PERSPECTIVES ON HOME INSTRUCTION
The promulgation of Part 100.10 of the Regulations of the Commissioner in 1988 set out the responsibilities and procedure for both school district officials and parents to follow in home instruction. But mandatory requirements do not furnish the background of understanding which is important to school officials and members of the community when parents in the district exercise their option to teach their children at home. The purpose of this paper is to enhance that understanding and to enlighten the reader about home instruction -- why some parents provide it. how they go about it, and how the outcomes are measured.
Home-instructing parents and school officials are at times engaged in a struggle of understanding: each to understand the other's point of view, and, coincidentally, the rights and responsibilities of the other. It is anticipated that this paper will increase the understanding of approaches to horn instruction so that parents and school officials can work together more knowledgeably, effectively, and cooperatively.
That understanding begins with an awareness of the different and individual characteristics existing within the universe of home instruction. Just as each person is unique, each family has its individual approach to home instruction. While containing statements that apply to all families generally, this paper does not attempt to apply to each family individually.
Children from all geographic, racial, religious, cultural, and economic lifestyles are involved in home instruction. The reasons and methods employed are as varied as the number of children being educated. A common denominator is the strong commitment of parents to their children and the intense dedication demonstrated in the undertaking of home instruction.
In the following sections we will note that the philosophy, educational methods, and structure of home instruction may be similar to or may differ from those commonly used in public education. Essential outcomes will be similar and it will be evident that the individualized nature of home instruction programs, as well as many public school programs, results in a diversity of educated persons.
Why do parents elect to instruct their children at home
Parents choose to engage in home instruction for many reasons, and those reasons differ for each family. It is important to recognize this diversity because each family's motivation forms the philosophical basis for choosing educational methods and assessment measures.
The decision to instruct at home is often a moral one. Families may hold social and/or academic priorities which differ from those of a formal school. Parents find home education conducive to the cultivation of the values within the individual family. They can incorporate religious and philosophical ideas and practices, which public schools cannot include, into an educational program congruent with the family's beliefs.
An underlying and basic assumption also applies -- the desire for family wholeness and growth. Home-educating parents view education as an integral part of family life, engaging together in the activity of learning. The family functions as a unit in living and learning in a constant and stable environment. The family conceives of education as an integrated approach to living and learning in which curiosity is pursued and boundaries of knowledge expanded. The daily departure of a child from home for an institutional setting away from the family runs counter to the family's holistic conception of education. Rather, children are educated in the context in which they live, immersed in family and community life, and intricately involved in the learning process.
Positive social skill development in a child is a common goal among many home instructing parents. Through various social settings, the student learns to relate positively not only to his/her peers but also to older and younger persons. Many home-instructing families participate in support group sponsored events, field trips and community activities. It is not uncommon to find home-instructed students involved in such activities as Little League baseball, ballet classes, art programs and religious activities.
How do parents educate their children at hone?
For many home educators, education means creating a positive learning environment which encourages the child to learn according to the child's abilities. Common goals among home-instructing families are to promote a love of learning and encourage students to educate themselves. To achieve these goals, home instruction programs are individually tailored to the child's development. Individual differences in development are considered as the child's ability to grasp concepts, content, and techniques is continuously evaluated.
In accordance with provisions of Education Law, the instructional program for each child must be at least "substantially equivalent" to that offered by the public school district in which the family lives. Parents use diverse ways to fulfill this requirement. A vast array of instructional methods exists, ranging from the replication of a formal school with a classroom-like setting of desks and prescribed curriculum to a learner-centered pursuit of the child's interests. Innumerable innovative ways are used to adapt the subject matter to each child's abilities and achievements. Parents have the flexibility
to use any combination of experiential activities, curriculum, and formal school techniques to reach the goal of educating each child.
Flexibility also exists in daily and weekly schedules for learning. Not confined to the specific hours or location of a formal school, education may take place at any time and on any day. While parents must ensure that the minimum of 900 hours for elementary level or 990 hours for secondary is met, instruction may take place on any day of the week.
Home-instructing parents have the responsibility to let public school officials know about their instructional plans. In submitting an Individualized Home Instruction Plan for each child, parents provide evidence of the ongoing program.
How is achievement measured?
With individual attention inherent in home instruction, a parent constantly evaluates the child's progress. Given the variety of educational modes, home-instructing parents use an assortment of ways to assess their children's progress. They feel that, in order to be accurate and meaningful, any assessment must correlate to educational methods and curricula. Along with their desire to use valid assessment procedures, parents are aware of the necessity of reporting progress to local school officials, in accordance with the regulation.
Consistent with A New Compact for Learning and developments in assessment theory and in alternative assessment methods recently instituted in formal schools, many home-instructing parents recognize the need to broaden the use of authentic assessment measures as acceptable alternatives to commercially or State-produced standardized tests.
Home instruction can differ in almost every respect from a formal school program. However, public school officials and parents share the common goal of preparing children to be educated members of society. This goal can best be achieved through the cooperative efforts of parents and school officials. The Office of Nonpublic School Services is available ~s a resource to both parties to provide information and to assist in resolving differences of opinion.
This paper was developed by staff members of the Nonpublic School Services Team in concert with representatives of groups of home-instruct mg parents.