Leaving the classroom: the rise of modern homeschooling

Melissa MacRunnel, senior cross-disciplinary studies teacher education major at Point Loma Nazarene University, wants to be an elementary school science teacher one day. Like so many aspiring teachers, she wants to bring enthusiasm and passion for learning to the public school classroom in order to make a difference in the lives of her students.

However, she is different from other potential teachers in one way, she has never actually been a public school student and the classrooms that she hopes to one day transform were not a part of her personal education. MacRunnel was homeschooled all the way through high school before she began studying at PLNU.

Melissa MacRunnel does homework in her dorm's study room at PLNU

Melissa MacRunnel does homework in her dorm’s study room at PLNU

She said that she believes her home school background will help her achieve her career goals. “Being homeschooled kind of gave me a real passion and being excited about learning,” MacRunnel said.

She hopes her students will get some of that passion as well. “I want something more for students.”

Homeschooling is a rising trend among American families. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in the 2011-2012 school year 3 percent of the school-age population was homeschooled.This translates to about 1.5 million home school students in America. In 1999, it was 1.7 percent.

The rise in the number of homeschooled students may be partially due to studies saying that homeschooled students generally do better academically and have greater success in higher education than public school students.

In one study by the University of St. Thomas, researchers looked at the academic achievement level of several students from different education backgrounds and tracked their progress in their college careers. Homeschooled students had a higher average ACT score and high school G.P.A than students from public, private and Catholic schools. They also had a higher average G.P.A in college than all the other categories. As far as college completion, home school students had a 66.7 percent graduation rate compared to a 58.6 percent graduation rate for public school students.

Prominent home school student Tim Tebow speaks to a sold out crowd at Friends Church in Yorba Linda.

Prominent home school student Tim Tebow speaks to a sold out crowd at Friends Church in Yorba Linda.

Vanya Wright, freshman philosophy major at Biola University, said that home schooling helped her academically, especially since she and her older siblings got to work side by side, allowing her to hear about what they were learning as well.

“It was more holistic, in not just keeping you in a box and saying you can only work on these things, but I was able to experience higher grades…I could kind of see where I was going later in high school,” Wright said. “You can go as deep as you want in education.”

Hudson Taylor, a home school graduate and current student at Harbor Community College, was public school educated through the sixth grade. After that year, his parents decided to home school him and his six siblings instead. He said he was initially hesitant about the change and was concerned about missing his friends from school.

Hudson Taylor (far right) with two of his six siblings at a Tim Tebow speaking engagement.

Hudson Taylor (far right) with two of his six siblings at a Tim Tebow speaking engagement.

“I really didn’t want to be homeschooled at first. Honestly, I felt a bit of a relief just not kind of having to get up every morning and face that crowd every day,” Taylor said. “You learn things from a different perspective, you’re not in a huge classroom surrounded by kids who just want to get in and get out. Rather you’re in an environment where learning is a positive, good thing and teaches you to really enjoy the subjects.”

However, even as number of homeschooled students continues to rise there are still major differences in how individual states regulate the practice. Some states have high standards of regulation and requirements for people desiring to home school their children, while other states have virtually no oversight of homeschooling.

According to analysis done by Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), state laws regarding the practice of homeschooling fall into one of four categories: states requiring no notice, states with low regulation, states with moderate regulation and states with high regulation. These categories refer to the varying degrees of difficulty to get official approval to home school without violating compulsory school attendance laws.

The interactive legal map on HSLDA's website.

The interactive legal map on HSLDA’s website.

For example, in a state with high regulation like Pennsylvania parents must provide the government with a naturalized affidavit as well as provide health and immunization records, an outline of proposed education objectives by subject area and a portfolio of the student’s course work year by year. In addition, they must comply with annual performance reviews in the form of student interviews with teachers certified by the state.

However, in states like Texas that require no notice, the rules are significantly less detailed and there are fewer requirements. According to the Texas Educational Code, a child is exempt from the compulsory attendance requirement as long as he or she “attends a private or parochial school that includes in its course a study of good citizenship.”

Home schools count as private schools under this law, which means that the main requirement to be homeschooled in Texas is to provide evidence to the state that the student in question completed a course in “good citizenship.”

One Texas group, the Texas Home School Coalition Association provides a curriculum for a good citizenship course that students can take to comply with the state law. The course requires students to complete a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer work in one of the following areas: voter registration, campaign process, political party participation and legislative process. Once they get a supervisor and parent signature, they can send it in and get credit.

The state does also require that parents use a written curriculum including reading, spelling, grammar and math. However, parents are not required to submit this curriculum to the state and there is no mention of a science requirement.

Most of the states fall somewhere in the middle. Only five states have high regulation and 12 are in the no notice category.

Many families opt to enroll in formal home school organizations or academies that help them navigate the legal system in their respective states. These groups are often categorized as private schools, which allow parents to enroll their children in an officially recognized school, but still do traditional homeschooling.

Taylor said that his parents enrolled him and his six siblings in South Bay Faith Academy (SBFA) based in Redondo Beach, Calif. when they decided to leave the public school system.

In order for them to enroll in this particular academy, Taylor’s parents had to identify as “born again Christians,” join the HSLDA and complete an interview and application process before being offered admission. Once they completed all these steps, Taylor and all his siblings were admitted to the academy and granted access to home school training courses, legal help, group conferences, standardized testing, counseling and curriculum resources.The MacRunnel family was enrolled in the same academy.

A home school student receives her diploma from her parents in SBFA's formal graduation ceremony.

A home school student receives her diploma from her parents in SBFA’s formal graduation ceremony.

According to MacRunnel, Wright and Taylor, groups like this function as a middle man of sorts between families and state governments. These groups also allow students to have classroom experiences by offering some formal courses.

MacRunnel said that SBFA had courses where she could take subjects like calligraphy and cooking taught by other home school parents involved with the organization. Wright had a similar experience by getting involved with Biola Youth Program and its Torrey Academy, which offers advanced humanities courses.

“I was still involved with other classes and other students in addition to having the rich, vibrant communal experience of being around other people and kids who were younger, which is kind of the best of both worlds,” Wright said.

The world of homeschooling is still fairly heterogenous. The legal barriers and necessity of having a parent in the home to teach can prevent homeschooling from even being an option for many families.

Home school students play games together at a group bible study.

Home school students play games together at a group bible study.

According to the NCES, of the total home school student population in the 2011-2012 school year, 68 percent were white, 15 percent were Hispanic, 8 percent were black and 4 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander. The majority of them came from two parent homes where at least one parent had a bachelor’s degree.

MacRunnel said that having two college educated parents at home helped her accomplish more academically. “Not everyone who was homeschooled that I got to know had that same background. I think there were some people who really struggled and kind of got in over their heads a little bit,” MacRunnel said.

Wright said that while homeschooling was the right option for her, she did not want to discount other forms of education.

“I don’t think everyone should be homeschooled, that it should be this elitist thing because I think there’s a lot of value in other types of schools as well,” Wright said. “So I think it was perfect for me, but I would never say everyone has to be homeschooled, which is sort of a vibe that the homeschooling community gives.”

Even though MacRunnel credits homeschooling for her personal academic success, she too sees the value of other forms of education and continues to pursue her goal of a career in the public sphere.

She said she knows teaching in a public school will be a little foreign to her, but that she believes her background will ultimately benefit her in the long run.

“I think it makes me a little more idealistic, which could be challenging. It might not be exactly what I want it to be. In a way it will help me because I will have a little bit different of a perspective than other people do,” MacRunnel said.


Don’t take my raisins! One farmer’s stand against the federal government

Marvin Horne is fed up and he’s not going to take it anymore.

The raisin farmer from Fresno, Calif. finally had his day in court Wednesday when he testified in a Supreme Court case challenging a 65 year-old raisin regulation rule.

Courtesy of USA Today

Courtesy of USA Today

According to USA Today, the rule was instituted in 1937 to prop up market prices when there was an excess of raisins in any given season. The last time it was used was the 2003-2004 season, when farmers were blocked from selling 47 percent of their crop.

The conservative justices say that the measure constitutes “taking” or government seizure of private property. The liberal justices say that it doesn’t because farmers receive just compensation and the raisins are given to schools or sold overseas.

Chief Justice John Roberts said the law was unjust.  He said, “You take the raisins — probably in the dark of night.”

Horne did not stand for it. When he was not compensated for his crops, he refused to surrender his raisins to the federal government for 13 years. He currently has fines of $695,000 for noncompliance.

The ruling is still unknown, but it seems safe to say that with five justices openly supporting Horne there is a good chance that the United States might once again become the nation of unobstructed raisin sales.



Mich. business owner refuses to serve openly gay people

The situation with the Indiana pizza restaurant that made waves for its owners’ refusal to cater a gay wedding dwarfs in comparison to the latest statements made by  Brian Atwitter, owner of Dieseltec automotive repair shop in Grandville, Mich.

Atwitter is currently facing heat for his comments on his company’s Facebook page stating that he refused to serve homosexual people for religious reasons.

“I would not hesitate to refuse service to an openly gay person or persons. Homosexuality is wrong, period. If you want to argue this fact with me then I will put your vehicle together with all bolts and no nuts and you can see how that works,” Atwitter wrote.

He says that he knew he probably should have more carefully considered the consequences of his post before doing it, but that he still stands behind it.

Courtesy of Facebook

Courtesy of Facebook

“I hope I get some hate mail, some pats on the back, and then we get back to fixing some trucks,” Atwitter said.

So far he has gotten both hate mail and admiration. As of Apr. 16, the post had 1,582 likes and 124 shares. The comment section had mixed reactions with some people posting in support of Atwitter and others speaking out against his decision.

Atwitter called out his critics in his next post, saying  “if you have an opposing view to mine that IS OK, what is NOT OK is threats to kill me, my family, and friends; threats to burn down my shop and my home. I will stand firm on my views and will not back down.”

Whether or not Atwitter’s business will weather the storm remains to be seen, but what happens to him will certainly influence future cases. Atwitter cites free speech protection, but openly refusing service to a group of people seems to violate the rights of others.

In the court of public opinion, Atwitter will likely be condemned. However, the jury is still out on whether Atwitter’s actions are legally protected.



Attack of the goldfish

Teller Lake in Boulder Colorado is under attack. This time, the invasion comes from an unusual source, goldfish. The pet commonly given away at fairs and carnivals and famous for its short life span is taking over the lake and authorities are baffled about what to do with them.

Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

According to USA Today, wildlife officials believe that someone dumped a handful of goldfish into the lake a few years ago. Those few pilgrims have since multiplied into thousands and are pushing out the native fish population.

Officials say that there are two options for taking back the lake from the goldfish. They can drain the whole lake, remove the goldfish and restock the lake with native fish after refilling it or they can use boats with electroshock pointers to stun the fish, bringing them to the surface and allowing workers to remove them by hand without harming them.

As for the fate of the goldfish after being removed? They go to a raptor rehabilitation  center as the main course.

However no official timeline has emerged for handling the problem, so the goldfish still have plenty of time to respond to the call of the wild before their age of dominance ends.


Keeping the commanders in play: Senator Ayotte pitches strategy for handling sexual assault in the military

Senator Kelly A. Ayotte (R-NH) spoke on the Senate floor Nov. 20, 2013 on an issue that has been plaguing the armed forces for years: sexual assault.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

When members of the Senate gathered to propose amendments to National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, Ayotte rose to speak on behalf of an amendment sponsored by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to reform the military justice system’s treatment of cases of sexual assault.

“There should be accountability at every level of our military to ensure that victims of sexual assault will be supported and that these cases will be handled and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice,” Ayotte said.

Her and MaCaskill’s amendment would keep the commanders involved with how the cases are initially investigated and brought to trial. She argues that commanders help the justice process and that there were multiple incidents when a commander circumnavigated a Judge Advocate General lawyer’s recommendation and proceeded to take the case to trial, which ultimately resulted in a conviction.

However, her claim that there were 52 cases like this could not be substantiated. Furthermore,  according to the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military there were 2,558 investigations opened and 1,627 were completed. Commanders had enough evidence for 1,124 cases to take action. They pursued sexual offense action in 880 cases and non-sexual offense action in 244 cases. They declined to take any action in 81 cases.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) proposed amendment would remove commanders from the reporting process and open the cases independent of the chain of command. In a poll by Langer Research Associates, 6 in 10 Americans support this change of legal process.

Ayotte acknowledged the potential for flaws in the chain of command system and outlined how the amendment institutes a review of commanders to make sure that individuals are handling these cases appropriately with provisions to remove unfit commanders.

Ayotte supported her proposal by pointing to other nations like Great Britain, Canada, Israel and Australia that removed the commander and did not see any higher rates of reporting. Indeed this is the case as The Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel Role of the Commander Subcommittee concluded that they could not find a significant relationship between removing the commander and increased reporting of sexual assault.

Both sides claim the goal of increased rates of reporting and conviction, but disagree on whether the commanders support or hinder this goal.