Seventh in a multi-part series
In our May 21 issue, the MSR began a series of stories looking into an organization called Better Ed that has launched a now-two-year-old campaign to highlight the shortcomings of public schools, especially those in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and promote “school choice” as a solution. We have previously published extended interviews with Better Ed’s president, Devin Foley, about the organization, its goals and purpose, and their future plans, and in recent weeks we have published responses from the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools and the Minnesota Federation of Teachers.
As we continue exploring the pros and cons of school choice and related educational issues, we have asked both Mr. Foley (DF) and Lynn Nordgren (LN), president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, to address specific questions that have come up in previous stories. Last week they responded to questions on the potential benefits of vouchers and charter schools for Black students. This week they respond to questions about special needs and home schooling. In order to guarantee that each responded to exactly the same questions and wording, we submitted our questions simultaneously to each by email. Neither was allowed to see the other’s responses.
Would exercising choice options outside the public school system benefit students with special needs?
DF: For a variety of reasons, school systems like Minneapolis and St. Paul often lack the ability to offer truly diverse approaches to learning and meeting the needs of their students. The low test scores are proving this point.
If we had Education Savings Accounts, which work like a Health Savings Account, for students with special needs, parents would be able to find the best approaches for their children. An Education Savings Account would have a sum of money put into it by the state and from that amount, a parent can use it to send their child to special tutoring services, specialty schools, and more. School choice in itself isn’t a silver bullet, but it does allow parents the freedom to choose the right schools for their children.
LN: It would not [benefit students with special needs]. Most charters or private schools are not equipped to handle special needs students. Minneapolis Public Schools welcomes ALL students regardless of their skills and abilities, and many parents from all over the state come to live in Minneapolis so that their child may have access to many specialized programs and resources as well as highly skilled special ed teachers. Whether a student is deaf, quadriplegic, or a child with autism, etc., we will serve you in MPS.
MPS has one of the most comprehensive special education departments in the country. No student is turned away, ever. The same cannot be said for charter schools. Charters have limited capacity and, therefore, often will not or cannot accept a student with special needs, creating even more isolation and segregation of students should charters continue to grow.
Is homeschooling a worthwhile option? How would homeschooling provide any of the side benefits of public schools, like allowing students the opportunity to experience and interact with others not like themselves? How does a homeschooled child learn about and experience diversity?
DF: Over the decades, Americans have come to believe that schools are the primary socializer of children in society. At Better Ed, we would argue that the family is the primary socializer — it requires a family to prepare a five- or six-year-old to go off to a kindergarten class with 25-30 strangers and a strange adult teaching, to listen and obey, to be eager to learn, and more. Without the family playing a socializing role, the public education system, as currently conceived, falters.
As an option, homeschooling can be a great one, but it is not for everyone. It requires a lot of sacrifice by the family in order to acquire resources, pick the right curriculum, have one parent not work in order to teach, and much more.
The beauty of homeschooling is that it can strengthen family bonds, allow for a great diversity of curriculum and learning, allow for children to advance at different paces, and much more. The results stand for themselves. A recent study out of St. Thomas University showed that homeschooled children actually outperformed both public and private school children in most measurements during college.
Furthermore, homeschooling allows for parents to better preserve and pass on their worldview to their children. Remember, there is no such thing as a “value-neutral” education. All education is the imposition of values upon children.
What teachers choose to teach and not to teach is a reflection of their values and worldview. We believe that since the family exists prior to government, the family therefore has the primary right to determine what values are passed on to children. Homeschooling is just another example of parents working to find the best education for their children and one that matches up with their worldview.
As for diversity, homeschooled children are often a part of a wide variety of extra-curricular activities including sports, music, co-opt learning groups, 4H, volunteer programs, and much more. Such activities allow for the students to interact with people of all kinds and ages in a variety of settings that better match life after school.
LN: Homeschooling nowadays requires many more skills. It is a rare mom or dad who would have the depth and breadth of what is needed to be accomplished for today’s education expectations. Education has become much more complex, and it would be difficult for a parent to know all that is needed.
It is also important for students to be exposed to different types of thinking, academic discussions and experiences. Beyond academics, socializing is also something that is critical to the health and welfare of human growth and development. Children and youth need to be able to relate with their peers beyond a once-a-week play date or sporting event that are typically popular with home-schoolers.
Children need to interact at a social level that best reflects reality on a daily basis if they are to be truly prepared for life. Being immersed in daily life with peers is where one’s social and personal skills really develop. And, where one’s cultural proficiency and humility can be developed to help a student understand both the power and beauty of all ethnicities and cultures.
Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more in the series on Better Ed:
First installment: Public schools foe Better Ed campaigns for school choice
Second installment: Better Ed: People want out of public schools
Fourth installment: MPS: School choice will not close achievement gap
Fifth installment: Vouchers offer no solution to achievement gaps
Sixth installment: The pros and cons of ‘school choice’