Monday, January 21, 2013

Educational Choices

For the past few weeks Eric and I have really been praying about the best educational situation for our kids.  Right now our kids are enrolled in Epic One-on-One Charter School.  I've spoken about the school before several times, so I won't bore you with another long explanation.  Basically, our kids are enrolled in the public school system, but are educated at home; curriculum being purchased with the "learning fund" our school gives us.  We originally chose this school because I was working full time and knew I didn't have the time it would take to traditionally homeschool our four children.  At the same time, we knew we didn't want them in the local public school.  This seemed to be the best over-all compromise.
Now I no longer have a job.  I've got 60+ hours per week more to spend with my children.  For the first time in 5 years I have the time to devote fully to their education.  I was obviously excited about this in September when I resigned from my previous job!  The last few months have been nothing if not telling.  I feel like I've been able to learn about my kids' educational talents and challenges in a way I've never known before.  Knowing these things is very good, even if also hard to face in some aspects.
One of the reasons I love traditional homeschooling is that I feel it focuses on the children, not on a test.  I feel that the American school system is teaching more and more to the tests, and less and less about critical thinking an reasoning.  In homeschool, my special needs kids can take as much time as they need to learn a concept.  When they're ready to graduate, they're ready--whether that's when they are 16 years old, or 20 years old.  At the same time, it's just me when/if we traditionally homeschool.  I can't call on a special needs teacher to assist me when I'm out of ideas about how to teach one of the kids multiplication tables.  I don't have a speech pathologist to teach my son how to say his "r" sounds.
The past few years with Epic, I have gained the ability to have specialists like the speech pathologist or special needs teacher to help our kids.  We have been given the gift of having the help of a teacher keep us on track with what the child is "supposed" to know at any given grade level.  But we have lost as well.  Lost is the idea that each child will learn completely at their own pace, without any pressure to perform for a test.  Lost is the reassurance I once had in my heart that the kids would learn and do fine as adults, even if it took them a bit longer.  Now everything seems to be planned because of a test result, or in preparation for future test results.  Flooding my mind are thoughts about how "delayed" some of my children their knowledge on certain subjects is considered "unacceptable."
As we look to the future, we honestly don't know what's best.  Of course, there is still traditional public school.  My husband and I didn't turn out so bad.  But we also didn't live in this age.  And there were certainly things I was doing at just a bit older than my daughter's current age that I can't IMAGINE her doing.  Do I want my kids exposed to all of that?  Do I want to worry each day that some crazy person is going to rampage through their school?  Do I want to sit at home during the day with the thought that, as imperfect as my homeschooling would be, at least I know the education is focused on each individual child in our homeschool?  No.  No.  And No.
We looked at private Christian schools in our area.  These are usually anywhere from $5k-$10k per child.  We know several people who send their kids to private Christian school in our area.  And we honestly have no clue HOW they can afford to do it.  We don't have $20k-$40k extra in our budget--especially not since we just dropped 40% of our income in September.  Seriously, I would like to know how people make this work in their budget.  My husband makes a good income.  What are we missing?
We have looked at homeschool co-ops.  Even some of the co-ops charge $2k-$5k per student.  And most of them have very large requirements for the parent's time as well.  One would have had me volunteering dozens of hours each month--outside of the times the kids were at the co-op!
We could just stay with Epic.  When we look at the financial aspects of privately educating our children, or even traditionally homeschooling them, Epic is a GREAT deal.  We have $800 per student, per year, to use on tuition and educational materials/experiences.  And again, we have all the special needs resources.  But at what cost?  The cost of focusing on the blasted tests.  The cost of our children feeling dumb because the test says they are.
If we don't stay with Epic, it seems that there are two choices.  I can go back to work, getting a job that will help pay for our kids' private education, or I can completely commit to the personal education of our children by doing traditional homeschool.  [I won't even go into the cost of some of the homeschool material, because at least it's more doable than private schooling.]
This is where we're at.  Get a job and they go to private school.  Or stay home and be more involved than I ever really have been in teaching them.  We are seeking the Lord's guidance on this.  Maybe the answer is different things for different kids, and some compromise between full-time and part-time work?
Maybe this decision would be easier if all of my kids didn't have special needs.  Maybe I would feel more confident in my ability to give them all that they need?  The stupid test results have made me so scared for them.  Have I done something to make the kids so "behind" in some areas, or is this the place they would be at with the best educator in the world? 
We.  Just.  Don't.  Know.  What we do know is that the stakes get higher for our kids every year.  It's one thing when we're thinking about Kindgergarten, but another thing when we're thinking about high school graduation requirements.  I'm trying so hard not to be scared, but I am.  Scared that we will make the wrong choice and they will suffer the consequences. 
I thank the Lord for the educational freedom we have in this country.  I also pray that He will speak clearly on this issue so that we use that freedom wisely.


Gina 10:04 PM  

For what it's worth, three of my kids attend a private Christian school, and they also teach to the test. The environment is great, but they have fewer special needs resources than public schools. If you like your charter school, aside from the testing, is there any way to have an IEP, or special education plan so that your kids are tested based on where THEY are at, not their age? And to answer your question, our kids' Christian school charges between 2k and 3k per year depending on the grade. The ONLY way we are able to afford it is because my husband and I both work full time. We send them there because of environment, not for educational reasons.

TheBowlingFamily 10:14 PM  

Can you get assistance from your public school system? My daughter takes speech therapy at a local public school free of charge. That's Tennessee though...not sure how other states work.

Mama Ds Dozen 10:37 PM  

In WA State, homeschooled kids can get public school resources (like special ed. services) without enrolling in the "school" for homeschoolers.

I hope you will at least give a year to homeschooling FULLY, without working 60 hours/week. I really think it will free you up in so many ways.

I have homeschooled for 20+ years. I have a couple of kids who were highly challenged in the educational arena. I GET your concerns. I understand your fears. I, too, wondered if they could have done better in a "real school". But, the Lord always confirmed to me that HOME was where they should be. Even with a dozen children, I could give them more of what each individual child needed, than any school could. I could challenge my highly gifted kids, and I could slow the pace for my highly challenged kids (without fear of tests or failing).

You are a GREAT Mama. You have done the very BEST that you could. This program has been a GREAT option . . . for the time. But, now that you are HOME full-time, I really encourage you to take the step of freedom and pull them out of the program that is trying to keep them "on track" with a pace that is not in their best interests.

You can do it!

Laurel :)

Betty W. 10:55 PM  

Praying that God perfects all those things that concern you, and your children. God knows all of your concerns, and he cares about every one of them. Also claiming the scriptures, that your children have the mind of Christ, and they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.

Kait 4:24 AM  

We're right there with you. We're homeschooling because emotionally, it's what my kids want and need. They don't want to be away from home that many hours every day, they don't want the pressure of being taught to the test, and I don't blame them.

But it's becoming very obvious to me that my younger sons (one who should have gone to K this year, one who should start K next year) are going to have some special learning needs and I'm wondering if I'm up to the challenge of teaching them.

Whatever you choose, your kids will be fine because you will make your decision out of wisdom and love.

Jenny 4:09 PM  

Since all my adoptions and the special needs of many, I do all of the above - full time public school, part time public school, home school co-op and full homeschool. I really try to do what I think is best for each individual with the reality check that I don't have hours to cater anything to anyone too much. It's just so hard to decide!

Heather 7:07 PM  

Not sure about OK, but I know at least in our area, even private schools are not equiped to deal with SN learners, so before you commit to anything, make sure that the school has an environment that even IS suitable for your learners.

And I understand that teaching kiddos with some learning disablities is HARD. I often wish I had those specialists to fall back on with Mary. But ultimately, I like the freedom to allow her to learn at her own pace, to learn about things that are important to her, to help her learn life skills for when she's an adult. Because in the grand scheme of things, I want her to be a functioning adult. When I was younger, before we had kids, I just assumed that all my children would go to college for AT LEAST four years. Now. . . I want all of my children to be contributing adults and happy with their life.

Also, I kknow you know this, BUT they don't all have to do the same thing. We sent Sophia to public school, and while it's NOT by any means my first choice, she's doing well there academically and it allows me to focus on the kiddos with more learning needs.

Anywho. Hugs to you while you and Eric are sorting it out.