- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2000

Rebecca Sealfon of Brooklyn brought home schooling to national attention three years ago when the home-taught teen-ager won the National Spelling Bee. This week three home schoolers have done it again by winning the top three places in the national contest Thursday, and touting their reason for success. First place winner George Thampy, 12, said home schooling helped him get the trophy by giving him the flexibility he needed to study what interested him. Far from being a subculture that teaches to one performance or test, home schooling allows time for students to pursue individually tailored education. This leaves most home-taught students more academically and emotionally fit than their public school peers, and test scores prove it.

Home-schooled boys scored in the 85th percentile in math, while their public school peers scored in the 52nd, according to a study done by Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, "Strengths of Their Own: Home Schoolers Across America." Home-taught girls were 31 percentile points above their public school peers in math. Students learning at home also score well above public school students in reading: boys are 44 percentile points higher and girls are 30 percentile points higher.

Defying the socially-challenged stereotype, home-schooled students now in adulthood are not hindered by their schooling experience in the professional world either. Of home-school graduates, 31 percent became employed, while 69 percent chose to pursue post-secondary education. Of public schoolers studied, 29 percent became employed and 71 percent pursued higher education. Of home schoolers, 42 percent say they take classes outside the home and 48 percent are involved in group sports. So much for social ineptitude.

Then again, many parents decide to educate at home in order to provide their children with an environment where they can pursue interests they never could in a public school. Cynthia van der Ark of Alexandria, Va. is one such mom. For her and her daughters, Alex and Madison, every part of life is school. Before taking the girls, ages 4 and 6, to Italy this spring, she had them make mosaics, study the Renaissance period, read a book about Venice, and do biographical studies on Michelangelo and Botticelli. Once there, they had the assignment of drawing castles, gondolas, and of course, the David.

Not every week is so exotic; this week they are learning the letter "W" by drawing windmills. And sometimes balancing a household and teaching can get tiring. "It's easy to lose yourself," Mrs. van der Ark said. Sometimes it's hard to even have time to do the laundry, she said, but she considers the time invested in the girl's future well worth it.

As a father of 10 home-schooled children, Mike Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, can speak to the negative stigma many home schooling parents receive from critics. "At times it feels lonely, but it's always lonely at the top. Console yourself in the fact that your children are going to be the leaders of our society," he said.

May all those clever little spellers continue to prove him right.

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