do,” she said. “I also felt that the schools were more about keeping kids in attendance than they were about safety or education.”

Parham homeschools through Home Life Academy, which is a state-recognized organization founded by David Parkerson, who is now a member of Rose Creek Village in Selmer.

According to Home Life Academy’s website, Parkerson was inspired to study families and homeschooling after homeschooling made a huge impact on his brother, who was unsuccessful in attending public schools but excelled after being homeschooled.

“I spent a couple of years completing a master’s degree in Family Studies and then found that home education is the best therapy there is for a family,” said Parkerson on his website. Home Life Academy began enrolling students in 2003.

 Like many, Parham chose to homeschool through Home Life Academy, technically a church-related organization, to avoid having to report to the county as an independent homeschooler.

There are many requirements for independent homeschoolers, and with an abundance of conflicting information on the Internet and from various other publications, the laws and requirements surrounding the decision to homeschool can be very confusing at times. 

First, independent homeschoolers must submit a notice of intent to the local superintendent prior to each school year “for the purpose of reporting only.” The notice of intent must include the names, number, ages and grade levels of children involved, location of the school, curriculum to be offered (no particular subjects required), the proposed hours of instruction, and the qualifications of the parent-teacher. 

However, as mentioned earlier, parents may choose not to report that they are homeschooling their children independently, and there are no consequences for doing so. 

They must also maintain attendance records to be turned in to the superintendent at the end of the school year, give instruction four hours a day for the same number of days required for public schools, and submit proof of their child’s vaccination or a written statement that such immunization conflicts with religious beliefs and practices. 

If the parent is homeschooling independently, they must have a high school diploma or a GED.  If, however, they are conducting a homeschool associated with a church –related school, there are no qualifications for teaching grades K-8, but parents must have a high school diploma or GED to teach grades 9-12.

Finally, independently homeschooled students in grades 5, 7 and 9 must take a standardized test administered by the commissioner of education or someone designated by him or by a professional testing service approved by the local education agency.

College admissions requirements for homeschooled students vary from school to school, but typically, the student will have to submit a transcript and all standardized test scores.

“I have found over the course of 27 years in higher education that homeschooling can be a really good thing, or it can be a really bad thing,” said Associate Dean and Director of Enrollment Services/Registrar at Northeast Mississippi Community College Lynn Gibson. “There aren’t many in-between areas.

“Some parents and their children have a wonderful rapport that is conducive to teaching. From what I have gathered from them, the key is being consistent, maintaining a set schedule of classroom time, and a great curriculum to follow,” said Gibson.

However, some homeschooled students do not fare well in a college setting.

“I have also seen the other end of the spectrum—those homeschooled students who have been so severely limited and restricted by out-of-the mainstream beliefs and by parents who themselves have had very limited educational backgrounds,” commented Gibson. “Their educational background will show weaknesses, usually in the Math and Sciences and sometimes in Reading, and they have problems thinking on a critical level. ACT scores are usually low as well.”

Gibson also conveyed that there are also dangers to taking an Internet route to being homeschooled. There are many unethical programs online for those who are searching for a high school diploma.

“This type of ‘homeschool’ education is not usually accepted at higher education institutions because they do not possess regional accreditation,” said Gibson. “They may have some sort of purchased national accreditation, but that type of accreditation is not widely accepted. I come into contact with prospective students who have fallen for these unethical practitioners on a weekly basis.”

Gibson believes that a homeschool education can be a great thing if it is done the right way: “If the student comes from a home grounded with caring, educated parents who really invest time in research about what is needed to achieve the optimum level of education, coupled with a great supportive homeschool group, then the scenario for a great homeschool education exists.”

When asked what advice she would offer to parents who wish to homeschool their children, Donahoe stated, “The main thing is don’t be afraid that you can’t do it. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of failure. There are all sorts of resources, all sorts of homeschool groups. You’d be surprised at what you can do at home. Don’t think you can’t do it, because you can.”

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