The greatest thing about Boston Magazine’s cover article on homeschooling is that it says stuff we already know, but it says the stuff in a mainstream publication, about mainstream parents:

  • The smartest parents are taking their kids out of school.
  • The harshest critics of schools are the former teachers.
  • Kids don’t have time to explore their passions when they’re in school.

Bridget Samburg, the author, took a look at homeschoolers from top school districts in the country like Newton, Brookline, and Wellesley, which are full of parents who, by any measure, live in great school districts but still brought their kids home to learn.

I also liked the quote from the dad who was addressing concerns that parents can’t get kids ready for college. He said, “I thought whatever a teacher can do with 30 students, I can do with four.”

I also like that his daughters told him they were sick of schlepping into Boston to see cultural institutions and events. So he (reluctantly) stopped.

And I learned something about myself, as well. Samburg concludes, “As a whole, the homeschooling community is surprisingly nonjudgmental, at least when it comes to how to educate your kids once you opt out of the system.”

This is true. I support any type of homeschooling. It all seems fine to me. I get giddy every time I hear one more family took their kids out of school.

34 replies
  1. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I loved this article too. I found out that the mother of the young lady who got accepted to Harvard is an unschooler and she unschooled all her children, not with the intent for an ivy league education. Her daughter that wanted to go to Harvard decided that on her own. She has other grown unschooled children who are living happy, well-adjusted lives in areas that they are passionate about.

    I think that is a testament to unschooling. There isn’t any one goal or path in unschooling, it is catered to each individual. Schools can’t do that, it isn’t feasible to produce an education that is tailored to each child and let them discover and pursue their passions. There is only one path in school, and everyone is forced down that path in the same exact style, regardless if that child wants or needs college, they are forced down that path.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      The mother in question started a pretty good blog this year. It’s called A Potluck Life (that should be easy enough to google without me going into url jail). It’s one of the few I read regularly, and I’m sure you would enjoy it, YMKAS, for a perspective that looks very much like the other end of the process you’ve begun.

      She certainly considers the various forms of success of her children as a testament to unschooling. And she does have a post up that addresses that.

      As I’ve mentioned here before, I think Boston is an excellent place to homeschool. And Milva is one of the people who made that the case.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        B,

        Was it the Cambridge district that allows homeschoolers to take elective classes at their schools? Our schools in CA do not allow anything like that for us private homeschooling folks. How does that work there? For some reason I imagine MA being a place that is hostile to homeschoolers much like PA, clearly I don’t know what is going on over on your coast.

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          YMKAS, I hear that homeschooling is much harder in Pennsylvania. MA is one of the easier states, though it varies a bit by district. I understand that Cambridge (to us, it’s in the far-off land Across the River; to you, it would be the next neighborhood in your city) is pretty welcoming of homeschooled kids to partial use. I’ve heard some other local towns do this too.

          I haven’t heard of Boston doing that. But then the question of any kid’s ability to use schools in Boston is complicated by the continued busing here. They could tell any homeschoolers “sure, you can have a class, but only in the school nobody wants to go to.”

          To be clear, I don’t think any Boston area districts are hostile to homeschoolers; BPS certainly isn’t. I think BPS is a hostile environment for kids in general, though. With the exception of the exam schools, I can’t see why any homeschooling families would want to have anything to do with it.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            I would want to be walking distance to all the things! Are you within bps? Perhaps I’m confused, is BPS an oversight agency full of several districts or is BPS its own district?

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Marching band. I can’t think of anything else as school-specific as marching band. Well, maybe football at the high-school level. Hence Tim Tebow and all that.

            YMKAS, BPS is to Boston as LAUSD is to LA.

  2. Anna
    Anna says:

    It is shocking to me that only 277 students are homeschooled in Boston. Still reading the article. Just wanted to mention that.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Anna, this bears some explanation for folks who aren’t from Boston. First off, if someone says they’re from Boston, 90% of the time they don’t actually live in Boston. The Greater Boston metropolitan area has a population of 4.5 million, but the City of Boston itself only has a population of around 655K. The land area of the City of Boston is approximately 1/10th the size of the land area of the City of Los Angeles. This is why not a single one of the parents spoken to for the article about homeschooling in Boston actually lives and homeschools in Boston.

      If you go to a homeschooling event, class, or gathering in Boston, the students who actually live in the City of Boston are likely to be in the minority, because the number of homeschoolers in Greater Boston (let alone the Boston commuting watershed) is several times the number in the City of Boston itself.

      Second, the City of Boston itself has a comparatively low population of school-age children. Out of a total city population of 655K, there are about 77K school-aged children, or around 12% of the population (in comparison, LA has about 20%). More than a quarter of these kids don’t go to our public schools. In addition, an awful lot of people move out of the city once their kids are school-age. The remaining population is heavily polarized demographically into those too poor to do anything about it and those too rich to care.

      All this is to say that the figure of 277 homeschooled kids in Boston doesn’t look as small from the ground level as it seems in the abstract. If you live in one of Boston’s middle-class neighborhoods, like I do, the apparent rate is higher; there are likely to be dozens of homeschooled kids in your neighborhood, whereas there will be fewer in the rich or poor neighborhoods. Also, the number is double the BPS’ estimate from just two years ago, so our ranks are growing rapidly.

      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        I *love* that the commonwealth of MA actually *has* precise figures to offer–in so many other areas, including my home state of CA, it’s frustratingly vague.

        I don’t want to go to link jail either, but the #s for 2013-14 are available from the MA DOE on a page on “school attending children”. The number for Boston that year was 138, so indeed the movement is growing if they jumped to 277 in one year.

        The numbers just as small in greater Boston, and statewide. I think that’s because MA is high on the list for “good schools” and also high on the list of “least religious states.”

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Yep, you are right on CA being vague. It’s because there isn’t a way to report homeschooling as it technically is not recognized nor is it officially reported. The numbers are loosey goosey because if you homeschool through a charter school you are considered a public school student, and if you homeschool through private affidavit, like I do, you are considered a private school student. Neither of these options accounts for those who fly under the radar. The number of self-reported homeschoolers is over 100,000 for the state, though I wouldn’t claim that to be anything official.

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          With statistics like this, it’s always possible that a change in reporting methods or criteria lead to an illusory jump, but fmy subjective experience bears out the increase. I run a class that didn’t use to fill up at 32 kids capacity. I increased capacity to 40 last year, and have turned away six so far this fall. It’s really easy to work with the district here (thanks, Freddy), the resources are excellent (e.g. It takes us ten minutes to get to the conservatory), and I could imagine people starting to move to Boston with the intention of homeschooling.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            “I could imagine people starting to move to Boston with the intention of homeschooling.”

            Except it’s wicked expensive right now, isn’t it? Seems like the largest h.s. communities in MA are in low COL areas like Springfield and New Bedford. Makes sense.

            That’s great about your class. You definitely don’t have to have huge numbers on a state website to have a cohesive and supportive community.

          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            The clusters of homeschoolers in my state’s poorer cities makes sense in more than one way.

            On the one hand, these would be cheaper places to move to. You’re right that houses and apartments are expensive in Boston (though not compared to the wealthy ring of suburbs like Wellesley), and a house goes for a lot less in, say, Brockton.

            On the other hand, homeschooling could also be increased in those locations by the disastrous state of their schools and the lack of alternatives. These are post-industrial cities with high unemployment and crime. People with options aren’t moving to them.

            People with options move to Boston, because it’s nice to live here and the job market is good. But most of them leave when their kids turn five. An increase in homeschooling means more young families staying here.

          • Anna
            Anna says:

            In Texas, you don’t in even have to tell anyone you are homeschooling, nor in Idaho, I believe. In Oregon (where I might be homeschooling… living abroad at the moment with a one year old and one on the way), you just have to give a test every two years with the student scoring in at least the 15th percentile with an effort to improve the next year if it is below that. The number is so low that it provokes a double-take. Not 85th percentile, but mearly 15th. So it is very laid back.

            I think the less reporting required the better, as well as the fewer requirements for correspondence with the state. I see MA as more intense than many states, other than NY, of course. And PA is state-involved as well, though I read that there was just loosening of requirements very recently. WA became more strict recently but is still pretty mellow compared to NY and PA, and even compared to MA.

        • Anna
          Anna says:

          Maybe I should clarify because people here don’t know me. I’m not in favor of kids scoring in the lowest 15th percentile, but rather that these tests are irrelevant. They don’t necessarily measure anything meaningful, so the low requirements mean you can basically ignore them and move on. Meanwhile, most likely scoring in the upper 90’s without giving it a thought or attention to try to get their approval. If that makes sense. If the percentile requirement was higher, it might encourage more catering to it which I think would be moving in the wrong direction, at minimum.

          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            Anna, I don’t know how intense it seems to you to write a letter in the fall with a vague plan of study attached, followed by a second letter in the spring saying it all went great and you want to do it again.

            The only people this involved requirement would really affect are those who can’t string two sentences together, those who want to do nothing at all on their kids’ behalf, and maybe those who are too disorganized to send a letter twice a year. I hope it won’t start a whole flap to say I’m not convinced a little inquiry is the worst thing for the kids of someone who can’t clear such a low bar.

          • Caro
            Caro says:

            I want to homeschool my son in Colorado and I wish it were that simple.

            The state requires record keeping at a minimum of attendance, evaluation and test results; 172 days of instruction, averaging 4 contact hours per day; and taking the national tests in grades 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. There is also a list of topics that home school programs must include although “the selection of curriculum is at the discretion of the parent who is overseeing the home schooling program.”

            He’s too young now but all those hoops makes my want not want to bother.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Caro,

            Every day your child wakes up, they are in attendance and learning (receiving instruction). Curriculum isn’t a set of textbooks. Last year my daughters curriculum was Legos, reading and writing Comic Books, playing tons of board games, watching documentaries and Brain Pop videos, and reading about programming languages. If I lived in CO I would report all of that as meeting requirements. Are you able to opt out of testing? There is a growing opt out movement going on, if not, plenty of homeschoolers will let you know which test is the best to take.

  3. Anna
    Anna says:

    I think I was referencing some things friends said they were required to do as new MA residents for homeschool. Though my memory of the description could be inaccurate. Or maybe they were taking it too seriously or too far and going past what was actually being asked of them.

  4. Anna
    Anna says:

    She had written: “I have destroyed approx 4 rooms of my house trying to get next years school curriculum ready to be approved by the state. We have 7 in grades 1 through 8 (doing mostly 9th grade work) this year. Plus preshool and nursing baby! First time I have ever had to get approved and turn in our work. Yikes!!!”

    It just gave me the impression that it was more involved than just letting them know and then you’re fine. But she might have been overdoing it or overreacting to what she was told she had to do. :)

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Anna, I’ve heard some districts are harder to deal with than Boston, but I’ve never heard a story like that before. Destroying four rooms of her house? Having to have a whole year’s curriculum approved in advance?

      I know it’s the habit of some districts to ask for more than they can legally demand. Boston has lately been including a form indicating hours per subject, something they have no standing to require. I just cross it out and write “see attached plan,” which plan makes it clear that we know where we will start but not where we will end up.

      Luckily, there are a couple of great organizations here, called MHLA and AHEM, which can help newcomers to homeschooling or the state understand how best to respond to over-ambitious district demands. Maybe it would help your friend if you pointed her their way.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Anna,

      In CA, private homeschoolers don’t have to report anything. It is one of the least restrictive states, one form that takes ten minutes of your time, at most, once a year. That’s it. Some of the homeschool friendly states seem even more restrictive than CA and they offer nothing but rural settings, to which I am not a fan of, since I have agoraphobia. If that form is too much for someone to do, then I seriously have a few concerns of which I will keep to myself.

      The trade-offs that one would receive for having access to all those resources in Boston, as an unschooler, would be worth it to me. I love culture, city life, museums, art, symphony, access to universities that are homeschool friendly with extension campuses…I’m truly not a political partisan. So why do people go there, it makes the conversation awkward?

      If Bostonian says his district is really that simple, well, I take his word for it and don’t feel the need to question him. All I would want to know is which district is the least restrictive according to him.

  5. Anna
    Anna says:

    YMKAS,

    I do take his word for it–I was relieved, actually, as we might be moving to the Boston area at some point. I quoted my friend’s situation above, but it could be that she was over-interpreting the requirements, or like Bostonian pointed out, an over-zealous district. Either way, it sounds less intrusive than it had seemed in MA. NY is a lot like the way Caro described things in CO. Attendance records, subject requirements, etc. But it wouldn’t keep me from living in NY. :)

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Anna,

      If you do move to Boston I would love an update on how you view the requirements there! I have never been, but my husband has and he loved it there. I like looking at the maps of the city, it looks very pedestrian friendly.

      :)

  6. Winthrop Dad
    Winthrop Dad says:

    Hi!

    I’m the homeschooling Dad from the article. Thanks for the kind words. Having the article come out, and it being start of school, I’m high on homeschooling right now to the point I have trouble sleeping.

    The decision to circle the wagons at home and cut way back on the field trips was hard for me. I was surprised that my daughters wanted less “exciting stimulating world” and more “small town”. And you all pegged it, I adapted to their stance reluctantly. Now I myself would rather read about history than go to historical sites. And I’m in the middle of the Intro/Extroverted scale, so I can find more than a couple hours of socializing exhausting. My daughters seem to have similar tendencies.

    That’s what they wanted and I think it is working for them. I’m sure after a retrenchment at home they’ll get hungry to explore the world again.

    For instance, we did just tour the Innovation Institute in Newton MA (30%+ homeschoolers) and to my surprise, my girls, in a decision reached after a private conference including a list of pros and cons — they signed on.

    http://theinnovationinstitute.org/

    So, we’re adapting our homeschool year to study the biology that is the necessary background for the course they chose.

    One last point — yes, I also love all Homeschoolers, no matter how they do it, as long as they do it from the heart. And who the hell doesn’t do it from the heart? It’s so much easier to throw them in school.

    We’re great about being supportive within our community, but I think we could do better at outreach. I’m doing my second Intro session at a local library and here’s my elevator pitch:

    “Let’s say you have 4 kids. That K-12 x 4 = 52 years of school. I’m not trying to make the case that you should immediately take on 52 years of homeschooling. I’m making the case that there will be at least ONE YEAR where what you can offer your child is better for the child and you than the public school. You can’t tell me that out of 52 years of school, you can’t do a better job for ONE of those years.”

    Of course, my secret agenda is that you do it one time, and make that crack in the public school armor, and you’ll probably do a lot more. As the French girl said in Better Off Dead,
    “I can not do eet” is your middle name. I think what you need eez a small taste of victory and you will find that it suits you!”

    Penelope — long, long time fan. I have some disagreements, but you’re a homeschooling hero and I love you like a sister.

    –Robert

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Robert. I like to hear from other area dads.

      I think your kids will like Ti2. They do a great job there. Engaging classes, cutting-edge content, sometimes even scientific rock stars. I look forward to meeting you next Thursday. I wonder if our kids will be in the same class.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Robert, our homeschooling world is a little bigger than we thought. My son and his buddy take the Ti2 class at 1 in the afternoon, so that in the morning they can take the swimming classes offered for homeschoolers at Charles River Aquatics (at BU). My boy is determined to improve his butterfly. So maybe I’ll see you another time.

  7. Nur
    Nur says:

    I love that it’s becoming a mainstream thing in the US. This means that in 10 years it will be mainstream in Spain.

    But I have one concern. What about ESTJ parents? Wouldn’t they be too bossy to let the kid choose what to study?

    How can kids get rid of the influential factor that parents have on them, if the only method they have known, is the one their parents taught?

    • mh
      mh says:

      Kids have an uncanny ability to confound their parents’ plans.

      For ESTJ parents, it’s probably more necessary to focus on self control than on kid control. If SOMETHING must be under control, that is. Consider pursuing a hobby.

    • DB
      DB says:

      LOL!!! ESTJ here and that is right on target. But I will say that having children is a great experience for me (and I presume other ESTJs with self-awareness). Because, you know, I can’t control them – I have to learn to appreciate them for who they are.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    City Journal is another well-known publication that has recently published a very good article ( http://www.city-journal.org/2015/25_3_homeschooling.html ) on the history and present day experiences of urban homeschoolers across the country including New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. It is written by Matthew Hennessey who is a City Journal associate editor and also homeschools his children.

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