Last year was the first really good year we’ve had with homeschooling. That’s because we’re part of a Christian homeschooling co-op that uses the classical education model. In the program, parents and kids meet together once a week on the campus of a large area church for class work (in our co-op, there’s an option to meet a second day for additional enrichment). The kids also get to socialize with each other. Parents — they’re almost all moms — teach the classes. It worked very well for our family last year, and Julie loved it so much that she’s become a state leader for PA in program. It’s going very well this year too. Two things that seem to be especially helpful are 1) all the burden of teaching doesn’t fall only on Julie, but is shared with other moms; there’s a real sense of mission and camaraderie among these women, and 2) the kids get to play together, and form friendships.

Mr. Panos, a friend whose family joined our co-op this year, sends along a piece from The Wall Street Journal reporting that homeschool co-ops are starting to pop up places. Excerpt:

Rebecca Dake didn’t like San Francisco’s public schools and thought private schools were too expensive. So the mother of three recently opted for another route for her 6-year-old daughter: a homeschool cooperative she helped start herself.

“This offers a middle choice for the middle class,” says the 38-year-old Ms. Dake.

Walter Russell Mead — whose blog really is one of the very best around — says that there may be opportunity for entrepreneurs in this new model, for tutors and organizers willing to work with co-op families. Plus:

[T]his phenomenon underlines a key aspect of the change taking place in America’s schools.  The public schools are not going to be replaced by a single alternative system; new forms of education are going to appear.

A truly forward thinking community would try to accelerate this process, offering vouchers and other incentives to parents and community groups who are willing to create the schools of the future.  Ultimately, parents should have the option to spend education money on whatever program they believe will best serve their children.

I read from Mead’s post last night, and said to my wife that the co-op might reach out to grad students or underemployed recent master’s graduates and offer them a stipend to teach. She said, “Who do you think is teaching our Latin class tomorrow?” Turns out one of the co-op dads, a classics professor, found a first-rate classics grad student, who is now making extra money teaching our kids once a week.

And guess what? Classroom discipline is not a problem. Everybody’s mama is on site.

UPDATE: A reader in London sends this link to a Time magazine report out today, which discloses results of a small Canadian study showing homeschoolers under certain conditions do better than kids in public schools. It says in part:

The researchers said the difference remained even after they accounted for other factors that affect children’s academic performance, like household income and mothers’ education, employment and marital status. Although many previous studies have found higher academic achievement in home-schooled children, those results have often been ascribed to socioeconomic and education differences among parents who choose home schooling.

In the current study, the authors theorized that more personalized attention may have helped the home-schooled children do better. “This advantage may be explained by several factors including smaller class sizes, more individualized instruction, or more academic time spent on core subjects such as reading and writing,” said author Sandra Martin-Chang, a professor in the Concordia department of education, in a statement.

The achievements associated with home schooling were seen only in those children who had structured academic curriculums, however. The 12 children in the home-schooled group whose education was unstructured — a method known as unschooling, which uses no teachers, textbooks or tests — did worse on all academic measures compared with the structured home school group, falling one to four grade levels behind.

Incidentally, our homeschooling co-op is not based in or around our neighborhood. Two Catholic families in our neighborhood (friends of ours) belong to our co-op, which meets in a suburban church. From what I’m told, most homeschoolers in our liberal, secular, relatively affluent part of the city are unschoolers, who, as you’ve read, have a very different pedagogical approach — one that I find to be ridiculous, quite frankly. Anyway, the point is, not all homeschoolers are alike. Homeschooling is diverse and innovative.