Let boys be boys

“Rather than being appreciated for the future explorers, warriors and leaders they were designed to be, boys are viewed as defective little girls,” writes Rhonda Robinson on PJ Media. “What is the real trouble with boys? Well, simply put, they are not girls.” 

Robinson homeschooled five girls — and then two boys. She discovered there’s a difference. “In my house ADD is considered a personality type, not a mental disorder,” she writes.

As a homeschooler, she could spend her boys outside to play when they couldn’t concentrate. Schools can’t do that. Robinson also blames feminist ideology. “Boys with uniquely masculine strengths, once prized, are no longer valued. In fact, these traits of boyhood are considered dangerous, even pathological.”

Why blacks are homeschooling their kids

“Black families have become one of the fastest-growing demographics in homeschooling,” writes Jessica Huseman in the Hechinger Report. Black  parents cite low expectations for their children or “dissatisfaction with how their children—especially boys—are treated.”

Marvell Robinson, now 7, was the only black student in his kindergarten and first-grade classes at a San Diego elementary school. His “Asperger syndrome, a form of autism that affects social skills, made him a target of “curiosity and cruelty,” writes Huseman.

Marvell Robinson plays outside the San Diego Natural History Museum (Photo by Vanessa Robinson)

Marvell Robinson plays outside the San Diego Natural History Museum after a field trip. (Photo by Vanessa Robinson)

“I just thought maybe I could do a better job myself,” said his mother, Vanessa Robinson. In September, Robinson adjusted her nursing schedule so she could teach her second grader at home. Her husband, a sous chef, continues to work full-time.

“The schools want little black boys to behave like little white girls,” said Cheryl Fields-Smith, an education professor at the University of Georgia. “I think black families who are in a position to homeschool can use homeschooling to avoid the issues of their children being labeled ‘trouble makers’ and the suggestion that their children need special-education services because they learn and behave differently.”

Ama Mazama, who teaches African American Studies at Temple, surveyed black homeschoolers for a 2012 report published in the Journal of Black Studies. Most are trying to protect their children from racism at school, she found. Black children “are treated as though they are not as intelligent and cannot perform as well, and therefore the standards for them should be lower.”

Good students dominate ed debate

Most people debating how to improve education were good students, writes Andrew Rotherham in U.S. News. “The blind spots this creates are enormous.” They have trouble understanding what school is like for those who aren’t good at it.

Diane Ravitch, the school critic turned school defender, has a policy agenda for improving schools that boils down to making classrooms like the ones she liked most as a student. She’s hardly alone in idealizing a system that in practice worked only for a few. As one colleague remarked recently, “everybody likes the race they won.”

For successful students, education is a linear process, he writes. “But most Americans zig and zag.” For example, a majority of college students are part-timers, yet nearly everyone in the education debate attended full-time.

Most fundamentally, this mindset means almost everyone in education is focused on how to make an institution that is not enjoyable for many kids work marginally better. That’s basically what the top-performing public schools, be they charter or traditional schools, do now. . . .

(Among the abundant ironies is that reform critics deride today’s student testing policies as “one size fits all” while fighting against reforming a system that is itself one size fits all).

School is a bad fit for a lot of people, Rotherham concludes.

Homeschooling has freed some kids from traditional classrooms. What would help others? Technology? Career technical education?

Techies try home, un and micro schooling

Parker and Simon Cook.

Parker and Simon Cook are “unschooled” in Berkeley.  Credit: Timothy Archibald/Wired

Homeschooling — and unschooling — are attracting well-to-do techies, reports Jason Tanz on Wired.

Chris Cook never liked sitting in a classroom. He dropped out of college to work on computers. Samantha Cook blogs about parenting, education reform and other topics and “started a network of hackerspaces for kids,” writes Tanz. She “unschools” their two boys at home; their daughter has chosen private school.

“The world is changing. It’s looking for people who are creative and entrepreneurial, and that’s not going to happen in a system that tells kids what to do all day,” Samantha says. “So how do you do that? Well if the system won’t allow it, as the saying goes: If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

. . . Jens Peter de Pedro, an app designer in Brooklyn, says that five of the 10 fathers in his homeschooling group work in tech, as do two of the eight mothers.

“There is a way of thinking within the tech and startup community where you look at the world and go, ‘Is the way we do things now really the best way to do it?’” de Pedro says. “If you look at schools with this mentality, really the only possible conclusion is ‘Heck, I could do this better myself out of my garage!’”

Technology is making new education models possible, says Jyri Engestrom, a “serial entrepreneur.” He started by homeschooling his children with his partner, Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr and Hunch. That became a 10-student “micro-school.” Now students go part-time to an AltSchool  micro-school in which “teachers help students create their own individualized lesson plans,” writes Tanz. AltSchool is a startup created by an ex-Googler.

Homeschooling has its limits. Many parents don’t have the time, personality or ability. But the technology-enabled micro-school could be the next big thing in alternative education.

Homeschooling faces less regulation

As homeschooling grows, some states are regulating less, reports Motoko Rich for the New York Times. Some 1.8 million children were homeschooled in 2011-12, according to federal estimates. That may increase even more as parents seek to “escape the testing and curriculums that have come along with the Common Core,” predicts the Times.

Fara Williams teaches son Elijah at home (Photo: Michael F. McElroy, New York Times)

Fara Wiles, who was homeschooled as a child, teaches son Elijah at home in Pennyslvania. (Photo: Michael F. McElroy, New York Times)

Eleven states do not require families to report school-age children being taught at home, according to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. Fourteen don’t specify which subjects should be taught. “Only nine states require that parents have at least a high school diploma or equivalent in order to teach their children.” Half the states do not require homeschooled children to take an outside test.

For example, Pennsylvania no longer requires families to submit their children’s portfolios, as well as the results of standardized testing in third, fifth and eighth grade, to district superintendents.

Regulation can protect children from inadequate home teaching or abusive parents, argues the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. Its executive director, Rachel Coleman was homeschooled — successfully — from kindergarten through high school. She collects stories of homeschoolers who say oversight would have helped.

Caitlin Townsend, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Michigan, was home-schooled in Pennsylvania until she was 13, when her parents split up and she moved with her mother to New Jersey, which has virtually no regulations for home-schooling families.

. . .  her mother had used science textbooks that taught the theory of intelligent design and shied away from rigorous math during her high school years.

“When I was growing up we always talked about the school officials as the Big Bad Wolf,” said Ms. Townsend, who had to enroll in remedial math classes in college. “What I could have benefited from was a system of evaluation that would have given my mother some red flags that I needed some tutoring in science and math.”

Of course, it’s very common for high school graduates to need remedial math in college.

Homeschooled students use the SAT or ACT — or a community college transcript — to show they’re prepared for college. The expansion of virtual education is making it easier for motivated students to learn at home, even if the parents aren’t masters of math or science.

Public: 21% of teachers deserve D or F

Americans think half of teachers in their local schools deserve a grade of A or B, while more than a fifth are doing D or F work, reports Education Next‘s 2014 poll. ednext_XV_1_poll_fig03-small

Teachers say 69 percent of their colleagues deserve an A or B, while 8 percent perform at the D level and 5 percent merit an F.

Half of the non-teachers opposed teacher tenure, while one third favored it. “Even 65 percent of respondents who favor tenure say it should be based on student performance,” reports Ed Next.

Teachers endorse tenure by a two-to-one margin and only a third of teachers support basing tenure on student test performance.

Fifty-seven percent of the public supports “basing part of the salaries of teachers on how much their students learn.” Only 21 percent of teachers back merit pay.

More than one-fourth of all families with school-age children have educated a child in a setting other than a traditional public school.


Teachers are as likely to use private, charter or homeschooling.

Public support for Common Core State Standards has eroded in the last year, the survey found.

People like Common Core’s goals, but the “brand” has been damaged, writes Mike Petrilli.

While 39 of voters say the economy is the number one issue that will influence their vote in November, education is the second most important issue, cited by 16 percent of voters according to the new Reason-Rupe poll.

Twenty-five percent of Democrats, but only 12 percent of Republicans, say education will have the most influence on their vote in the midterm elections. African Americans (36 percent) and Hispanics (25 percent) are more likely than whites (14 percent) to rank education as their top issue.

No longer autistic

Mark Macluskie, 16, who is no longer autistic. Credit: Mark Peckmezian for The New York Times

About 10 percent of autistic kids grow out of it, researchers now believe. Intensive behavioral therapy seems to help, but it’s not clear why some children “beat” autism and most do not, writes Ruth Padawer in the New York Times Magazine.

Mark Macluskie was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at the age of 3.

He showed no apparent interest in those around him and seemed to understand few words. He threw stunning tantrums. And even when he didn’t seem angry, he would run headlong into walls and fall over, then get up and do it again, like a robot programmed to repeat the same pattern eternally, seemingly impervious to pain despite the bruises spreading across his forehead.

His mother, Cynthia, researched therapies so she could teach Mark at home. By the time he was 8, he’d caught up in speech and behavior, but not in social skills.

Cynthia . . . watched DVR recordings of “Leave It to Beaver” with Mark, stopping every few minutes to ask him to predict what might happen next, or what he thought Beaver was thinking, or why June reacted the way she did. When they had watched every episode, they moved on to “Little House on the Prairie” so Mark could practice reading facial expressions.

. . . At parks and restaurants, they watched the faces of passers-by and played social detective, with Cynthia asking Mark to find clues to people’s relationships or emotions. “He didn’t seem to learn that stuff through osmosis like other kids do, so I’d have to walk him through it each time till he got it.”

When he fell in love with robots, Cynthia invited four typically developing children to come over two afternoons a weeks for “robot club.” The five kids began writing code and entering contests.

At 11, Mark no longer met the criteria for autism. Three years later, he competed in a world robotics competition. “He was partnered randomly with teenagers from Singapore and had to strategize with them on the fly,” writes Padwaer. “They won several rounds.”

Now 16, Mark is a “typical geeky teenager,” albeit one who co-hosts a weekly Internet radio show,  “Tech Team,” with 32,000 listeners.

On a parenting blog, a father writes about the kids who don’t beat autism. They are the majority.

Is it wrong to want to know which way is right?

A second-grade math work sheet. Credit: Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

Is it wrong to want to know which way is right? asks Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field.

In a story on parents’ frustrations with Common Core standards, a mother says her four children, ages 7 to 10, must do math work sheets with pictures, dots and multiple steps.

Her husband, who is a pipe designer for petroleum products at an engineering firm, once had to watch a YouTube video before he could help their fifth-grade son with his division homework.

“They say this is rigorous because it teaches them higher thinking,” (Rebekah) Nelams said. “But it just looks tedious.”

She plans to homeschool her children in the fall.

The Times “proceeds to regurgitate the Common Core’s tired rationale,” writes Beals.

The new instructional approach in math seeks to help children understand and use it as a problem-solving tool instead of teaching them merely to repeat formulas over and over. They are also being asked to apply concepts to real-life situations and explain their reasoning.

She’s dubious.

When did math students ever repeat formulas over and over again? And when did students ever not apply concepts to real-life situations? And when did “explain your reasoning,” ubiquitous to American Reform math and rare everywhere else, become the one, one-size-fits all path towards, and the one, one-size-fits measure of, conceptual understanding?

Core math’s call for writing explanations of answers will be hard on students with learning or writing disabilities and those who aren’t fluent in English.

Parents of mathematically gifted students also are complaining, reports the Times. In a New Orleans suburb, Janet Stenstrom says her daughter can’t move forward quickly.

Anna Grace, 9, said she grew frustrated “having to draw all those little tiny dots.”

“Sometimes I had to draw 42 or 32 little dots, sometimes more,” she said, adding that being asked to provide multiple solutions to a problem could be confusing. “I wanted to know which way was right and which way was wrong.”

Some will see Anna Grace “as overly rigid in her mathematical reasoning and problem solving skills,” writes Beals. But “wanting to know which way is right” is a “reasonable desire.”

In Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, also in the New York Times, Elizabeth Green blames faulty implementation by untrained teachers.

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.

One 1965 Peanuts cartoon depicts the young blond-haired Sally struggling to understand her new-math assignment: “Sets . . . one to one matching . . . equivalent sets . . . sets of one . . . sets of two . . . renaming two. . . .” After persisting for three valiant frames, she throws back her head and bursts into tears: “All I want to know is, how much is two and two?”

“American institutions charged with training teachers in new approaches to math have proved largely unable to do it,” writes Green. A skilled teacher can use “arrays of dots” to explain multiplication, she writes. Or dots can “become just another meaningless exercise” to bore and confuse students.

Zach Braff: Wish I Was Here

Greg Forster is funding a Hollywood movie, Zach Braff’s partially Kickstart-funded Wish I Was Here. The Scrubs star plays a struggling actor, father and husband, who at 35 who still fantasizes about “being the great futuristic Space-Knight he’d always dreamed he’d be as a little kid.”

When his ailing father can no longer afford to pay for private school for his two kids (ages 5 and 12) and the only available public school is on its last legs, Aidan reluctantly agrees to attempt to home-school them.

. . . Aidan decides to scrap the traditional academic curriculum and come up with his own.

The movie will be released on July 18.

Homeschooling family won’t be deported

A family who fled Germany to homeschool their children won’t be deported, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear their asylum appeal, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run blog. learnin about america

A Homeland Security official told the Romeikes’ attorneys they’d been granted “indefinite deferred status,” according to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.

Germany bans homeschooling under a Nazi-era law. Parents are threatened with huge fines and loss of custody of their children. The Romeikes, who are devout Christians, fled to the U.S. and received asylum in 2010. Then the Department of Justice got the asylum ruling reversed, arguing that the German ban doesn’t constitute religious persecution.

By first opposing asylum and then granting “indefinite deferral,” the Obama administration has enforced  “the idea that, in immigration as in other policy domains, the rule of men trumps the rule of law,” writes Ed Krayewski.