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Home-Schooled Kids Get Into Harvard And Other Top Massachusetts Schools  
Local Home-Schoolers Want Values and Morals Taught  

Massachusetts News 
By John Pike

July2--While many parents spend thousands of dollars on elite private schools hoping it will get their “Johnny” into an Ivy League college, one new freshman at Harvard, Forrester Cole of Manchester, got there the old-fashioned way—he hardly ever went to school at all. 

Cole got his education by “home-schooling,” the fastest growing alternative to public school in the United States. 

Cole, who earned A’s and B’s at Harvard last semester, told Massachusetts News that his academic preparation for Harvard was “adequate.” He is glad he was home-schooled, but has nothing to compare it to. “It was a good experience,” he said. 

The five to 10 home-schoolers annually accepted by Harvard perform as well as other students, says David Illingworth, a Harvard admissions officer. 

And since home-schooling parents spend on average only $400 per student, it can cost significantly less to home-school than pay for a private school. 

The number of home-learners in Massachusetts is about 9,000—1.2% of all students—up from approximately 3,000 in 1983, said Patrick Farenga, publisher of Growing Without Schooling magazine in Cambridge, Mass. This increase is remarkable in an era of two-income families because it pretty much requires one dedicated parent (generally the mother) at some financial sacrifice. 

In 1984 less than 100,000 children in the United States were home-educated. Today, there are about 1.2 million, or around 0.7% of all school-age kids, reports the Home-school Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va. And Brian Ray, President of the National Home Educatiuon Research Institute in Salem, Ore., says that the number of home-educated children in the United States is increasing between 15% and 40% every year. 

“The home-schooling image is not wacko, fringe, lunatic-type people anymore,” said Ray. “Today almost everyone knows a home-schooler, so it’s more socially acceptable.” 

As traditional educators nationwide try to implement new ways to reverse 
recent declines in standardized test scores, mostly through increased funding, home-schoolers “on average score at or above the 80th percentile, 30 points above the national average, in all areas of standardized achievement tests,” said Ray. And home-educated students whose parents are also certified teachers did no better than other students. 

Home-Schoolers Excel 

According to a 1998 study by the Home-School Legal Defense Association, home-schoolers perform an average of one grade level above their counterparts in public and private schools in the elementary grades. By the eighth grade, the gap amounts to four grade levels. 

Lawrence Rudner, the national testing expert who conducted the study, said: “It shows that home-schooling works for those who make the commitment. It is not proof that home-schooling is superior to traditional education.” 

Rudner says the results may be slightly skewed because the families surveyed tended to be better educated and wealthier than average—factors that research has proven generally result in higher achievement. 

One reason kids test well with home-schooling could be because of the individual attention they receive. Home-schooling is a one-one-one situation, with heavy parental involvement. Teaching 25 students in a class individually is a challenge, so academic excellence is one of the main reasons parents choose to become home-educators. 

Alysa Dudley is teaching her three daughters at home in Billerica, she told Massachusetts News, because, “Children learn best at their own pace and are studying what interests them.” 

Dudley says she decided to home educate her kids when her oldest child Rachel, now 12, was academically ahead of the other first-grade children and her progress was being stunted as a result. During first-grade Rachel could already read, while virtually the rest of the class could not, said Dudley. So, Rachel had to waste time doing assignments that she already understood. 

Sitting in her living room next to an 8x5x4-foot fish tank she uses to teach marine biology, Dudley says public-school pedagogues have to teach the whole class the same way, but home-schooling allows flexibility. There was some discussion with administrators to have Rachel skip a grade, but Dudley was advised against it because Rachel would then be behind in other ways. 

Home-education experts say this flexibility can help not only gifted students 
such as Rachel, but also academically poor students who could also be 
better off learning at their own pace. 

Home-Schooled Religion 

Dudley, who is Jewish, says she also prefers home-educating her children so they will learn about Judaism. “Christmas and Easter are pretty persuasive in the [public] schools,” says Dudley. “Home-schooling gives me an opportunity to teach Judaism along with their schooling.” 

While Dudley prefers the opportunity to teach her children Judaism, many or perhaps most home-schooling parents choose to educate their children because they want more Christianity in their children’s education. 

Wendy Orth, a Baptist in Leicester, educates her six children at home because the schools “lack morals and principals,” she told Massachusetts News. “The lack of morals taught in the schools is opposite to what I am trying to teach. I could not give part of the responsibility of raising my children to the state.” 

Orth said she does not like how premarital sex is taught as an acceptable alternative. Her children are taught that creationism is the truth and that Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution are theory. 

What About Social Skills? 

Critics of home-schooling often say the children are bereft of valuable opportunities to interact with their peers during school, socialize, and make friends. 

“There is a great deal to be said for children going to school everyday and being with a great, broad mix of the American public,” said John Blackburn, dean of admissions at the University of Virginia. But Rachel Dudley said: “I have extremely good friends, both boys and girls. I am happy and have a good social life. Friendship is not a problem.” 

Rachel said she has friends of varying ages from the community, schools, and the theater group she attends. 

Her mother sees some social advantages of not going to a traditional school, such as peer pressure, teasing, violence, and drugs. “Home-schoolers are more able to be themselves,” said Dudley. 

Some home-schooling experts think it’s better to have children spend more time with superior role models, such as parents and other adults, instead of cliques of kids at school who may be a bad influence. For some children, such as the physically unattractive, social life in a traditional high school can be quite unpleasant, which is another reason some parents choose home-schooling. 

With the recent school shootings in Colorado, the violence seems to implicate not only the killers’ own sick, twisted minds, but a government school culture that humiliated and tormented them in ways that are familiar to most Americans. 

Melissa Schellhammer of Martha’s Vineyard told Massachusetts News: “Home-schooling made my relationship with my family better.” 

Mass. Home-School Laws 

Patrick Farenga said Massachusetts no longer has any laws that make home-schooling difficult. By 1993, it became legal in 50 states. But home-schooling parents, who sometimes are strongly independent individuals, are required to report their education plan to their local school department, which must be approved by the educators. Each particular school department sets its own guidelines for approval. For Dudley, she annually submits a report of a few pages, which completes her requirements. 

Massachusetts school departments decide separately whether to permit home-schoolers part-time access to school activities, such as lab courses that may be difficult to duplicate at home, or team sports. Most home-schooling parents take advantage of technological advances, such as the computer, internet, videotape, cassettes, and distance learning colleges. Textbooks designed for home-learning are widely available. 

Many home-educated children attend classes at community colleges, or cooperate with groups of home-schoolers. If a particular parent is an expert at a subject, that adult may teach groups of home-schoolers. Often groups will take field trips to museums, libraries, and historical sites. 

They say the entire community is their classroom. 

Home-schooling organizations exist across the state. For information, contact Massachusetts Home Learning Association at (508) 429-1439.  For a Christian-based organization, contact the Massachusetts Homeschool Organization of Parent Educators at (508) 755-4467. 

John Pike is a free-lance writer who lives in Lowell. His stories have appeared in the Lowell Sun, Associated Press, Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal, and Quincy Patriot Ledger.