Taught at home

As usual, the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee held last week in Washington was dominated by home-schoolers.

For the first time in a few years, though, the winner, Kavya Shivashankar, was a public schooler, attending California Trail Junior High School in Kansas. The top home-schooler was runner-up Tim Ruiter of Centreville, Va.

Whether or not attending a public school hinders your chances of winning the spelling bee will remain a matter of debate. But there can be no debating the fact that over the past few years thousands of parents have expressed their opinion of the public schools with their feet, opting to spend their own time and money to home-schooling their children.

According to a federal report issued last week, the number of home-schoolers has almost doubled in less than 10 years, up to 1.508 million in 2007, compared with just 850,000 in 1999. Home-schoolers today represent about 3 percent of all school-age children.

In particular, the report found, parents of young girls are more likely to home-school. Girls represent 58 percent of home-schoolers.

That could be, one home-schooling dad told USA Today, because of “mean-girl” behavior in the public schools that is “just pushing some parents over the edge.”

Indeed, while it’s true that many parents take their children out of the public schools on religious grounds — 38 percent of home-school parents said they wanted to provide religious or moral instruction — a significant number cited concerns about the school environment (21 percent) or the quality of academic instruction (17 percent).

Critics tend to pooh-pooh home-schoolers as members of some fringe sect who ignore the need for socialization during the formative years. But most studies reject the notion that home-school children are harmed socially. In fact, simply by home-schooling, parents demonstrate a level of involvement and commitment in their children’s lives that makes for well-adjusted and productive adults.

There’s no question that home-schooling figures will continue to grow, although remaining relatively small overall. It’s simply a fact today that dual incomes are a requirement for most two-parent families to survive. Home-schooling requires a certain level of financial independence or sacrifice that many families simply can’t afford.

But perhaps the education establishment should consider the growing number of home-schoolers to be the canary in the coal mine of public education.

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