It's hard to identify an area where technology has made more impact than homeschooling. With the growth of digital learning options, many parents who have never before considered taking more control over their children's education are now withdrawing their kids from traditional schools — at least part-time — and allowing them to take advantage of courses offered by not only for-profit providers on contract to their school districts, but also online high school programs offered by some of the best colleges and universities around the country.
For Blake Binkley from Reno, Nevada, this meant getting to choose providers as diverse as the Truckee Meadows Community College, University of Nevada and even Stanford University's Online High School. That is in addition to occasionally attending classes at his local traditional high school, Galena.
The new generation of homeschoolers don't fit the stereotype of coddled children kept at home and schooled by their mother, Binkley explained. What drew him and his parents to try the online option is the opportunity to sample just about any subject under the sky and to move at Binkley's own pace without having to wait for the slowest members of his class to catch up.
For Binkley, his mother Cornelia Binkley said, the added rigor kept him engaged in learning, something he's grappled with since kindergarten.
"Every year, we'd have to take him out of school at Christmas break to find ways to keep him stimulated," Cornelia Binkley said. "It was also nice to keep him close so you could have more time to help shape his values and point of view."
More than 2.4 million students around the country are considered to be homeschooled. The Nevada Home School Network alone says that between 4,500 and 5,000 students are taking advantage of its services. And it's no wonder, as an increasing number of studies are showing that children who are allowed to set their own learning pace perform as well, or even better, than their traditionally educated peers.
Most of the studies compiled by groups such as the National Home School Education Research Institute and Home School Legal Defense Association claim that standardized test scores taken by home-educated children are as much as 30 percent higher than scores by public school students.
Although there's no data tracking the achievement of homeschoolers, some do end up taking Nevada's standardized exams and, as they approach graduation, sit for the traditional ACT and SAT exams that are frequently required for college admission.
Although the rationale behind each family's decision to pursue homeschooling differs, many choose to withdraw their children from public school simply because they feel that it doesn't provide a good learning environment. Frank Schnorbus, chairman of the Nevada Homeschool Network, explained that even though he wasn't comfortable with the environment in local public schools, it was the fact that his 10 kids didn't seem to be engaged in the learning that finally motivated him to look at alternatives.
"Home schooling should be a relaxed atmosphere where the child will learn to love learning," Schnorbus said. "They start seeking things out, and that's one of the keys to success."