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Fairly Odd Mother

Frantically waving my magic wand to make wishes come true.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Homeschooling in a public school world


It's been almost two months since we started with MAVA, the new virtual public school in Massachusetts. The lack of new posts on this blog should be an indication that it is, indeed, kicking my butt.

But, I'm kind of enjoying the butt-kicking, in some weird way. It feels good to have a plan, to check off items as we do them, to track our progress more concretely than we were before.

But, there are definitely growing pains in this new school, both at our home and throughout the program. My girls would rather play than do school (shocking, I know). They complain about how long it takes, forgetting that things move so much quicker if they don't w-h-i-n-e at every step.

And, my poor son. I'm still struggling to keep him busy and learning and engaged while wrapped up with my other two.

Outside of our home, the only other family I knew in real life who was enrolled in MAVA recently quit. The public school's beating drum that says "move forward, move forward" thrown on top of K12's vigorous curriculum (which is, ironically, all about "mastering tasks at your own pace") got to be too much for them.

Aye, there's the rub, as Shakespeare would say.

It's hard to marry the homeschooling lifestyle with the public school mentality. The public school wants us to finish at least 80% of all of our subjects by the end of June, never mind that we joined more than 20% into the school year. Never mind that I was already doing school with the kids in September, October and November, not lying on the couch wondering how they'd get educated.

The public school wants 80% complete, but K12 says "mastery, mastery". So how does one move forward if a child is stuck? How can I spend an extra week on long division when the clock is ticking?

Report cards were just issued that were based solely on what percentage of the program is complete in each subject. I'd say we did fair. Each girl got one "W", or Warning grade. Belly got hers in Art, which is funny given that the girl takes three hours of art classes each week, but alas, her progress in the program lags a bit behind.

Jilly got her "W" in History, a subject we have always kicked ass in up until now. I like the K12 History program, it just gets shuffled aside a little bit in an attempt to get to math-reading-spelling-grammar-french-science-art. But, again, it feels funny to see a "W" in a subject that I've loved enough to do well into the summer each year.

I asked our "teacher" (more on this later), what will happen if we are at, say, 65% at the end of June. Will they kick us out? "No!" she replied quickly, but then admitted she isn't sure what that means for us. I know they want the kids to stay on grade level, but I don't really care if my 4th grader becomes a 5th grader in September, December or March of next year.

I care that my kids learn and understand the work.

I don't want to outright quit in frustration though. I want to see where we end up in June and then take stock in our family life, our homeschooling life and our place in MAVA. Maybe there will be a place for us next September, maybe there won't. But, it's too early to stop now.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Mir said...

When I was looking into homeschooling, I was intrigued by our state's "virtual academy" and thought it might be a great option as a newbie homeschooler... but was astonished at the time commitment required. 7 hours/day! When I asked why it would take the same number of hours at home, with one kid, as it takes with 30 kids in a classroom at school, the rep acted like I was trying to get away with something. And they do online teleseminars and strict attendance logs, so basically you have to be there when they say. I started wondering if maybe I was truly being naive.

And then my 5th grader missed nearly a month of school, while ill, and one week I picked up some work for him that he finished in under an hour. And the next week they finally sent us homebound services -- a teacher who came for 3 hours over two days. In those three hours she caught him up on... everything else. So yeah, the whole 7 hours/day thing remains baffling to me.

MAVA doesn't sound quite so totalitarian but still, if you're losing the flexibility that is arguably the greatest thing about homeschooling... that just seems wrong, somehow. :(

7:40 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

I'm very interested in this subject and how it's going for you guys. The Master But Keep Moving plan does seem pretty contradictory - have you spoken to your teacher/overseer/frowny grownup about that?

10:16 AM  
Blogger Nan | WrathOfMom said...

Wait. Lying on the couch wondering how they'd get educated is a BAD thing? Well, I'm screwed.

Hope you find your mojo w/ the school. Sounds intense.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Elle said...

I had similar feelings while my two oldest children were enrolled in our state's virtual academy. They were students there for four years, and the flexibility in scheduling and mastery was significantly reduced during that time, which ultimately led to our family leaving at the end of last year.

It was frustrating that I couldn't focus more time on the subjects that they were struggling with because of the pressure to keep moving along in the other lessons. My kids were far above grade level in certain subjects, but we still had to keep hitting those percentage numbers. If I had been traditionally homeschooling, I would have chosen to scale back the time devoted in those areas in favor of strengthening their comprehension in the challenging subjects.

Though I love the K12 curriculum and might use it independently in the future, I think that the move to diminish the autonomy of the "learning coaches" (i.e. parents) is detrimental to the families that are responsible and capable. (On the flip side, conversations with our teacher, who we had an excellent relationship with, revealed that many of these demands were implemented to deal with the families who were totally uninvolved- not logging any progress for weeks at a time, that sort of thing.)

I'm sure that once the year is over, your family will be able to objectively evaluate what worked for you and what didn't and decide what's best for you. Good luck!

11:31 AM  
Blogger GBK Gwyneth said...

Thanks for the update. I was wondering how it all was going for you guys. Unfortunately, it sounds like you are facing some issues that would really drive me nuts. I've contemplated a virtual school on and off when things get frustrating, but I can't give up the freedom that we have to move at the pace that's right for my kids.....

2:48 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Q. said...

I know you had high hopes, so I'm sorry that it's not what you hoped it would be. And whether this works out, you go back to what you were doing or try something entirely new, I have no worries that you will find a fit that makes sense for your family.

Now maybe you can help me figure out what to do with mine! :>)

5:19 PM  
Blogger Idaho Dad said...

We've been in the Idaho Virtual Academy for five years now. At first, I found it to be a bit stressful, but quickly learned that there are parts of the curriculum that it's best to simply skip over.

Because my kids do well in their testing, and with their work samples, the "teacher" pretty much leaves us alone. I also give them a big hint during the monthly conference call when they ask, "Any questions or problems?" and I always reply, "Nope."

Of course, they never show concern because the state testing backs us up. One "teacher" even told me that she likes families like ours because she doesn't have to worry about us.

We work from 8:30 until around 3, with an hour for lunch, and plenty of free reading time. We also take one short day each week to go out to lunch and for a walk or something. If I see the kids falling behind in their schedule, I look for units that we can skip over. I mean, sometimes it's just not that important for them to work through yet another poetry unit.

These first months of the K12 curriculum are the most difficult, because you just haven't found your comfort zone. The best advice I can give you is, look for the units (in all subjects) that you can simply mark as complete. Forget art and music entirely. Zoom through history. Cut out one of the composition projects.

Even after you cut the curriculum down by 25%, your kids will still be learning so much more than most of the public school kids.

11:44 PM  

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