Home Schoolers Make Case for School Choice

Michigan is celebrating the victory of 10-year-old Calvin McCarter, the youngest competitor in a field of 55, who won the National Geographic Bee on Wednesday, May 22.  Only last month, McCarter, who hails from Jenison, Mich., had become the youngest state winner ever when he bested 100 Michigan fourth- through eighth-graders at geography.  He won the national contest by knowing where the Lop Nur nuclear testing site is. 

Wrong.  It's in China.

And don't worry.  Michigan's public schools aren't making kids memorize the locations of nuclear test sites—otherwise there might be public protests, letters to the editor, and various and sundry steps taken by the arbiters of approved school curricula to stem an outbreak of unauthorized knowledge.  

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No, for a child of 10 to know geography at the level of detail implied by McCarter's correct answer, it is highly likely that he or she would have been home schooled—as McCarter is, in fact.   So is Erik Miller, 14, of Kent, Wash., who took third place. And while most of the news reports state McCarter's home schooling as simply another fact in a story about the winner of a contest, they would have done better to change their focus to home schooled children in general.  

As Home School Legal Defense Association President Mike Smith noted following the contest, only 2 percent of U.S. students are home schooled. Yet, in the geography bee, 22 percent of the national finalists and 40 percent of the final 10 students were home schoolers.  Such a showing is nothing short of phenomenal.

At the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee, which will take place next week, 27 of the 167 contestants are home schooled.   Competing this year will be two four-year repeat contestants—and one of them is home-schooled, Eric M. Bolt, 14, of South Bend, Ind.  Just in case anyone's keeping score, that's a 50 percent representation for home-schoolers in this particular category.  Remember—they only comprise 2 percent of the student population.  Home schoolers swept the top three spots in the same spelling bee in 2000. 

At the recent USA Math Olympiad, Alison Miller, 15, of Niskayuna, N.Y., and Anders Kaseorg, 15, of Charlotte, N.C., both home schoolers, were among the 12 winners.  They follow in the footsteps of Reid Barton, the Massachusetts home schooler who won the same contest four times and was a four-time gold medalist at the International Math Olympiad. More recently, the MIT student was named a Putnam Fellow, the top honor of the prestigious William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition.

If public schools had similar successes to tout, tout them they would.  If a group of high-potential students had graduated from a special program devised by the "schools of education"—which prepare our nation's teachers—and these students went on to win honors at the rate home schoolers are gaining, such results would be trumpeted in every media venue imaginable.  And the "new program" would be replicated in every public school classroom in America.

The point is that they have no such program—and that parents, therefore, are taking matters into their own hands.  Teacher moms are packing up their broods in mini-vans and showing up, stroller entourages in tow, for national contests—and their pupils are winning.  As a group, they're doing a better job than the public schools.

Is it any wonder that there is a vital, forward-looking school choice movement to allow parents a wider range of educational choices for their children?   

"Teacher moms are packing up their broods in mini-vans and showing up, stroller entourages in tow, for national contests-and their pupils are winning. As a group, they're doing a better job than the public schools."