This week is National School Choice Week and it is important to remember that education choice includes not just private, charter, and traditional public options, but also homeschooling options as well.
My upcoming book, co-authored with the amazing Mia Giordano, tells the story of Mia’s incredible educational journey. Because of health issues, Mia developed serious learning disabilities that seriously impaired her ability to read, write, and speak. Unfortunately, other students made fun of her and the conventional schools she attended, both public and private, could not effectively address her learning issues.
By the middle of the third grade, Mia’s parents decided that homeschooling was the best way to meet her individual needs.
It turns out that many parents are deciding to homeschool their children with special needs.
Jackie Nunes is a pediatric nurse who decided to homeschool her hearing impaired and developmentally disabled child. As Nunes explains: “In a traditional classroom setting, teachers often do not have the time or resources to give every child individual attention. In a homeschool situation, however, parents have the ability to teach in a personalized manner all day, every day. Any aspect of education that requires specialized instruction, like reading and writing, math basics or handwriting, can be emphasized for as much time and in as many ways as necessary.”
Nunes’ observation–that any aspect of education that requires specialized instruction can be addressed in many ways in homeschooling—is exactly what appealed to Mia’s parents.
After deciding to homeschool Mia, Mia’s mother discovered the Arrowsmith Program, which is a Canadian program that eschews the conventional method of emphasizing a person’s learning strengths to compensate for their weaknesses in favor of a brain-science-based method of training the weak parts of a person’s brain to be strong.
At a small learning center near her home that offered the Arrowsmith Program, Mia was evaluated for a broad range of cognitive functions and was found to have significant problems in areas such as motor symbol sequencing, which involves producing a symbolic sequential motor pattern such as writing out the alphabet.
She also had a severe problem in the area of symbol relations, which involves connecting concepts and ideas and understanding logical and conceptual relationships. Thus, it was hard for her to read a clock and understand the relationship between the hands.
The Arrowsmith Program addressed these cognitive problems through the use of exercises of increasing difficulty.
For example, to address her motor-symbol-sequencing issue, she had to do tracing exercises where she had to use a red pen to draw within the borders of green symbols on a page. To address her symbol-relations problem, she had to do exercises where she had to read clocks with up to 10 hands.
After four years of doing the Arrowsmith Program during her homeschooling, Mia’s brain was transformed, and she became a different person.
Comparing how she entered the Arrowsmith program and how she left it, she said she felt like going from being stuck in traffic in downtown San Francisco to driving in a Ferrari on an open freeway. Everything in her brain was moving at lightning speed. She didn’t need to count on her fingers to do math, she didn’t forget instructions, and she didn’t need any compensating strategies to get by.
Mia is now a successful and thriving student at Design Tech charter high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her success is due to her parents’ ability to use a homeschool option to access a non-traditional program that the regular public schools would be incapable of offering.
As a former longtime Bay Area school district education psychologist pointed out, “The only way [Arrowsmith] would work in the public school system is if we had a complete paradigm shift,” but “the structure of the public education system is just not built to handle something like this—teachers aren’t trained, the belief system isn’t there, and the funding isn’t there.”
That is why education choice is so important. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has recently signed legislation that expands the state’s Gardiner Scholarship program for special needs children that gives parents education savings accounts from which they can pay for programs like Arrowsmith.
Mia’s journey is therefore not just the inspiring personal story of one young woman’s struggle and ultimate victory over her disabilities, it is also about the larger issue of empowering all parents with the ability to make educational choices that best meet the needs of their children. As Linus may have said to Charlie Brown, that’s what National School Choice Week is all about.
–Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and author of the 2019 book Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.