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School and Home Schooling Success Story

Dr. Bob Kizlik

The following account of a parent who successfully combined home schooling with traditional school experiences demonstrates possibilities for making a positive difference in a child's education. It takes effort and commitment to do what is described here, but, as you will see, the results were well worth it. ADPRIMA hopes it is helpful to you an an example of home schooling possibilities.

Over the past three years, I have become familiar with practices in Adrienne's school; systematic practices employed by the "professional" pedagogues who must have adopted them from outside sources because these pedagogues appear to me to lack the capacity to have developed such clever strategies themselves. Thus, from my limited perspective and observations, the conclusions I have reached may indicate what many with circumstances in a wider range of schools experience.

The story of Adrienne's home schooling actually began when she entered kindergarten. The scraps of school work she brought home during the year showed little evidence of classroom structure or curricular organization. We received notes from the teacher saying that she was denying us access to information about Adrienne's progress because she was saving students' work for quarterly portfolio conferences where Adrienne would, it was promised, proudly show us her learning accomplishments. My wife Catherine and/or I attended all scheduled conferences and viewed the materials that were displayed for us. We were very disappointed in both the quantity and quality of the materials. The teacher warned us, however, that the materials in Adrienne's portfolio might not be truly representative of what Adrienne had learned because Adrienne herself had selected them for her folder. Nevertheless, we recognized the fact that Adrienne was learning very little of what we thought she should learn. But we were guarded in our conclusion because we thought that perhaps she was being put through a program of readiness according to the "whole language" approach to teaching reading that would be fully implemented in first grade. I guess we simply wore our rose colored glasses when we overlooked the fact that there was no "whole" approach to teaching math, music, science and all of the other content areas where she wasn't learning anything, either. Adrienne finished kindergarten as an average student according to the final report card issued by her teacher.

Adrienne was assigned to the classroom of a young, "new" teacher in first grade. I was very favorably impressed by the presentation she made to assembled parents during "open house" prior to opening day. She and the classroom were well organized. Her handouts were clearly printed and they addressed topics relevant to curriculum and methods of teaching. It was obvious that the classroom was well stocked with a variety of instructional aids.

Unfortunately, the favorable image left with me by that opening presentation crumbled quickly as the true meaning of the words spoken by the teacher in her presentation came to be revealed through instructional activities. Before she had a chance to look around and say "Where am I?", Adrienne faced daily homework. Weekdays and weekends. Lots of it. Hours of it. Irrational activities. Impossible to accomplish activities! Actually, most of Adrienne's homework assignments directed us, her parents, to teach her something or to carry our some activity with her. They were our assignments, rather than hers. Take, for example, this weekend assignment given by the teacher at the end of Adrienne's third week into first grade: 'Help your child fill out the application for mayor of Chelsea City.' (The teacher had the students "electing" class officers.) Among other things on the application, "Write what you would do to help our classroom community in this job."

We were deluged with similar assignments daily. We met with Adrienne's teacher and protested that she could not expect us to teach Adrienne to compose narratives that she did not know how to read. Her teacher did not view that as a problem. Under the whole language approach that she was directing us to use, the teacher told us that Adrienne would learn to read and write at the same time---starting with job applications! At this point I believed that Adrienne's teacher, being new to the profession, was simply making an individual mistake in judgment. I appealed to the school principal for help.

Catherine and I met with the principal and assistant principal in the administration complex conference room. We related our concerns, including my recitation of a "little moron joke" that I had first heard when I was a kid. What did the little moron say when his mother asked him what he was writing about on a piece of paper? The little moron replied, "I don't know. I haven't learned to read yet." Our school administrators were not amused. They defended the approach the teacher was using, but offered to assign Adrienne to another teacher if we requested it. We requested it, if she could be assigned to a teacher who followed standard curricula and instructional procedures. In the middle of the year, Adrienne was reassigned to another young teacher whose approach to teaching was almost identical to her first teacher. They even engaged in the same activities and used the same materials on the same days.

So first grade turned out to be largely wasted for Adrienne. We looked forward to better times in second grade. It didn't take long after the opening of school for us to begin to get worried all over again. The teacher used techniques similar to the kindergarten and first grade teachers but she assigned even more work to be done at home. In the meantime, school activities seemed to be concentrated more on having "fun" to keep the kids motivated than on lessons to help them learn. When it became apparent that Adrienne was going to be burdened daily with up to one and a half hours a day of mostly meaningless "homework", I started writing notes to Adrienne's teacher. I told her that Adrienne could not do all of the work that she was assigned and detailed the amount of time that we both spent trying to do it. I say both of us because most of the homework required someone to actually teach Adrienne how to do it. Teaching was not done in school, but sent home in the form of homework. The teacher responded that no assignment should take us longer than 30 minutes a day to complete. She made this assertion in spite of the fact that an assignment every day was to read for thirty minutes and write a report about what was read. We, as parents, were required to sign a statement each week saying that Adrienne had devoted at least 30 minutes daily to reading. Writing the reading report, math, spelling and other reading activities assigned as homework daily were all on top of that. But still Adrienne's teacher declared that she assigned a maximum of only 30 minutes a day of homework!

Many of the homework assignments seemed designed more to keep us busy than to produce learning. They did this by concentrating on the trivial, on the one hand, or the impossible, on the other. For example on the trivial side, to study assigned spelling words, Adrienne was sometimes directed to write each word first in pencil and then trace over the pencil marks with five different colors of crayon. This was called rainbow writing. On the impossible side, she was frequently asked to write three rhyming words for each of her weekly spelling words. The lists frequently included words, such as "orange", for which few or no rhyming words are available.

In the meantime, the school busied itself with collecting recyclable cans, soup can labels, staging fund raisers, having birthday parties, going on field trips, etc. Just before the holiday break, the entire class took a day to go see a Disney movie at a commercial theater. The next day Adrienne brought home six type-written pages of instructions to us about how we were to teach her, during the break, to do expository writing. As if that were not enough, she had been given other assignments 'to keep her occupied and out of trouble.'

Trying to teach Adrienne how to do her learning-unproductive homework began to drive me crazy. What she was required to do did not produce learning and just doing it kept us from having the time to do the things that she needed to do to learn. By the middle of January, it was apparent that she was behind and falling still further behind. I estimated, and her teacher later concurred, that Adrienne was at least a grade level behind in reading and almost a grade level in math.

So, I began to gather my own instructional materials for home schooling. Catherine and I met with the teacher at the end of January, voiced our concerns, and told her that we would be keeping Adrienne home for as much as one day a week for home schooling. The teacher didn't think much of that idea, particularly the part where I told her that Adrienne would not be completing all of the homework she assigned.

Retribution for our planned transgression was swift. The next day we received a letter from the principal telling us that Adrienne was failing reading, math and writing and was in danger of failing second grade. She ordered us to school to confer with the "child study team" to discuss possible "alternative education" (read that special education) for Adrienne. Remember, we had just been there the day before and had heard nothing about alternative education. Three days later we got Adrienne's report card. Average grades that had been written in for reading, math and writing had been whited out and lowered to failing.

To make a long story shorter, we followed through on our promise. However, most of the home schooling took place after school because the amount of homework that Adrienne was assigned by the teacher to do dropped dramatically, giving us time to do other things at home. We kept her home on a couple of half-days that were scheduled as teacher workdays and three or four days that she "didn't feel well." With what results?

Adrienne's home schooling moved her ahead at least a whole grade level in reading and math in the three months it was in effect. In April, we applied for admission for her to an Episcopal school for next year, but decided against sending her. They gave her achievement tests in reading and math and, with only a little over two months of home schooling, she scored slightly above the median in reading and at the 72ndpercentile in math as compared with the second grade norm group. In January she was barely able to read from the first grade reader that I started her on and had trouble carrying in addition. Now Adrienne is nearly through the third grade reader and reads it with ease.

Adrienne's final report card from school indicated that she was "proficient" at grade level in all of her subjects. In the last couple of months of school, she was awarded "Terrific Kid" of the week twice. She got a special award for "Most Improved Grades". She participated in a "lunch with the principal" affair that kids who were good readers were invited to attend periodically.

Next year we will continue home schooling at the beginning of the year and it will take priority over any spurious, school-assigned, non-productive "homework" by which the school invades the home to turn it into the same ineffective, boring, irrelevant, hostile, desperate milieu kids face in school. Then they put a happy face of "parental involvement" on it and blame failure of their instructional methods on parents. We won't win any popularity contests at school next year but I don't think they will threaten us with placing Adrienne in special education again.

"Anything not understood in more than one way is not understood at all."

A thought-provoking thriller novel I wrote for the Kindle: The Bucci Strain: Imprint

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Robert Kizlik & Associates

Boca Raton, Florida