Matching Gifts

Every Friday afternoon during the school year, I pass by Mountainview Elementary, part of Waco ISD (WISD), as I take my children to Suzuki group classes. Mountainview Elementary is an “exemplary school,” exceeding the requirements set by the state of Texas. Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) and Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) scores are always above average there. The school strives for 100% PTA membership, and parents are very active in the school. The teachers at Mountainview are obviously outstanding, dedicated individuals.

As I drive down Bishop Drive in Waco, I regularly see two ladies power-walking. Since it is 3:45 p.m., I assume they are teachers. I imagine to myself, “These ladies get up every morning, teach school all day, run home, throw on their workout clothes, exercise, gulp down a Diet Dr Pepper, throw something together for dinner, feed their kids, help them with their homework, get them in bed, straighten the house, grade papers, get things ready for the next day, and fall into bed—probably late at night. Then they get up early the next day and do the same thing—weekday after weekday.”

In spite of this dedication, the American public schools perform poorly when compared to schools internationally. The U.S. consistently ranks seventeenth or lower among other nations.  I want to encourage all home educators–-“home schoolers,” as we call ourselves–-to fare better than the public schools. I want to encourage those ladies who teach from the kitchen table to go so far beyond what the public schools are producing that there cannot be a comparison.

Currently, Texas home schools are required to teach the core subjects of math, grammar, reading, spelling, and good citizenship. Almost all of us also teach Bible, soft subjects such as social studies and science, and all manner of extracurricular electives.

If the outstanding teachers at Mountainview arrive on campus professionally dressed at 7:30 a.m., 175 plus days a year, pour themselves into twenty-two or more children each year, keep themselves physically fit, run a home, and keep their skills up through continuing education, what should we home educators be doing with our two to ten children? Should not we at least match this?

Can I smugly criticize the public schools if my child cannot spell or has pathetic penmanship? Can I click my tongue if my schoolroom is a wreck?  Should I be shaking my head at public school students’ behavior if I am sowing seeds of laziness by lounging around in my bathrobe until 9:00 in the morning?

One of my personal mottoes is, “Toward Excellence in All Things.” With a mandate from God, support from my husband, great teaching tools at my disposal, and the deepest kind of love for my children, why would I not want to set my standards high? Why be satisfied with ranking in the 85th percentile on a standardized test? Why not require a 95% or better on a math assignment? Why not have my students read volumes of classic literature and personal memoirs of the world’s greatest men and women in history? Why should we train our children to do less than best?

Texas public school students now have to be able to read by the end of the third grade, thanks to former Gov. George Bush’s education policies. Great! But, the third grade? WISD students have to pass the TAAS before promotion. Hooray for WISD Superintendent Roseanne Stripling’s “hard line” strategy!  Finally, somebody is setting some standards!  In reality, the TAAS is not that hard! I look at practice TAAS tests and say, “That is it? That is all that is required for my eighth grader?”

Home schoolers should at least be doing as well as the gifted and talented and Advanced Placement students in the public schools. Home schooled high school students should be hovering around the 1400 or 1500 mark on the SAT. There is no excuse for less. Home educated students of all ages should be involved in their communities, loved by their neighbors, and respected by business leaders.  Universities should be beating a path to homeschoolers’ doors, begging them to attend their schools.

Let us take a tip from our peers at Mountainview Elementary. We cannot slip and slide our way through thirteen years of a child’s education and expect a good outcome. Day after day, whether it is for 175 or 365 days a year, we must command excellence from ourselves. We must do better than the public schools–much better. We must set the standard for the public schools to match, not the other way around. We must do this for the sake of America’s future.