Monday, June 05, 2006

The Condition of Education

The U.S. Department of Education released its annual Condition of Education report recently. This phone book-size list of statistics has a lot of fascinating information (a list of indicators is available here), but two things in particular touch on subjects we've discussed on this blog.

First, the "boy troubles" are for real. Women now comprise 59% of all graduate students, including 50% of professional degree students (ie, law, medicine, business). While the parity is nice, it's come about partly because of an 11% drop in men seeking professional degrees. Women continue to earn the vast majority of undergraduate degrees. The findings are so striking that that's the statistic the Associated Press chose to highlight in its article on the Condition of Education report.

Second, homeschooling is rising, and it's becoming an interesting blend of working at the kitchen table and other things. Over two percent of all US students are now homeschooled according to this indicator. While the majority of homeschoolers (82%) received all their instruction at home, some 12% of homeschoolers attended school for up to 9 hours a week, and 6% were enrolled between 9-25 hours.

These are positive statistics, because they show that at least 18% of schools are willing to show some flexibility on homeschooling. Most districts maintain that you're either all in or all out, and some homeschooling families want nothing to do with their local schools, for religious or ideological reasons. But many parents of gifted kids homeschool because they don't see any other options for getting their kids the challenge they need. Many of these parents would like to have their children take music, art or gym classes with other students, or specialized subjects (for instance, Mandarin) that the parents themselves might not be able to teach. That 18% of schools are willing to consider such options is a start. By the time a third say it's OK, we'll reach critical mass-- and see a lot more a la carte education. More flexibility is always a good thing for kids who don't fit inside the educational box.


Anonymous said...

Where'd the "18% of schools" come from?

The statistics you showed had 2% of kids homeschooling, and 18% of them getting some school time. That could be as few as 0.36% of schools willing to be flexible.

Laura Vanderkam said...

There are a few variables neither of us are using for our calculations -- number of schools in the country, number of potential homeschoolers per school district, all that. If homeschoolers are spread evenly around the country, and we assume that any given school is as likely to choose to be flexible as another, then it could be 18%. If all the potential homeschoolers are concentrated in a few flexible districts within one state, then it could be 0.36%. My guess from interviewing a lot of homeschooling parents is that it's somewhere in the teens.

New Haven High School said...

Introducing kids to science and research at a young age can lead to lifelong curiosity. The Periodic Table of the Elements for kids.

Quiltsrwarm said...

This is interesting (sorry I missed it earlier!)... The problem with a la carte education is that the funding formulas for public schools are not a la carte. It is nearly an all-or-nothing situation for many districts, at least in Ohio. If children are removed from the school to be homeschooled, not only does the school district lose the money the state would have given them, but they lose other money that the state says the school district owes them by that child no longer being educated in that school. Then, when a child enrolls part-time, the school district gets only a fraction of that money back. Thus, effectively removing any incentive for school districts to offer enrolled homeschooling or part-time enrollment. We've got a LONG way to go before a la carte education becomes the normal way of educating our children.