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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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  • 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 my daughter (who recently graduated from our homeschool with a 4.0 high school GPA and scored 1890 on the SAT and 27 on the ACT–well above the national average), I also taught 3 girls who had been “lost in the system” in the public schools. Does this mean that ALL public schools are failing our children? Of course not.
    My point is that the fact that you have come across SOME homeschool students who are not up to par does not mean that ALL homeschooling parents are doing a poor job of educating their children, any more than the fact that I have come across SOME public school students who are failing means that ALL public school teachers are doing a poor job. You have to remember that the homeschool students you see coming into your school are the ones for whom homeschooling did not work–otherwise, they wouldn’t be coming to you, just as my students were the ones for whom public schooling did not work.
    The vast majority of homeschooling parents (including me) work VERY hard to give their children the best education possible, and research shows that, by and large, they are succeeding. Research (http://www.nheri.org/research/research-facts-on-homeschooling.html) shows that:
    · Homeschool students score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income.
    · Whether homeschool parents were ever certified teachers is not related to their children’s academic achievement.
    · Degree of state control and regulation of homeschooling is not related to academic achievement.

  • 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 to me Homeschooling works.

    • 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, including principals, teachers and testing coordinators. They were ordered to turn themselves in by Tuesday, District Attorney Paul Howard said.

      By 10:00 p.m., 27 of 35 educators had turned themselves in at the Fulton County Jail to face charges including racketeering, theft by taking and making false statements about their roles in an alleged plot to falsify students’ standardized tests. Eight of them had been released on bond late Tuesday, the Fulton County Sheriff’s office said.

      In 2009, Hall was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the Schools Superintendents Association, which at the time said her “leadership has turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform.”

      • 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.

          • ‘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.

            • 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 cheat just to get by. Today it is also the above-average college bound students who are cheating.

              73% of all test takers, including prospective graduate students and teachers agree that most students do cheat at some point. 86% of high school students agreed.

              Cheating no longer carries the stigma that it used to. Less social disapproval coupled with increased competition for admission into universities and graduate schools has made students more willing to do whatever it takes to get the A.

              • It feels like we’re wandering far afield here. There’s certainly no causal link between cheating at public or home schools.

                What seems clear, though, is that there is no oversight over the latter.

                • Craig is just trying to make a point far a field from even mine. He does that on other blogs too… and you can’t get him to offer explanations to his thinking either.

          • 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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