Home is in session

Parents who home school are taking on a heavy workload

Irene Rushing and daughter Aliana on a field trip at Coco Bowl in Sparks.

Irene Rushing and daughter Aliana on a field trip at Coco Bowl in Sparks.

Photo By David Robert

“Parents want to help kids master what they learn,” Irene Rushing says. She’s wearing dark rimmed glasses with her black hair pulled back into a pony tail. She’s a hands-on mother of four who conducts classes for her children at the dining room table. She’s mom, teacher and principal all rolled into one.

She’s been a home educator for seven years. Her oldest daughter, Shante, now 20, asked to be home schooled in the eighth grade. With encouraging results, Rushing decided to home school all her children.

Saleah Rushing, 9, and her sister, Rini, 16, say that “no drama” is what they like best about home schooling. Many parents opt to home school for similar reasons, citing school violence and negative peer influences that distract from academic achievement.

Ali Rushing, 8, hops on the computer. Her sister, Saleah, joins her. The two sisters quietly work together, taking turns on the keyboard. Rushing says closer relationships are one of many positive results of home schooling.

School is in session three to five hours per day. Home schooling proponents say smaller teacher to student ratios get the job done in less time. They break after two subjects and an hour for lunch.

The Rushing girls must take responsibility for what they intend to learn each week, filling out colorful cards with their goals are each day. During the year, they work through 12 books for each subject. After working through each book, they take a comprehension test. Rushing uses a pre-packaged curriculum to teach.

Home educators can pick and choose from different curriculums, opting for child led learning or teaching with unit studies. Families with children at different levels and/or special needs children often opt for unit teaching. These parents focus on what children want to learn about, such as horses, and teach every subject from that topic.

“Before making a decision, it is very important to do your homework,” Rushing says. “Do not purchase any curriculum until you have done the research.”

Families of diverse political and religious perspectives are home educating more than 2 million children across the nation. These children equate to $16 billion in tax dollar contributions that are not spent on them. Meanwhile, public schools are spending more tax dollars while the learning environment declines.

The Nevada scene
In Nevada, about 5,000 kids are home schooled with more than 700 in Washoe County. The number of home schooled children is growing 7-12 percent nationwide every year.

Home schoolers say students are no longer stigmatized. Colleges are increasingly recruiting home schooled students. On average, home school graduates are scoring higher on college entrance exams than public school graduates.

Washoe County School District data reveals that home-schooled students scored higher than their public school peers in the first through seventh grade on the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT). Home school students scored higher in reading, reading comprehension, vocabulary, math, math concepts, comprehension and applications.

Do parents need a higher education to teach?

“I don’t have a degree, and I don’t think parents should feel inadequate if they don’t have it,” Rushing says. Home-school students are excelling regardless of their parents’ level of education.

Rushing says cost is the downside. “It is expensive,” she says. On average home educators spend $450 per year per child. Costs vary depending on the curriculum. The majority of home educators are two-parent families, with one parent teaching. A few single parents working from home are finding ways to juggle home education for their children.

“People are not aware of what Nevada provides,” Rushing says. “We are very pro-active.” She says the greatest misconception about home schooling is that home schooled children do not have their social needs met.

Washoe County has a dozen home school co-ops where students socialize. These co-ops offer group activities from quilting to music to physical education. Home educators can find science, math and English assistance at a co-op, along with books and curriculum supplements.

Others, however, do not agree, saying that artificially arranged social activities are no substitute for the constant give and take of public school social interaction, which closely tracks with college or office interaction. “I crashed and burned at UNR after being home schooled,” says one former college student. “It wasn’t the academics. It was the social thing.” There are studies showing that home schooled students enter college better able to cope socially, but they tend to be from sources with a predilection for home schooling, such as the Fraser Institute and Cato Institute.

Sharon Zenze is a part-time photographer and full-time home educator for her 13-year-old son, Alex, and 9-year-old daughter, Halley. When her son was in the second grade, he asked to be taught at home because he felt he wasn’t learning anything new. “No Child Left Behind gutted the curriculum,” Zenze says. ("No Child Left Behind” is the Bush administration’s signature education legislation.)

Parents fed up with the results of No Child Left Behind are seeking alternatives. Home educators are not required to test because they are not compensated for educating children. Tests are a choice, not a requirement. When an answer is wrong, students do it again until it is correct.

“It’s really easy,” Zenze says of teaching at home. “We’re not just making this stuff up on our own. We seek out experts.” Her husband conducts physics experience and handles technology. Zenze raves about the Backyard Scientist, a series of hands-on books to conduct science experiments with household items.

Teaching tips
Rushing lectures on alternative education and works on a state advisory board on home school laws. Potential home educators need to understand state laws before they begin. A notice of intent form must be submitted to remove children from compulsory education. While lobbying for changes in Nevada home education law, Rushing put together field trips for students to witness legislation in process.

Home educators seize every opportunity to teach through “real-world” experiences. Rushing incorporates community service projects into lesson plans. She also organizes a home school student musical group that performs at the veteran’s hospital.

In December 2003, Rushing founded Homeeducatorsoffaith.org to offer recourses and assistance for home educators. An ever-expanding internet has increased the number of sites available for home educators to a mind-boggling extent.

“I’m not anti public school,” Rushing says. She concedes that home schooling may not be for everybody. Her focus is enhancing skills and empowering parents to supplement their child’s education at home. She’s put together the Nevada Home Educators Conference and Curriculum Fair to work toward her focus. The conference will be held May 16-17. (Details and pre-registration are available on her website.)

“Families that have children in public, private or charter schools are strongly encouraged to attend,” Rushing says. “They are going to be able to find educational materials and resources to help supplement their child’s education at home.”