Once upon a time, homeschooling was viewed as something only freakishly religious or hippie parents did. In the past 15 years or so, though, it's gone mainstream. Estimates very wildly, but a 2003 National Household Education Survey found that more than a million US kids met the homeschooled definition.
There are a number of reasons for this, both on the push side (dissatisfaction with schools) and on the pull side (the internet makes finding curricular materials or even whole courses much easier; online communities offer support for what can sometimes be an isolated undertaking). In our wired world, we are less inclined to see sharp dividing lines between places where we do things -- an office for income generation, school for learning, home for leisure. I met a family in Texas not long ago in which the father was working from home and the mom was homeschooling their kids. In other words, no one ever really had to leave the place!
Homeschooling offers certain natural advantages. There's a low pupil to teacher ratio, which some people think is important. The hours can be flexible, and so can the curriculum, which is good for kids with special needs. When I was helping Jan and Bob Davidson write Genius Denied, they told me that a huge chunk of their profoundly gifted Young Scholars try homeschooling at some point.
But of course it's not for everyone. One major barrier has always been that homeschooling seems to require one parent to teach the kids, which is pretty much a full-time job. Not every family has a parent who feels qualified to do this, or wants to.
Then, yesterday, I found the most fascinating press release in my in-box. A new New York City education consultancy called QED (Quality Education by Design) is promising to offer parents an alternative to traditional homeschooling. How? They hire certified teachers/tutors in different subjects, piece together a curriculum for your children, and handle all the paperwork with the Board of Education. It's somewhat like retaining an agency to hire a governess, though with more of a focus on subject matter experts and experiential learning (one example they cite is going to the Galapagos to study Darwin). Hey, if you've got the money, why not?
Clearly, the market for this service is limited. The vast majority of American families do not have the resources to hire the equivalent of a full-time teacher, though in crazy Manhattan, it's probably a bargain compared to paying private school tuition for three kids. I'm hoping to write more about this topic for some of the publications I write for, and will update this blog once I (hopefully) get interviews set up.
But in the meantime, I wanted to throw this idea out there to Gifted Exchange readers. What do you think of the idea of outsourcing homeschooling, but retaining the customization homeschooling allows? While it's easy to dismiss the idea as yet another example of the strangeness of some parts of this country (what, the private schools now aren't good enough?) I tend to think that there's a good idea here. Over the past few decades we've seen again and again how ideas and products that catch on among the rich and/or famous trickle down to the rest of us. Once, back-up generators existed only in mansions housing extremely rare fish requiring aerated water. Now, they're becoming relatively standard in high-end, but not uber-high-end construction. If more people considered it normal to customize their children's education, I can't help thinking this would benefit education overall.