PI Original Ashlee Rezin Wednesday May 29th, 2013, 3:04pm

As A Result Of School Closures, CPS Parents Consider Homeschooling

Progress Illinois takes a closer look at how some parents are seeing homeschooling as an alternative to Chicago public schools in the wake of the district's controversial plan to close, consolidate and turnaround more than 50 schools.

Nina Stoner, a 37 year-old mother of four students enrolled in West Pullman Elementary School, said she no longer trusts the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to educate her children.

“I can teach my kids better than them,” she said. “The solutions they’re coming up with for a budget deficit or whatever, they’re not right for my kids.”

West Pullman Elementary, at 11941 South Parnell Ave. on Chicago’s Far South Side, is one of 50 schools that are slated to close after the Chicago Board of Education's controversial vote last week. Her children, along with approximately 300 other students enrolled in the school, will be welcomed at Alex Haley Elementary Academy when West Pullman closes in June.  

But Stoner said the neighborhood is too dangerous and the longer commute from West Pullman to Haley puts students and parents’ “lives at stake.” She called the district’s Safe Passage proposal, which will provide students with a guided route to and from school by faith-based or community leaders, a “joke.”

Gang wars and neighborhood violence will make the transition a “bloodbath,” she said.

“West Pullman Elementary is a beacon of activity for our neighborhood,” said Stoner. “Closing that building will be the death of our area.”

Stoner said she plans to join forces with other West Pullman parents to homeschool their children. The plan is in its preliminary phases, but Stoner intends to use her local church’s fellowship hall for  the educational instruction for a maximum of 20 students. She has a meeting scheduled with the pastor at the New Vision of Faith Ministries, at 447 West 120th St., for next week and has five parents who have expressed interest in working with her.

“Somebody has to stand up and do something,” she said, predicting that at least half of West Pullman’s students would drop out instead of go to Haley. “Closing our school is going to affect the whole community, but CPS doesn’t care.”

Enrollment for the nearly 30,000 students displaced by school closures began last week, just one day after the board of education’s vote, and runs until May 31. Enrollment fairs are being hosted across the city and schools have extended their hours to help parents navigate the enrollment process.

Nonetheless, Stoner is one of several parents from across the district who now doubt CPS’ ability to provide a quality education to their child, says Wendy Katten, executive director for the Raise Your Hand coalition of parents and community organizations.

“Most people feel the options they’ve been given are not safe options,” she said. “People are feeling like they’ve been put in a tough situation, and may be forced to look at an alternative option to their public school, such as homeschooling.”

The state considers homeschooling to be a form of private education if “the teacher were competent, the required subjects were taught, and the student received an education at least equivalent to public schooling,” according to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

The required subjects include language arts; mathematics; biological and physical sciences; social sciences; fine arts; and physical development and health. Parents have the freedom to determine the curriculum, schedule and materials used for education. Illinois does not require testing for homeschooled students and parents may determine when students have met graduation requirements and are eligible for a high school diploma.

“Homeschooling provides parents the opportunity to give children an education precisely tailored to their needs, their desires, their aptitudes,” said Scott Woodruff, senior counsel at the Home School Legal Defense Association. “Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, which is what you have to do in a classroom of 30 students, with homeschooling you can give a child the exact curriculum that suits them best.”

Students who are homeschooled in Illinois do not have to be registered with the ISBE and as such, the state does not track the number of children being educated in that manner, said ISBE spokesperson Mary Fergus. There are more than 2 million students enrolled in both public and private schools across the state, according to the ISBE 2012-2013 data.

Of the country’s 2010 population of 54.1 million school-aged (ages five to 17) individuals, a 2011 study from the National Home Education Research Institute estimated that 3.8 percent were homeschooled, an increase from 2.9 percent in 2007.

There were an estimated 2 million kindergarten through 12th grade homeschooled students nationwide in 2010, according to the report.

Woodruff said the popularity of homeschooling is growing by “leaps and bounds” and “these kids are getting a fabulous education.”

He cited a 2009 nationwide study by the National Home Education Research Institute in which 11,739 homeschooled students from all 50 states were found to score, on average, 37 percentile points higher than public school students on standardized achievement tests. The Home School Legal Defense Association commissioned the study.

Woodruff warned that enforcement mechanisms exist in each state to ensure students are receiving a proper education.

“Parents need to provide legitimate good faith education,” he said. “If they fall short, they can be taken before a judge.”

According to the ISBE, the regional superintendent of schools for the student’s county of residence is responsible for investigating reports of school code violations for homeschooled students. Regional superintendents may request that parents produce documentation showing their homeschooled student is being provided “instruction that is at least commensurate with the standards established for public schools.”

Parents are required to make a staggering investment in resources and time to homeschool a child, according to Victoria Chou, dean of education for the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“If they don’t do research on it and realize what a big investment it is, they’re going to be shocked,” she said. “They should consider if they have what it takes to really provide a comparable or superior education at home.”

Chou also questioned the potentially isolating effects of homeschooling and the loss of social development that occurs in public schools.

“Unless you have a large cluster of kids, the learning that can come from peer-to-peer contact is going to be absent in homeschooling,” she said. “Peers are more influential than adults in many circumstances and can be a powerful vehicle for learning.”

Even still, Brandon Johnson, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), said a decrease in CPS’ enrollment is very likely next year.

“This is going to be a mess, thousands of students are being shuffled around the system,” he said. “Students are going to get lost in this process and where those students end up is unpredictable. Whether they get transferred to private school or homeschooled, I think parents are considering all possibilities.”

CPS is attributing the need to shutter 50 schools across the district to a reported $1 billion deficit and a “utilization crisis” of nearly 140 half-empty schools. According to CPS officials, the plan will save the district more than $400 million.

The Chicago Board of Education approved the plan in a sweeping roll-call vote last week, sparing only four schools from closure and one school from being a turnaround; they also opted to elongate the closure of one school through a phase out. The only school that saw a split vote (4-2) was Von Humboldt Elementary.

Johnson was quick to note his kindergartener’s neighborhood school, the West Side’s Francis Scott Key Elementary School, is slated for closure. Instead of sending his student to CPS’ welcoming school, Edward Ellington Elementary School, he has pursued enrollment at a lottery school on the North Side, Ole A. Thorp Elementary Scholastic Academy.

“There are thousands of parents who are dissatisfied with how CPS is treating them,” he said. “They’re being forced to find alternative ways to make sure their children get the best quality education.”

He said an “overwhelming pullout” of students in the district is “very likely.”

A representative from CPS could not be reached for comment for this story.

“We must come together, begin to look forward and prepare for the next school year on behalf of our children,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement. “The sooner principals can identify student enrollment, the better prepared they will be to support all student needs on the first day of school.”

Meanwhile, Stoner said she has not yet pursued enrollment at any other school for her West Pullman Elementary students. She said she’s “still weighing options” and doesn’t care about the May 31 deadline.

“CPS has taken away my children’s love for education,” she said. “I’m just frustrated all the way around.”

In preparation for her homeschooling plan, Stoner is contacting homeschool organizations and support groups, such as Illinois HOUSE, for assistance. As a self-employed house cleaner, Stoner says her schedule allows her the opportunity to personally take on her children’s education.

“We pleaded, I mean constantly pleaded, with CPS to keep our school open,” she said. “So now we need to figure out some other way to educate our kids. I don’t trust CPS, period.”

Comments

Kudos to Nina Stoner for taking the initiative to educate her children. My husband and I homeschooled our three sons, beginning when our oldest was in fourth grade and going all the way through high school. Despite the cautions by Victoria Chou, the expense of educating your own children is far less than a private school. There are many free and inexpensive resources available, beginning with public libraries.

Regarding the big "S" word - socialization - most children who are homeschooled learn to work with people of ALL ages, not just same age peers. This is very important to function in the real world. Sitting in a classroom for 6 or more hours a day, with students of the same age and ability, is not the only way to learn. There are plenty of opportunities to socialize and engage with children of all ages through homeschool groups, 4-H Clubs, Scouting, church programs, library classes and park classes.

I'm so happy you want to give your kids a REAL education. I will provide a list of places that have and continue to enlighten me every day. We have to re-educate ourselves to understand the real problems going on today. Please take this valuable time to do so. The closing of these schools is a blessing in disguise (No, I'm not religious).

tragedyandhope.com - http://peacerevolution.podomatic.com (episodes #23 and #41-45 are great places to start) - triviumeducation.com - gnosticmedia.com - THE LIBRARY (no .com necessary 8-) )

These are great sites to gather information from; they also provide other re-sources to choose from; provides many links and references too. I hope you find this usefull!!!

This is a good balanced article, Ms. Rezin. I'm excited to see the parents in this community working together to explore homeschooling as it is a very viable alternative to the conventional school system. The only thing I disagree with here is Ms. Chou's comments that homeschooling is such a big investment.

My family of four includes our two kids, 13, and 8, who are homeschoolers. I recently totaled our expenses categorized under education in our family budget for the year 2012. Our cost for all of our two kids' music lessons, swimming lessons, nature, science, writing, art classes and additional supplies such as "school" supplies, art supplies, books, library fines, museum admissions and memberships, etc. was less for two children than one year for one child to attend school at one of the most well regarded private schools in our area.

I feel my children received much more than any ordinary school day could offer, even at an expensive private school and this low expense was over a 12 month period, not a 9 month school year. Why do I make this claim? Because my children's education was tailored to their specific interests individually, not cut as a one size fits all curriculum planned for 20 students.

To address Ms. Chou's comment on "a large cluster of kids" as being necessary for socialization to occur: Well, we certainly have just this thing in the Chicagoland area. There are ever increasing numbers of children and teens in the Chicago area who are educated outside of the conventional school system and these kids and teens gather in situations together within their own community groups and beyond with other Chicagoland kids. I can't think of a homeschooling family that I have met whose child does not attend classes with school children outside of school day hours via the park district or library events or private facilities and makes and maintains friendships with school kids.

In addition, freeing a child's schedule from the imposed school day schedule ensures that kids and teens are able to interact with various generations of people from infants to seniors, within their family and in their neighborhoods and communities.

Isn't this a much more well-rounded and realistic method of socialization that mirrors what we expect out of children as they develop into successful adults: the ability to interact and collaborate with people from various walks of life and learn how the world works, not just in the artificially constructed setting of age segregated classrooms?

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