As many as 100,000 Michigan children don’t trudge off to their local school each school day. They stay at home.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t getting an education, aren’t learning. They are home schooled. Former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett calls home schooling "one of the most encouraging and robust movements in America."

An impartial academic study of 20,000 children in 1999 found home-schooled kids at third grade level could read as well as public-school sixth graders. Home school students also scored much higher on the respected and much used Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Home schoolers come from a breadth of backgrounds and philosophies. But if there is a single inclination they share, Bennett contends, it is motivation. I’ll tell you shortly about two such families in this area who successfully home school — one family with four kids, the other with 10.

Without government money and with few regulations home-schooled children are usually outperforming their peers. Home schooling is an imaginative balance of freedom and responsibility.

Home schooling parents also, by the way, save Michigan taxpayers an estimated $600 million per year because they impose no costs on the government-run school system.

It is almost a cliché to say that parents are a child’s first and most vital teachers. But few can refute it. This is not to deny that Michigan and the nation are full of talented, dedicated, and hard-working public-school teachers.

But some parents choose to protect their kids from the harmful influence of the undisciplined, disrespectful, substance-abusing, and even violent children that teachers and administrators are practically powerless to keep out of today’s public schools. Among the decent, moral and studious children in the public schools, sadly, are those who don’t and won’t learn. Public school teachers say they spend 40 percent of their time just trying to keep order in their classrooms.

The nation’s Founders honored not only liberty, but also good character, honesty, faith, and pride in excelling. These also are typical homeschooler traits.

Don and Bobbie Fairlamb home school their 10 children because, as Don explains, one-on-one teaching seems to work best. When Bobbie was teaching elsewhere in Michigan "she found that some students learned quickly, while others needed extra help," taking more of her time with the slower children while the brighter ones could not be given the attention they deserved.

Most current government school textbooks also are devoid of religious reference. "We want to keep God at the center of learning," Bobbie said. She therefore searches out mostly textbooks that are not secular. The Fairlamb boys and girls range in age from 17 years to four months.

Homeschoolers recently took first, second and third place in the National Spelling Bee and 3rd place in the National Geography Bee. They typically also test higher on college-qualifying SAT and ACT exams than do either public or private school students. One local homeschooled youngster made a perfect score on the ACT. No wonder home schooling is growing at 15 to 20 percent yearly.

All state compulsory-education laws make home schooling a legal option. Michigan does not require a parent to have a teaching certificate. Reading, spelling, math, science, history, civics, literature, writing and grammar must be taught.

Dave and Sue Johnson of Manistee home school their four children who range in age from 17 to five. Two of the children are in the band program in public school; two of them also play in the Manistee Symphony Orchestra.

"We had friends whose children were home schooled, and we were impressed by the way they handled themselves," Dave said. The concept "appealed to us" because the children are able to move ahead at their individual rates, added Sue. The curriculum in public schools skips over religion in history, said Dave. Each child can be encouraged in their individual strengths — from grammar to computer programming, the Johnsons agreed.

The Johnsons are part of a support group of 30 home-schooling families in Manistee county alone, including the Fairlambs, who live in Brethren.

Homeschool parents usually have more formal education than those in the general population. The median income also is often higher. Almost all home-schooled students are in married-couple families. Importantly, home schoolers watch much less television than students nationwide.

The superior performance of home school students on achievement tests does not demonstrate that our public schools are failing, declared Lawrence M. Rudner, Director of the ERIC Clearing House on Assessment and Evaluation, University of Maryland, who did the study of 20,000 home schoolers. But "clearly and undeniably," he said, "home schooling works."

#####

Tait Trussell writes a weekly column for the Pioneer Group in Big Rapids, Mich., and collaborates on occasional projects with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He is the former managing editor for Nation’s Business magazine and was vice president of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.