Amanda Smith: “I want a professional looking at what I’ve done”
“As a licensed civil engineer, I would not think twice about my superior evaluating me. It simply wouldn’t be safe for the public if I were to design something without that design being checked by my superior. I think about accountability and oversight of home education in the same way.”
I am the parent of four daughters, and I have been educating them at home for ten years. During our decade of home education, we have lived in Illinois, Florida, and, within the last three months, Georgia. For the stake of protecting the identity of my daughters, I’m writing this testimonial under a pseudonym. My daughters did not grant me permission to use them as examples, nor would I ever put them in the position of asking them to be poster children for home education. That said, I am not in the least bit shy about providing my opinion, and should anyone reading this want to correspond with me privately, please contact me through the CRHE board.
Before I share my thoughts on oversight and accountability, I think it is necessary to provide some reasons why I home educate my children. I don’t home educate because I am scared of the public school system. I don’t home educate because I want my children to see the Ten Commandments hanging on the wall of their classroom. I don’t home educate because I am afraid my children will hate God if they read a science text on evolution. I don’t home educate because I want flexibility to travel. I don’t home educate because the thought of “unschooling” seems like a great way to provide academic rigor. I don’t home educate for religious reasons, though I unabashedly love the Jesus of the Bible. I don’t home educate because I want to validate my stay-at-home-mom status.
I do home educate because my specific children with their specific backgrounds and their specific needs are better able to learn in the academic environment I provide in our home. To provide such an environment, I have traded a six-figure income career that I loved and miss for part-time work from home as an engineer. I have willingly sacrificed money, relationships, and time in order to home educate. I work tirelessly to meet the academic needs of my children so that they receive the best possible education. It is an opportunity for which I am immensely grateful.
When I first began home educating, my family was living in Illinois. At that time, there were no home education laws regarding oversight or accountability. I did not have to tell anyone I was home educating, nor did I have to submit any documentation to that end. This seemed strange to me. I had worked hard to choose learning methodology and stellar curricula and I remember feeling disappointed that I couldn’t show anyone what I had done. When my oldest child was a second grader, we moved to Florida where the home education law requires parents to register with their county’s superintendent and submit documentation to the school district at the end of each year. To meet that requirement, I chose to have my children evaluated by a certified teacher at the end of each year. I have paid for various teachers to do this at the end of every year for the last eight years. It is money well spent.
During these evaluations, the teacher spends nearly the entire day at our house. She individually evaluates each child (without me in the room), and gives my students various tests to see where they are with regard to the county’s standard for that child’s specific grade. She thoroughly reviews the work my students have done throughout the year. She then sits with me for an extended period of time and talks with me about the academic progress of my children. Frankly, I enjoy showing off the hard work that I’ve done as a teacher throughout the year. Most importantly, I am able to receive information about any holes that the teacher sees in my teaching. I am then able to take that feedback and fix what needs to be fixed.
As a licensed civil engineer, I would not think twice about my superior evaluating me. It simply wouldn’t be safe for the public if I were to design something without that design being checked by my superior. I think about accountability and oversight of home education in the same way. For the safety of my children’s education, I want a professional looking at what I’ve done. I welcome her insight. I want to hear her criticism so that I can make changes if any are needed. I want her to tell me where I’m pushing too hard or not hard enough. I want to know if my students are testing at grade level as compared to their peers in the public school system. Why wouldn’t I want that kind of accountability for the children I love more than I have the words to express?
Opposition to oversight and accountability within education seems foolish. If parents educating their children at home are educating their students well, they have nothing to fear when it comes to oversight and accountability. Why wouldn’t every home educator welcome the opportunity to receive feedback on the job they are doing? Why wouldn’t every home educator desire to show how many days of school they’ve completed in a year? Why wouldn’t every home educator support, for the sake of those children in situations where they aren’t being educated well, oversight and accountability? If a home educator bristles at any of those questions, that educator needs to evaluate the motives and quality of their home education.
It’s time for home educators to speak up about what quality home education should look like. It’s time for home educators to urge their fellow parent-peers to seek out reviews of their teaching work, whether their state requires it or not. And it’s high time that home educators stand up and advocate for reasonable oversight and accountability guidelines for every student in every state. The future of children’s lives is at stake.
Amanda Smith has homeschooled her four daughters for over a decade in Illinois, Florida, and Georgia. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool parents, see our Testimonials page.