- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

A Clemson, S.C., home-schooling mom made national headlines recently when Gov. Mark Sanford appointed her chairwoman of the South Carolina Board of Education, a 17-member body on which she already had served as an elected representative for four years.

Kristin Maguire and her husband, March, have home-schooled their four daughters, ages 8 to 14, “since the day we brought each home from the hospital,” she said in a recent interview.

Her goals as an educator are for children to master fundamental skills and attain the knowledge base to become lifelong independent learners.

Ms. Maguire’s reasons for getting involved with public education policy were multiple: Her mother taught in public schools for 30 years, she acknowledges her own personal enrichment through public schooling, and she recognizes that “public schools provide K-12 education for the vast majority of South Carolina’s children.” Her mother urged her to serve on the school board to bring to the table her dual strengths as a teaching mother of small children and a woman trained in engineering.

As can be imagined, a home-schooler serving in a key role in public education raised some eyebrows, both from public school and home-school proponents, but Ms. Maguire keeps the focus on the common goal: excellence in education.

Her vision?

“Every child in every public school in South Carolina should be making progress toward a South Carolina high school diploma, an important milestone indicating they are fully prepared for whatever postsecondary path they take, having the foundation needed to become leaders in the state, nation and world.”

Home-schoolers, in her assessment, are uniquely equipped to empathize and support the role of teachers in the schools.

“They are familiar with reviewing curricula, making lesson plans and assessing results,” she says.

Unlike home-schoolers, Ms. Maguire says, “Teachers worry about losing the children and the learning environment because of industrial measures of productivity,” being pressured to produce results while feeling powerless to change things to improve student outcomes.

“This is probably one of the most exciting times in education,” Ms. Maguire says. “We are literally moving from an industrial model of education, in which kids are the raw material we have to process in large batches, to an individualized approach where the body of knowledge and core skills are defined and the pace and method vary by the child.

“We can leverage technology to multiply the effectiveness of teachers and parents, allowing for targeted instruction,” she says. “Geographical barriers are broken down through distance learning; rural schools can access advanced and diverse courses they couldn’t afford to provide previously.”

Yet expensive technology doesn’t solve all problems; often personal instruction works best.

“Dramatic increases in students’ reading achievement have resulted through systematic teaching of explicit phonics and spelling. Volunteer tutoring and mentoring have impacted student achievement,” she says.

“Having parents connected to their children’s education is the single greatest predictor of a child’s success,” Ms. Maguire says. “Ensuring parents have excellent educational options for their children is essential.”

Ms. Maguire’s hope for home-schooling parents is “to consider how they can be involved in public service in their community, to positively impact our neighborhoods and states. This could be in an official policy-making position or in a membership or leadership role in a civic or religious organization.

“Parents’ greatest contribution is raising their children to be the best they can be,” she says. “Part of this involves training children to understand how they can participate and serve our democratic republic.

“Knowledge is the first step,” she says. “Leading by example is the next.”

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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