Home Schools Need Regulation and Evaluation


The opening of this story in the Staunton News Leader is not about Texas Governor Rick Perry. It is, however, incredibly depressing:

By the time he was 16, he had never written an essay. He didn’t know South Africa was a country. He couldn’t solve basic algebra problems.

It’s the story of Josh Powell, a now  21 year old college student who was home schooled by his parents until he was able to get himself a remedial education at a community college after receiving an education at home that neither prepared him for an academic life nor a professional career.

I have no doubt that some home schools produce excellent results and students who are incredibly successful. I’m just as sure that there are students who receive almost no education of value and who become lost before they’ve have a chance to find out who they can become.

I’ve had experience with both kinds of home schooled students. Some have been socially adept high-achievers and others have labored under severe social difficulty and academic deficiencies that made their high school experiences incredibly challenging, and in some case, unmanageable.

But under laws like that of Virginia and Montana, there’s simply no way to know what students in home schools are being taught or whether they’re even learning basic academic skills. In Montana, the law says that parents have sole responsibility for:

(1) the educational philosophy of the home school;
(2) the selection of instructional materials, curriculum, and textbooks;
(3) the time, place, and method of instruction; and
(4) the evaluation of the home school instruction.

There is a requirement that home school students be registered with their County Superintendent—and a vague admonition that students be taught the “basic instructional program” set forth by the state, but there’s no review, enforcement, nor measurement of that education. In short, there’s little reason to believe that Montana doesn’t have students just like Josh in home schools today. And the home school and school choice community wants to keep it that way.

Josh Powell’s story turned out reasonably well, though he still wonders how much he lost not being in public schools.  As the story notes, at least of one of his siblings has him worried:

Most of all, he worries about his siblings: There are 11. One, old enough to be well into middle school, can’t read, Josh Powell said.

All of this, of course, goes beyond home schools. Those on the right who bray all the time about “school choice” want the same kind of freedom in charter schools, for-profit private schools, and online scams to make money without actually educating children. The bills proposed in the Montana Legislature have been long on rhetoric, and short on expectations.

Parents absolutely have a right to educate their kids and teach them the values they hold dear. But there is a reciprocal obligation to ensure that students actually are educated—and a vital government role in overseeing that education, because as it turns out, there’s another right involved:  the right of children to receive a quality education that prepares them for life.

And one of the functions of government is to ensure that kids receive that education. After all, as famously home schooled Thomas Jefferson once said:

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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Don PogrebaRob KaileyCraig MooreNorma DuffyBig Johansson Recent comment authors
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James Conner

I concur.

Big Johansson
Big Johansson

Read Josh’s story and found this gem in the comments. Sandy Cliett As a parent who has homeschooled for 17 years, I could not disagree more. Who would do the monitoring you advocate–department of education officials who set the standards for public schools? This would be a tremendous step backwards for homeschooled students because they are, on average, already exceeding the standards of public school students. Of course, you will find some homeschool students who do not excel, just as you will find some public school students who do not excel. In fact, this past school year, in addition to… Read more »

Norma Duffy

The students in most Home schooled studies were predominantly white and Christian so it does not accurately represent the overall population of home-schooled students Secondly, scholars also point out that these studies have only proven that home-schooled students perform well on standardized tests. But the studies have no way of indicating whether the same students would have scored equally as well on those tests had they been attending conventional schools. So what does this mean whos is watching the parents giving the tests, are they also giving their children the answers? Sorry there isn’t enough information out there to prove… Read more »

Craig Moore
Craig Moore

When it comes to cheating, one need not look any further than what goes on in public schools. http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/02/justice/georgia-cheating-scandal (CNN) — The former superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools was among the educators who surrendered to authorities Tuesday after being indicted by a grand jury in a cheating scandal that rocked the district and drew national attention. Beverly Hall resigned from her position in 2011 after a state investigation into large, unexplained test score gains in some Atlanta schools. She has denied any role in the cheating scandal. A Fulton County grand jury last week indicted 35 educators from the district,… Read more »

Rob Kailey

Small wonder you think folk “need not look any further”, Craig. If they did, the might notice the glaringly obvious. Because of the regulation that Pogie favors in this post, public school cheaters tend to get caught. Your example shows that regulation is a good thing. I’m surprised you missed a point so blatant … not.

Craig Moore
Craig Moore

I’m surprised you missed I was responding to Norma’s suggestion.

Rob Kailey

‘Scuse me? Norma suggested that home-schoolers might cheat. You present that public-schoolers who cheat get caught. Regulation, as Pogie suggests, does work. Yeah, one of us is missing something, Craig, but it ain’t me.

Craig Moore
Craig Moore

Rob, other than the Atlanta scandal involving the 2009 National Superintendent of the year, what other public school systems have been caught? Cheating at public schools is rampant. http://www.glass-castle.com/clients/www-nocheating-org/adcouncil/research/cheatingfactsheet.html Academic Cheating Fact Sheet Academic cheating is defined as representing someone else’s work as your own. It can take many forms, including sharing another’s work, purchasing a term paper or test questions in advance, paying another to do the work for you. Statistics show that cheating among high school students has risen dramatically during the past 50 years. In the past it was the struggling student who was more likely to… Read more »

Norma Duffy

I would have said the same thing as Rob, but maybe not at nice.
Because regulations are in place cheaters do get caught in brick and motor institutions. I have yet to see any regulations that limit cheating in homeschooling!

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