Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Is Taking a Class at the Public School Worth It?

As a support group leader, I sometimes get asked by new homeschoolers about enrolling their children part time at the public school, an option available to homeschoolers here in Michigan. 

While I’ve heard many homeschoolers admonish the very idea, equating the local school as the equivalent to selling out to the system or even sending their kids straight to the bowels of Hell, I never really took that position.  Instead, I would advise the inquirer to weigh the cost and the benefit.  The benefit would be a “free” class in an elective area (e.g. art), perhaps the appeasement of skeptical relatives who think the addition of a substandard class at school somehow makes an excellent education at home more acceptable, and maybe…maybe…some “socialization” for a child that really wants to be in a classroom or "try" school.

However, that socialization could also be part of the long list of cons, depending on the kids in the classroom, something which is not in the parent's control. The con list could also include being tied to a traditional school schedule, travel time to and from the school building, gas cost, and the disruption of the schedules of siblings, among other things. Furthermore, the instruction might be just so, or worse, with a teacher trying to manage 30 kids on a limited budget and strict schedule.

So, my general advice was that what the local school had to offer just wasn’t worth it.  Using art as an example, it would be a better use of time to find a local artist, or perhaps a retired art teacher, select a topic, and invite some friends to join you share the cost. The end result is an art class tailored just to your student's needs with all of the benefits and few of the disadvantages.

That was my story and I stuck with it.  Until this year.

I don’t know about the laws in other states, but I discovered a Michigan law last year that greatly interested me as a parent homeschooling through high school.  This law states that if a student is enrolled in just one seated class at the local school, they are eligible for college dual-enrollment through the district as long as they meet certain academic requirements. Those academic requirements are for 11th or 12th graders who have achieved specific test scores on either the ACT/SAT or our state's own standardized testing. Now, my dd had the required test scores, but she is technically a 9th grader. While the law applies only to 11th and 12th graders, individual school's can apply the law to 9th and 10th graders at the school's discretion. I decided to test the waters.

It took a few phone calls, a sharing of the laws, some producing of test scores, and a look at schedules, but the school agreed they’d be willing to give it a try. It was actually much easier than I anticipated. I’m sure they looked at the numbers – it is all about the numbers – to compare the additional funds they’d get from the state for my dd versus the amount they’d have to shell out for college classes. Our district gets almost $7000 per full-time student, which certainly helped make this an attractive numbers game. 

Meanwhile, I did my own cost-benefit analysis.  Since dd was already taking classes at the local university, having the district pay for the classes rather than me writing a check was a very measurable benefit and advantage.  In fact, if she took advantage of the maximum two classes a semester under district dual-enrollment, it equaled about $10 paid out for each daily hour at the local high school, and she gets a choir class to boot.  I’ll admit, with a child that loves to sing, our home tends to sound like a perpetual musical.  I’ve noticed a decrease in the belting of tunes since the start of her class, which makes her sound-sensitive sibling nearly giddy. Add that to the "pro" list.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some real cons.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I despise getting up every. single. morning. to take her to school, though there may be a flip side to that.  For starters, our day is productive earlier than when I opted to follow my body clock. Still, schedule disruptions and time are a real con.  In our case, though, the drive is minimal.  I’ve also made use of the time I wait for dd while she’s in class by walking (and if motivated…jogging) the indoor track at the school, which is open to the community.  It would be a real pro if I dropped some pounds!

For dd, socialization is neither pro nor con.  She enjoys some of the kids in her class, and is annoyed by others who simply don’t want to be there. The annoyances are just confirmation of why homeschooling works for us.  In fact, several of the students are quite jealous that dd gets to go home and are inquisitive about homeschooling.

I’m well aware that having a homeschooled student take a class at the local school is often discouraged, even frowned upon, by other homeschoolers. However, I share our experience and reasons simply because many don't know it is an option. In fact, I've been led to believe that some homeschoolers don't want others to know it is an option, based on their own homeschooling philosophies. As far as the state is concerned, we are still homeschoolers and I am still making the one in control as the homeschooling parent. I think we are all capable of weighing our own personal cost-benefit scenario, and the more info out there, the better we can make those decisions. Having this information may mean a homeschooled student can take college classes when the funds were previously not there to do so.

While unusual and not without some hassles not discussed here, my agreement with the school district is pretty close to an even exchange, an education barter if you will. I’ve agreed to have my daughter sit in one of their classes, which provides them with extra funding, in exchange for them to pay for two classes at the university (a private one at that!).  As a bonus, dd gets in some singing, and I get in some exercise. Given the benefits, I consider our all-expenses paid trip to Oz, as I like to call it, well worth the hassle.

No comments: