Home Schooling Comes Of Age

home schooling spelling bee winner
Many parents are passing up public and private school education for their children and are choosing instead to teach them at home.

The final report card on this is not in yet, but home schooling has just produced some high-profile success stories, as Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

Never had it happened before. Not once in 73 National Spelling Bees had the first place, second place and third place finishers all come from the same school: home schools.

Says parent Mary O'Keefe of the recent contest, "When it got down to the final three, and they were all home-schoolers, I thought, 'Oh this is so cool.'"

O'Keefe's daughter Alison Miller finished third, one of 27 home schoolers out of 248 contestants. Her mother says what the bee really spelled out is that home schooling works, that it's not a bunch of freaks on the fringe.

"They don't look like extraterrestrials," says O'Keefe. "They look like normal kids. And it does make it seem more possible."

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Home schoolers, who won big in the spelling and geography bees, are criticized for "unfair advantages."
Some 1.2 million to 1.7 million kids are thought to be participating in home schooling in America. And advocates say it's growing at a rate of 15 percent a year. In the last two years, the term home schooling has even made it into Webster's dictionary.

"We take it very seriously and see it as a reasonable option," says Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania. Like other Ivy League colleges, Penn now gets 15 to 20 applications from home schoolers each year. Three to four are accepted.

"All the evidence we have show(s) that these students perform just as well if not maybe just a little bit better because they've been focused," he says.

Chances are that Alison, who read a the age of 2, did algebra at 4 and calculus at 8, would have succeeded in any kind of setting. Plus she has a former Harvard professor for a mother, who has furnished their home with Shakespeare and Homer texts; a dictionary adorns the dining room.

That kind of dedication and those sorts of credentials are rare. This is why home schooling is just not a realistic possibility for so many families, some educators say.

"There's two limits on this thing: A majority of parents work and need to work. And No. 2: There are a very limited number of parents who want to spend 24 hours a day with their kids," says Columbia University's Arthur Levine.

Maybe so. But these high-profile performances will be held up as evidence that home schooling's full potential has yet to be spelled out.