Cover Story

Split decisions

"Split decisions" Continued...

Issue: "Back to School," Sept. 7, 2013

Oaks math teacher Wendi Klaiber has been teaching for 23 years, but began exploring blended learning two years ago: “I had no idea what a wiki was. Web 2.0? No idea.” Then she joined an online book club and started following techie teacher blogs: “At first there was a resistance, but people are starting to ask a lot more questions now.”

Klaiber flips her classroom when she feels the material warrants it. For example, she used to spend class time after tests reviewing wrong answers. Now she videos herself working through wrong answers and emails the link to her students: “That way I maximize my classroom time.” She also holds virtual office hours, where students work through problems with her remotely, while screen sharing: “Some students can take notes and go refresh them, but for the auditory students videos are a great way to relearn the things they didn’t get in class the first time,” Klaiber said.

Oaks started its online program from scratch, and Conway cautions schools not to underestimate the technology and personnel costs. Sevenstar licenses software and content, and each course costs about $300,000 to develop, said marketing director John Rotheray. Besides only selecting students who will thrive online, Conway also recommends explicit instruction in “character traits” and skills such as persistence, meeting deadlines, and how to upload assignments.

Online education’s “big promise” is allowing the best teachers to reach more students, Horn says, although most schools currently use online education as an add-on. This possibility worries some, Conway noted: “What happens to a teacher’s position if students are [instead] taking classes from the best Christian calculus teacher in the U.S.?”

Six years ago, when she was asked to teach online after 10 years in the classroom, “I came a little bit kicking and screaming,” Conway said—but she soon “fell in love with how close you can become with the students.”  So did McKee, who keeps in touch with former students, just as when she taught in public schools. Now, though, she can pray with students and send them encouraging Bible verses: “You form these bonds.”

—Joy Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News

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arrows_3.jpg Homeschooling ist verboten

by Kaitlyn Speer

Domenic Johansson and his parents Christer (a Swede) and Annie (a native of India) were on a plane to leave Sweden in 2009 when Swedish authorities suddenly grabbed the 7-year-old boy from his parents and took him away. The custody battle that followed made headlines across the world, but ended with Swedish courts terminating the Johanssons’ parental rights on the grounds that they had not given Domenic proper physical care (he had two cavities in his baby teeth and hadn’t been immunized) and proper emotional care: They were homeschooling him.

Domenic is now living in a foster home, and Michael Donnelly of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) acknowledges that the Johanssons “have no appeals left … virtually no hope … very little we can do.” Theirs is an extreme case, but homeschoolers in Germany face similar pressure. Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich outlawed homeschooling in Germany in 1938, and it is still illegal there. The Romeike family fled Germany in 2008 and is seeking asylum in the United States against the wishes of the Obama administration (see “Schools of thought,” April 19).

Some 400 homeschooling families remain in Germany, with almost all operating underground or fighting in court. Joerg Grosseluemern of Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit (a German homeschool organization and support group) says in most cases homeschooling families receive fines equivalent to $260 to $2,600: “We observe in Europe and even worldwide the tendency to take the responsibility of education as a whole—not only school education—away from the parents to the government.” The government can jail parents who don’t pay.

As some western European governments curtail freedom, families in some formerly Communist countries have new hope. HSLDA estimates that Russia now has 70,000 homeschoolers, and Pavel Parfentiev, who chairs the Russian NGO “For Family Rights,” calls Russia a “champion in homeschooling freedom in continental Europe.” He notes more work to do: “In practice, there are two problems—the legally recognized right to home educate is not always known and followed by the local authorities at the school level—so the families sometimes face sort of troubles and persecution. The other problem is that in practice, homeschoolers in Russia are bound to the school where they should pass the tests at least yearly.”

In Romania, it is legal to enroll children in a school outside Romania and teach according to a foreign method, if that method is a legal one in that foreign country. Some 200 Romanian homeschooling families follow that process, Romanian Homeschooling Association president Gabriel Curcubet told me: “The single problem with enrolling children in schools outside Romania is that children must learn in English and parents need to know English in order to teach their children. The majority of Romanian families are not speaking English at all, some other are not speaking well enough to teach their children. We would like to legalize homeschooling to help the Romanian families to homeschool their children legally and in Romanian language.”

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