How many children are homeschooled in the Berkshires?
Photo by Jack Frog
It’s September, and those big yellow school buses are rolling again, carrying most of the Berkshire’s nearly 17,000 school children. We wondered how many don’t board buses, remaining at home to be taught by parents. The most recent state statistics show that about 258 students, or about 1.5 percent, are parent-educated. Larger towns such as Pittsfield at 75 students and North Adams at 19 students (both at 1.2 percent), and Great Barrington at 10 (1.1 percent), showed the most homeschooled students. But percentages were higher in some smaller towns: Hancock (6.7 percent), Becket (6.3 percent), New Marlborough (4 percent), Florida (3.8 percent) and Lee (3.5 percent). National trends show small but increasing numbers since the 1980s.
One study reveals that nearly half of parents opting for home schooling do so because they feel they can provide a better education, and nearly 40 percent cite religious reasons. There are many other motivations, some of which make the practice controversial. Critics say it can deny children “the knowledge required to live in a modern society.” But homeschooling can work, and few can deny that a skilled and motivated parent can achieve excellent results. The term “homeschooling” is actually a misnomer, says Elaine Caligiuri, who is teaching her 14-year-old daughter and is an educator in the area. She says those who choose the option view the Berkshire community and its many offerings as a platform to explore and learn.
Massachusetts is one of only 16 states that requires parents to give notice of intent to teach a child at home and that monitors the process to some degree. Parents are required only to have a homeschooling plan on file. Superintendent Peter Dillon of the Berkshire Hills Regional District says that the plans are diverse and “unique to the students and families” that make them.