Home schools multiply in N.C.

More parents say public schools don't meet their needs

Staff WriterAugust 9, 2010 

  • Number of home schools by county for 2009-10:

    Wake

    4,023

    Durham

    717

    Orange

    403

    Johnston

    968

    Chatham

    262

Lisa Blocker thought her children were not challenged enough in the Pitt County public schools, so she pulled them out and moved the family to Wake County to home-school them.

"My two older girls are extremely gifted, and the third has special needs," Blocker said.

That was 12 years ago. Blocker is now president of the Cary Home schoolers, an organization of 250 families.

The number of home schools has steadily increased across the state since home-schooling became legal in 1985, going from 381 schools that year to nearly 43,316 schools today, according to a recent report released by the N.C. Department of Administration, which registers the state's home schools.

Wake County, which has the largest public school system in the state, also has the most home schools, with 4,023. Mecklenburg has the second most, with 3,131.

While 66 percent of North Carolina home schools are religiously affiliated, a growing number of parents are choosing home school because they feel they can do a better job than public schools, particularly for gifted and special-needs children, said Spencer Mason, president of North Carolinians for Home Education, a statewide support group and lobbying organization for home schools.

"A lot of parents are disappointed in how schools deal with special needs," Mason said. His four children were home-schooled in Charlotte, starting in 1981.

In the Cary group, Blocker said some parents have left public schools because of the frequent redistricting and calendar changes.

"From what I hear, some are leaving because of bad experiences; some are leaving because it's not a good fit," she said. "But that's not unique to Wake County."

Lori Clifton of the Charlotte suburb Matthews began home-schooling her three children six years ago, after her oldest son, now 14, struggled with the stress of end-of-year testing in public school. She also felt the school was not teaching their family's values.

"Our main reason was we wanted to teach our belief system," Clifton said. "What we believe as Christians is wrapped up in everything - science, history and math."

They begin their day with Bible study, but her curriculum is not limited to Christian authors or subjects. She taught the theory of evolution along with creationism in science. This summer, her son is reading "The Old Man and the Sea," by Ernest Hemingway.

"We can find the message of the Lord in everything, even if [the author] did not live a Christian life," she said.

Both Blocker and Mason said that it's a myth home-schooled children lack social skills compared to peers who attend public or private schools. Because of the growing numbers of home schools, there are many group activities.

Blocker's daughter Anna, 17, wants to attend veterinary school at N.C. State University and regularly volunteers at horse camps and participates in other animal-related activities, she said.

Mason said home-schooled children tend to be more involved in activities because their flexible schedules allow them to attend music classes or sports or pursue other interests all through the day, not just after school.

A few years ago, Mason's group commissioned a statewide study of home-schooled children and found a majority went to college and were more likely to have a high GPA, he said.

Blocker's oldest daughter, Sarah, 20, just finished her freshman year at Peace College, where she is on the dean's list.

"I already had control [of] when my classes were and what kind of stuff I did," Sarah Blocker said. "And I found I have better study skills."

Blocker says they don't have a "typical day" but follow a more relaxed schedule, mostly for her daughter who has autism.

"We may get up one day and it's just such a perfect day for the beach or the lake, and we may do that," she said. "But that is why we [study] through the summer."

leah.friedman@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4546

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