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Homeschooling on the Rise Nationally

Sheridan, Wyoming mom Sierra Mullinax traveled through the rolling hills of eastern Missouri recently, watching for Amish buggies to appear as she talked about her decision to change her children’s education. She and her kids were traveling on a 10-day, 12-state summer field trip.

“We’re trying to hit some of the sites we have studied this semester. My parents were both schoolteachers, and we spent a lot of time traveling in the summer. I just remembered that when I was in public school, when you actually got to see what you studied throughout the year, you learned so much more.”

Mullinax, like a growing number of parents, recently decided to home school her children, but she started off slow. It was a very difficult decision to make, she said, but one that she is very glad she did.

According to newly released numbers by the US Department of Education, the number of families nationwide choosing to home school their children is growing steadily. The US Department of Education reports that homeschooling increased by over 61% in the past decade. This is a significant increase and continues to highlight why parental choice in education is here to stay.

This steady and large increase in homeschooling sparks a question, why are families here in Wyoming deciding to home school their children?

For Mullinax it was based on the need to customize her children’s education and it began with her 14 year-old, Seth.

“He always wanted to be homeschooled. Very often he would be sick from school, and I would let him stay home. And there was never that much work to make up when he missed school.”

Mullinax, a dental hygienist and her husband, a civil engineer, began to explore the idea of homeschooling. But they started with baby steps.

“I had huge fears that I was going to ruin my kids, but I called friends and got advise. Parents cut themselves short too often. You can do it, trust me. I felt like I was taking this big plunge with one of my kids. It was a huge step to take this one-year at a time. To take it in small bites was really big, because I saw that I was doing a great job, I had a handle on it.”

Christine Kroeker, wife of State Representative Kendell Kroeker from Casper, has that same need to customize her children’s education.

Christine, an electrical engineer by schooling, and her husband, a three term state legislator, run a small business in Casper and have two children, eight-year-old Daniel, a special needs child and ten-year old Josh. The Kroeker family chose to home school their oldest son at third grade while continuing to send their younger son to public school.

“There was only one public school I was happy with Josh attending so he went to that school through 2nd grade, but I didn’t like the direction the school was going. In the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade the school Josh was attending decided to not go for their exemptions to keep their unique curriculum and chose instead to adopt the district’s boilerplate curriculum. That was the final action that made me decide to home school.”

This move by the public school led Kroeker to begin homeschooling, a decision she is very glad she made. Kroeker sees one of the biggest strengths of homeschooling as her ability to modify the education of her son to match his abilities and interests.

“Learning should be fun. Josh is very bright, his lexile scores were like a senior in high school so being taught with kids that weren’t even reading chapter books yet was holding him back.”

Kroeker found a variety of curriculums and had the flexibility to change them when they weren’t working.

“I originally signed up for a different English curriculum but there was way too much repetitive drilling that was too similar to the classroom environment that I’d pulled him out of.”

This caused Kroeker to do some research and find a new curriculum that now works for her son.

“He’s reading at the high school level and is learning advanced grammar and even poetry similar to what I learned in high school. That change had us go from dreading doing English to asking to do English!”’

The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) lists a number of common reasons families chose to home school. Among them are the need for families to “customize or individualized the curriculum and learning environment for each child,” as well as, “accomplish more academically than in schools, use pedagogical approaches other than those typical in institutional schools, provide a safer environment for children and youth, and teach and impart a particular set values, beliefs and worldview to children.”

Cindy McKee and her husband from Savery, Wyoming would agree that using different pedagogical approaches to their children’s education, as well as imparting a strong set of values was chief among the reasons they chose to home school.

“I became deeply concerned about the increasing patterns I’m seeing in the public schools that ultimately instill values which conflict with those of many parents, certainly my own. We are now seeing clear evidence of the acceleration of political influences finding their way into subject matter such as social studies, science, and even language arts,” said McKee, who spent thirteen years teaching in the public schools.

McKee also cites the academic performance of homeschoolers as another advantage to homeschooling her children.

According to the NHERI, homeschooled children typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public schooled students on standardized academic achievement tests. These academic claims have been duplicated by a number of other groups including a 1999 study and more recent studies cited in this Northern Michigan University Master of Arts in Education thesis research paper.

“The main question of interest in this study of 5,402 home school students and 1,657 families was to find out the effectiveness of homeschooling. It was found that “homeschoolers, on average, achieved higher scores than their public school counterparts by 30 – 37% in all subject areas” (Davis, n.d., p. 32). This was a significant finding to the effectiveness of homeschooling. It is interesting to note that data on test scores showed that it did not matter the race or background of the home school student.

McKee would agree.

“A second, huge advantage for my children is that homeschooled students are statistically outperforming public schooled children. Thus, they have better odds of succeeding in the post-secondary environment. Homeschooled students are also being sought out by colleges, even prestigious universities. I don’t consider it a contest, but homeschooling has more than proven its legitimacy academically, besides all the benefits to the family such as closer relationships, being free to examine content from a faith perspective, and avoiding some of the downsides of public school such as bullying and negative social influences at too tender an age. We want to equip our kids for those challenges BEFORE they face them, rather than just throw them to the wolves and be reactionary.”

Katherine Wilkins, a 21 year-old University of Wyoming student who was homeschooled from K-12 would agree that her homeschooling helped prepare her for college life.

“I’ve done really well. I haven’t struggled socially and academically at all.”

Wilkins has one year left at the University of Wyoming Kinesiology program and is currently applying to Physical Therapy schools around the country. Her 23 year-old brother Caleb graduated this spring from the University of Wyoming School of Law and her 19 year-old sister Abigail is currently a freshman at UW interested in the infectious disease field of medicine. Her youngest brother Ethan is a freshman in high school and being homeschooled.

In her many years of being homeschooled Wilkins has seen a wide variety of homeschooling families. She credits her parent’s (both are civil engineers) focus on college preparation as one of the factors that has led to her and her siblings’ academic successes.

“There is a huge spectrum in the homeschooling community. A lot of my close friends, who also focused on college prep academics, have gone into challenging fields of study in college.”

Wilkins also talked about her mother’s sacrifice in homeschooling her and her siblings as another reason for her academic success.

“Obviously they lost a second income so my mom could stay home. Yeah, I mean we have been homeschooling for close to 15 years and that was my mom’s occupation. She was teaching kindergarten through college level information that she wasn’t always familiar with so she had to learn it before we did. Everything she did was not for her own advancement, but to get her kids educated. The time in planning and research in curriculum and teaching and we had other things, music, sports and speech and debate on top of our daily work. It was definitely more that a full-time job.”

Dell Tunnicliff, a Cheyenne, Wyoming homeschooling mother of six from ages 15 to 7, reached the decision to home school her children based on what she says were multi-faceted reasons.

Tunnicliff, whose college training was in education with a focus on literature, writing and teaching High School English and her husband, a chemical engineer, said that educational customization, relational aspects, both familial and community and integrity of educational quality were their three main reasons to choose homeschooling.

“I’ve always liked to look outside the box and analyze, “What would be best for us” versus just going with the norm by default.  Sometimes, the norm makes sense and is a good fit–other times, the norm is a flawed or outdated paradigm, or simply isn’t a good fit for us personally. I have huge respect for public school teachers, and the administrators who go the extra mile to try to make the box fit the diverse needs and gifts of their students, but the institutional nature makes it a difficult task, even for the most dedicated and thoughtful educators.  Homeschooling allows us to truly customize to serve each child.”

Tunnicliff also sites some of the relational advantages to homeschooling versus education in the public schools.

“Respect for parents, and relationships between siblings can be strained in the historically strange culture of nearly exclusive peer-immersion the public schools foster, but when the whole community is a child’s schoolroom, students learn to enjoy people of varied ages.  Homeschooling affords more time and flexibility to pursue interests and interact with others in the community.”

Tunnicliff’s children participate in a number of community activities including playing multiple musical instruments at a local assisted living home.

Her children’s interaction with their community is common among homeschooled children.

Looking forward to their adult lives, research has shown that adults who were homeschooled serve in their local communities at a higher rate than the general population. They also vote and attend public meetings more frequently.

These are just some of the many faces of homeschooling families in Wyoming. What is clear about the latest statistics showing the steady increase nationally in homeschooling families is this trend is good for everyone.

Government isn’t good at solving problems especially the ever-present problems in government-run schools. Local solutions are the best and homeschooling is as local as you can get. Wyoming citizens benefit when parents have more options for educating their children. Homeschooling is one of those very powerful and very effective options.

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