Schooling Alternatives: Other, better home-based models beyond K12
(As published in the Greenfield Recorder, December 15, 2011)
By Lawrence Williams
Co-Founder and President, Oak Meadow
The backlash against for-profit online schools such as K12 is understandable. According to a recent New York Times article, in an aggressive bid for public school dollars ($26.5 million spent on lobbying in 2010), K12 appears to be boosting enrollment while increasing teacher workloads and lowering standards, all at student and taxpayer expense. K12’s “enrollment pals” receive a commission for every student they enroll and the resulting push to enroll students results in a high rate of inactive students and withdrawals. Let’s not forget that these “withdrawals” are students whose education is interrupted, students whose educational needs are not being met. Local readers should be especially concerned given that the Massachusetts Virtual Academy (another K12 partnership) has approximately 480 students enrolled from 148 communities around the Bay State.
No doubt the debate will continue over K12 and its impact on public education in general, and students in our communities in particular. However, it’s important not to lose sight of the full range of quality choices available to families wishing to pursue a home-based education, choices far removed from the questionable K12 model. Many of these choices have proven effective for decades, providing a customized, flexible education while enriching the lives of students and their families. Studies have shown that home-educated students score far above the norm (in the 65th to 80th percentile) on standardized academic tests, proving that a high-quality, individualized learning environment in the home fosters strong academic skills that prepare students for success in college, career, and life. There are many companies working diligently to make home education not only possible, but enjoyable and effective.
Consider our small company: Oak Meadow Curriculum and School. For over 30 years, our fully accredited K-12 distance learning school has offered a comprehensive, standards-based curriculum that is imaginative and engaging in the elementary school years, and challenging, and college-preparatory in high school. Our primarily print-based curriculum blends rigorous academics with creative, hands-on assignments that reach far beyond the confines of a computer monitor. Students can begin at any time and move through the material at their own pace, allowing them to pursue their educational goals with purpose. Each student receives individualized, ongoing guidance and support of an experienced teacher. Ninety-seven percent of our families pay tuition without subsidy from the public schools.
Also lost in the debate over K12 is the important reminder that home learning is uniquely suited to the independent learner and should not be offered as an alternative to large swaths of the traditional school population. Any family interested in home learning should carefully consider the following:
Enrollment in a distance learning school requires the dedicated commitment of parents who work closely with their children. Parents monitor their student’s progress so work is submitted to the teacher in a timely manner, help their student develop time management and organizational skills, and often act a liaison with the teacher.
Distance learning is most effective for the self-motivated, independent learner. While teachers are available for guidance, students are empowered to take control of their education; for those who need more assistance, a brick-and-mortar school or on-site tutor is a better option.
Our Educational Counselors are educators and guidance counselors that assess a student’s “fit” with our program before enrollment, and often offer parents and students other options. Our goal is the educational success of every student, whether that means enrolling with Oak Meadow, enrolling in another distance learning school, homeschooling on their own, or enrolling in the local brick-and-mortar school.
There is more to best practices in teaching and learning than “standards.” A distance learning program should not only align with state standards but also encourage students to think critically and creatively. Rather than relying on multiple choice questions and rote memorization, an engaging curriculum will ask students to synthesize knowledge across subject areas, apply what they have learned in practical situations, and eloquently and effectively express their own well-supported opinions.
Today, while our company is small by K12 standards (just over 500 students enrolled), our commitment to quality remains intact. We put the students’ needs first by providing personalized attention and support from our expert faculty and staff, and an engaging and comprehensive curriculum. Most importantly, we offer an educational choice to students who are looking for an alternative to the traditional classroom and the cookie-cutter virtual schools that abound.
As founder of Oak Meadow, my vision for what students need to thrive as learners came from my experience as a teacher, not as a Wall Street executive. Let’s keep the student at the center of every discussion about educational choices.
Co-Founder and President
Oak Meadow Curriculum and School