Navigating the Boston Public Schools System


If you think home-schooling is solely the province of evangelical Christians and back-to-the-landers, you’re overlooking a growing network of mainstream parents who believe they alone can provide the best education for their kids. The exact number is hard to pinpoint. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were about 1.5 million home-schooled students nationwide in 2007, up from 850,000 in 1999. In 2004 Tammy Rosenblatt, owner of the Family Resource Center of New England, conducted her own survey of school superintendents, local home-school groups, and families, and estimated that about 20,000 children were being taught at home in Massachusetts, with the majority concentrated in the Boston area.

It’s a way of life for Kerry McDonald, a former corporate trainer turned stay-at-home mom, and her husband, Brian Roughan, principal at a consulting firm. They’ve lived in Cambridge for seven years and share a 1,300-square-foot condo with their three children, all under the age of five. “Prior to committing to home-schooling a couple of years ago, we reluctantly thought we would have to leave Cambridge for Brookline,” Kerry says. They knew Cambridge had some good elementary schools, but weren’t comfortable sending their kids there. Private schools were out, too.

Still, Kerry and Brian loved Cambridge. And home-schooling fit with their hands-on, attachment style of parenting. The more they considered the option and connected with other local home-schooling families, Kerry says, the more she and her husband became convinced of its inherent value, namely the freedom and flexibility to tailor their children’s education to their interests.

Now, they’re active in local home-school groups, getting together for trips to parks and museums. They take their kids to local classes in art, gymnastics, and Spanish — an approach they call “out-schooling.” And they turn daily activities, such as cooking and craft projects, into an opportunity for learning. As for what to teach, they consult the state’s curriculum guidelines for each age group, and the Massachusetts Home Learning Association has good advice on navigating potential legal issues. (Short answer: Most towns allow parents to home-school with little interference.) Kerry is chronicling their progress on her blog, City Kids Homeschooling.

The obvious cost to home-schooling? One parent has to stay in the house. “In many cases, families go without the second car, or without having brand-new everything, in order to be able to afford it,” explains Rosenblatt. But Kerry McDonald doesn’t see that as a sacrifice. The family is committed to its plan, and to Cambridge for the foreseeable future.

  • Julie

    Thanks for this article. I just wanted to clarify a couple of points. Massachusetts parents have the right to educate their children outside of the school system. Cities and towns do not “allow” us to do so. Although this family consults the state curriculum guidelines, parents are not required to follow any curriculum. Another good resource for current or potential home educators is Advocates for Home Education in
    Massachusatts (AHEM).

  • justin

    When all of your children are 5 and under, you are not homeschooling, you are being a parent.

  • Kerry

    I think the point of the article was to demonstrate the options city parents have as their kids reach kindergarten age. That is, stay in the city or leave, and if they want to stay how they can make it work.

  • Dima Bilan

    I’m so frustrated at this stupid system I’m (we)
    are ready to move out of the state, maybe out of the USA. There is nothing fun about the way we live, racing from one activity to another, put on wait lists and then filling out a
    folder of forms and dishing out loads of money when my job is always in jeopardy.
    You can have it.