School at Home: Dozens of families in Europe opt out of DODDS
September 13, 2008
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — As thousands of students settle in for the current DODDS-Europe school year, dozens of others will never leave home or board a bus to get their education.
The Gorske and the Barrera families are just two of the dozens of families associated with the U.S. military in Europe who have chosen to home-school their children. Julie Gorske began the third year of schooling her two daughters, Sara, 10, and Libby, 8, in their Kaiserslautern-area home.
"I can tailor the way I teach to the way my children learn," said Gorske, whose husband is an Army doctor at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. "… We spend less time pulling out books or getting in line to go to the lunch room, so school can be accomplished in less time than at public schools."
Daniel and Michelle Barrera, who live on Ramstein Air Base, have their daughters Amber, 16, and Kaylee, 14, home schooling for the first time this year.
"I think it’s going to be OK," said Amber Barrera, who, through home schooling, hopes to graduate high school early. "It’s just like school — taking your textbook home and doing your homework."
Kaiserslautern, which is home to the largest concentration of Americans outside the U.S., boasts more than 90 American families home schooling their kids. And the numbers of home-schoolers here and in the States are growing, said André Fowlkes, a steering team committee member with the Kaiserslautern Military Community Christian Home Educators.
Statistics support Fowlkes. From 1999 to 2003, the number of students being home-schooled in the U.S. increased 7 percent a year, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. The Home School Legal Defense Association estimates that the annual U.S. increase in homeschooling is between 7 and 15 percent.
The group Fowlkes is associated with is one of two home schooling organizations in the Kaiserslautern area. Other home school groups exist among U.S. military communities in Europe but are not as big as the home schooling contingent in the Kaiserslautern area, Fowlkes said.
Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe does not require parents who home school to register their children with the school system, said Maggie Menzies, DODDS-Europe spokeswoman. DODDS-Europe does not track the number of home-schooled students in Europe, so exact figures are unavailable.
"It is (Department of Defense Education Activity) policy neither to encourage nor discourage DOD sponsors from home schooling their minor dependents," according to a 2002 memo signed by Joseph Tafoya, then-director of DODEA. "DoDEA recognizes that home schooling is a sponsor’s right and can be a legitimate alternative form of education for the sponsor’s dependents."
The legal defense association estimates that 2 million children in the U.S. — about 3 percent of the school-age population — are home-schooled. The federal government’s 2003 estimate is that 1.1 million school-age children are home-schooled.
Often linked with evangelicals, home schooling has seen wider appeal of late, said Ian Slatter, director of media relations for the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association.
"Now, we’re seeing people being motivated not necessarily by religious perspective but by the quality of education achieved through the method of home schooling," he said.
The other home schooling group in Kaiserslautern is not religiously affiliated, Fowlkes said.
Home-schooled students associated with the U.S. military in Europe are able to take classes at DODDS-Europe schools and can participate in extracurricular activities such as sports. Parents interviewed for this story all gave kudos to DODDS-Europe for its acceptance of home schooling.
Parents cited the ability to teach values, character and a world view; schedule flexibility; customized curriculums and the chance to finish grades faster as some of the pros of home schooling. Some cons include that their homes can look like a school, a lack of free time for moms and that home schooling becomes a lifestyle — "not something you can turn on and off," Fowlkes said.
With the Barreras choosing a home schooling approach where their daughters are conducting self-study, they’ll be keeping a close eye on the students’ grades and progress.
"You’re either going to fail miserably or you’re going to have good success," said Daniel Barrera, an Air Force technical sergeant at Landstuhl.
"I told them it’s up to them. If we see it’s not doing any good, we’ll stop it, and they’ll go back."
"We still wanted to do what’s best for them in the end academic-wise," said Michelle Barrera. "The more I read about it, the more I thought this is a good thing."