With the homeschooling movement in America expanding rapidly, a growing number of Jewish education-minded families are keeping their kids home. They include parents wary of formal classroom settings, families who live far from Jewish day schools or schools that comport with their religious orientation or values, and parents seeking to give their kids a Jewish education without paying parochial school tuition.
“People are very frustrated with the system,” said Chaya Margolin, director of Jewish Online School, a Chabad project that offers distance-learning classes. “Costs are getting higher and higher. Nothing has changed in 100 years between the stress of finances and learning that’s up to par, so we do it ourselves.”
Over the last five years, the Chabad program has grown from 40 to 200 students. Many students are the children of Chabad “shluchim” — Jewish outreach emissaries who live in far-flung places around the globe, which often have no local Jewish schools. But the program also fields many inquiries from non-Orthodox families seeking alternatives to traditional day schools or Hebrew schools.
An estimated four to eight million American children are being homeschooled, according to J. Allen Weston, executive director of the National Homeschool Association. Recent years have seen “very explosive growth,” he said. Weston attributes the increase to rising dissatisfaction with public schools’ emphasis on test prep, curricula and traditional educational models.
There are a variety of curricula for Jewish homeschoolers who crave more formality. The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar-Ilan University offers nearly 500 lesson plans and resources used both by school educators and homeschoolers. Mindful of the growing homeschool population, the center also runs the Lookstein Virtual Academy, a project-based accredited online program for middle- and high-school students.
Parents also use iTaLAM —a computer-based Hebrew and Jewish heritage program, the correspondence project from the NSW Board of Jewish Education, materials from Jewish educational websites like Chinuch.org and even PJ Library, which mails free Jewish-themed books to homes.
Read the whole article at JTA.