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Jewish World Review April 2, 2001 / 9 Nissan, 5761

Thomas Hargrove

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With more school violence, home-schooling on rise -- AS horrific shooting sprees increase on public school grounds, the number of children being taught at home is growing significantly.

The number of kids receiving instruction from their parents, other relatives or adult neighbors has tripled from about 500,000 in the mid-1990s to at least 1.5 million this year, according to home-schooling expert Brian Ray.

In the same period, schoolhouse shootings have become all-too-frequent tragedies.

"There definitely has been an increase in home-schooling because of the widely reported violence in public schools," said Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Ore.

"Parents know that this is just a symptom of some very serious things going on in society. They have no good reason to put their children in harm's way."

About one out of every 50 school-aged children in America is now learning at home, and Ray said the numbers are likely to continue to rise. He said home-schoolers could already number 1.9 million.

"For many parents, school violence became the straw that broke the camel's back of public education," said Terry Neven, principal of the 500-pupil Sunland Christian School in Sunland, Calif. "Most of these people had been entertaining notions of home-schooling all along, but these shooting incidents prompted them to commit to it."

Neven operates a school without classrooms. Begun in 1986 with only 24 students, Sunland Christian provides parents with teaching materials, guidance for instruction, access to behavioral experts and the means of testing children to assure state authorities that they are learning.

"Home-schoolers are winning spelling bees, being admitted to Harvard, getting into colleges early," Neven said. "When I first began home-schooling, none of the education publishing houses had any materials for us. Now it's a multimillion-dollar market with lots of teaching materials for us."

Although the Bush administration has made little provision to assist home-schooling, the alternative education at least is getting more acceptance.

"We must be open to new ideas," Colin Powell - now secretary of state - told the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia last summer. "Let's not be afraid of home-schooling. Let's experiment prudently with school voucher programs to see if they help. What are we afraid of?"

The U.S. Department of Education has had difficulty obtaining precise information on the numbers of home-schooled children. But federal scholars are in agreement that their numbers are rising.

America has long had home-schooling, often among religious minorities like the Amish, Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists who often shun public facilities. But the movement became more mainstream during the 1970s when education writers like John Holt promoted a philosophy of child-led learning rather than strict programmed curriculums.

"Today, all state compulsory-education laws explicitly make home-schooling a valid option or the state interprets compulsory school-attendance laws to include 'attendance' at a 'school' located at home," Department of Education research analyst Patricia Lines said in a 1995 review of what was known about home schooling.

Education Department scholars have made some conclusions about home-schoolers and their families:

- More than 90 percent are non-Hispanic whites.

- Overwhelmingly, the teachers are mothers.

- More than three-quarters regularly attend religious services.

- Most parents have attended or graduated from college.

- Children are taught for three or four hours a day, then spend additional time in independent study.

- Although learning tends to be highly flexible, the traditional studies of math, reading and science are emphasized.

During the 1990s, federal researchers concluded that the primary motivations for home-schooling were religious or based on concerns of the quality of instruction. But Ray said he found safety concerns when he began a federally funded study of home schooling 11 years ago.

"Even then parents told us that they were concerned about safety in the schools, whether it was fear of physical attack, or exposure to drugs, alcohol, pressure for premarital sex or psychological pressure," Ray said. "The recent fatal school shootings have caused parents to believe that they are seeing just the top of the iceberg."

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