Monday, September 3, 2012

Homeschooling and Supervision: a Sticky Debate

Raise your hand if you are a homeschooler, and have fielded a question along the lines of: 

  • So, the state supervises your homeschooling, right?
  • So who approves your curriculum?
  • You have to submit a portfolio and test scores, right?
  • You have to have a teaching license, right?
  • How can you teach if you don't know how?
  • You have to have mandatory testing and submit test scores to your local school, right?
  • How does your state make sure you are really doing your job?  I would think a lot of homeschoolers could fail to get an education!
  • etc
Raise your hand if you are not a homeschooler, but have ever had a question along those lines.

I bet there are a LOT of hands up in the air.

I recently read an article about homeschooling (and responded to a comment, something I rarely do, since most people in that situation are generally just airing their views rather than looking to have a conversation) and it made me think once again about the thorny question about homeschooling and curriculum/results regulation.

The overwhelming majority of the homeschoolers with whom I am acquainted do an amazing job of educating their children-- to the point where state standards are completely irrelevant, because their children vastly outpace them.  Virtually 100% of us have had our friends and family question our ability to homeschool, and fielded concerned questions about whether we have someone peeking over our shoulders to make sure we are doing a good job, on the assumption that we are probably failing in some regard, because we are not "professionals," or that we are too emotionally attached to our kids to be objective, or don't have the knowledge base to teach them, or because schools test, and therefore it must be a good idea, etc etc etc.  

The problem that arises for me is this.  I am so glad that I home educate in a state that is virtually free of state oversight.  Our schools were doing my children a vast disservice (see my earlier posts, "Journey toward Homeschooling, 1 & 2).  In a nutshell, my younger son was in a remedial math program due to his dysgraphia, which was not being addressed at all, and his giftedness (including in mathematics) was being ignored.  I was told he would never read with much comprehension-- he just devoured Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, at the wise old age of 8.  He routinely compares different variations of literature that he has read, carrying out compare/contrast studies of Arthurian legends and Homeric translations, not to mention starting to read and write both Latin and German, and beginning to learn some vocabulary in Spanish.  He is devouring complex area and perimeter problems, solving mixed number fraction problems in his head, and doing basic algebra.  I am glad that the people who had him in remedial second grade math and pegged as a non-reader just over a year ago are not in charge of telling me what to do with him.  I don't want those people anywhere near my kids' education.  I want to plan history and science according to my own schedule, teach health on my own timetable and in my own way, which will undoubtedly be far superior to anything taught in the schools, and without question be taught in a way that makes more sense.  We start languages and instrumental music earlier as well.


I know there are people out there who are not doing a fantastic job with their kids.  I think it is a societal problem when kids are not receiving an adequate education.  It is unfair to the kids, too; who can look out for their interests if Mom and Dad fail them?  Wouldn't some kind of state accountability protect them somehow?

But would it?

I look to the public schools for an answer there, and that is where things would become rather unfair for homeschoolers; it would subject them to a standard that even the public schools do not meet.  In our state, the public schools are failing our kids at horrific rates.  Overall graduation rates are shockingly low.  Graduation rates for special education students are at or below 60%, less for non-whites.  Students who meet proficiency standards in the tenth grade in both reading and math are rare.  Why should homeschoolers stand out as a group that needs monitoring and needs to meet certain standards, when our public schools do not do so themselves?  

Further, I posit that the student whose parents are neglecting his home education just might fall into that same low category if placed in the public school.  Our public schools are staffed with teachers who often care and do a fine job with the tools they are given.  One tool teachers are not given, and is not within their control, is support from home.  If you take a child away from home education and plunk him into a public school, but he still lacks support for school attendance, assignment completion, educational expectations for high achievement, and parent/teacher communication, that student's chances of success remain infinitesimally small.  You do not change the environment or the parents by simply changing the student's study location.  Students fail in public schools every single day-- millions of them across the country.

Given the vast benefits of educational and curricular freedom, I cannot find a compelling case for educational oversight of homeschooling at this time.  The public schools have a tough enough time taking care of the students they already enroll.  In some states, oversight is provided by teachers, many of whom are already overburdened, though they may benefit from getting some great ideas from homeschoolers; that could well be a symbiotic relationship.  However, given the time drain for both the parent teacher and the public teacher, one that is more trouble than positive over the long haul-- consider the time spent assembling, presenting, discussing, and reviewing portfolios, not to mention driving to meetings, that could have been spent actually teaching new material or planning.  In some cases, the oversight involves maintaining state standards that are irrelevant to homeschoolers, who have already exceeded those standards in many cases.

If it were the case that public school children were all receiving a stellar education, and home schooled children were singularly at risk for receiving a sub-par education, I would concede the need for some regulation.  However the statistics on public education reveal that to not be the case.  There is clearly no magic in attending public school; some are fantastic, many are not.  There are great teachers, okay teachers, and terrible teachers.  Sending a kid back to public school is simply no promise that he will receive a stellar education.  Home educating is similarly no guarantee of a superior education, but neither is it any riskier than the alternative, and therefore it does not need special supervision by those who may have failed the child being home educated in the first place.

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