LaDonna Sasscer: “We home educators should welcome accountability”
“The homeschool community should be leading the way in demanding accountability in home education. We who are not abusing our children, we who are providing a quality education, we who want to be accepted participants in community life, should demand politicians put in place a process that differentiates between quality home education and child neglect, and in the worst cases, abuse.”
I believe firmly that home education is a viable option for parents, but that the current legal environment for home education is way too lax. I home schooled in the state of Florida for nine years beginning in 1995, and I was in full compliance with their home education laws. I believe the accountability in the home education statutes of Florida made me a better home educator. I then moved to North Carolina where I continued to home school for another seven years, until I graduated my youngest in 2011. The minimal regulations in North Carolina are, in my opinion, scandalous.
Florida’s home education statutes required that a home educator keep a daily log of learning activities, a list of all texts and materials used, and be able to supply those records along with samples of a student’s work upon two weeks written notice from the local school districts superintendent’s office. As a home educator who takes education seriously, I appreciated the professionalism involved in keeping meticulous records. It kept me on my toes, as I made sure that my children’s education would be shown to be challenging them “commensurate with” their individual “ability”. I touched on every subject every school day, and probably put more effort and creativity into projects and field trips knowing that at the end of the year, a licensed school psychologist would look at my records and evaluate my program. After moving to North Carolina, I continued to keep records for my own benefit, but I must confess they were not as detailed as I kept in Florida, because no one would ever see them. I merely used them to reference dates and projects for my children’s college applications.
In both states I met families that were more concerned about religious indoctrination and compliant behavior than education. In Florida, those not intending to provide a quality education for their students would join “private schools that allowed for home education”. All these schools required, as far as record keeping, were days in attendance (which has got to be the most ridiculous requirement for a home education program ever!) and that the school have on file birth certificates and vaccination records or an immunization waiver. In the private school umbrella programs I witnessed, students also had to take a nationally-normed standardized test at the end of each year. Ironically enough, these are the same requirements that all home educators meet in North Carolina. In both states, there are no penalties for low scores on these tests, only a requirement that students take them.
In this environment of no oversight, it is easy for the less conscientious parent to get by with little, poorly executed, or even no education. I have seen with my own eyes a ten year old child who couldn’t read the panel on the Mario Brother’s video game asking a player to choose between one player or two. Illiteracy is a curse no parent should put on their child. Beyond that, though, I have met homeschool graduates in recent years that were victims of medical neglect, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse and spiritual abuse. I know personally graduates who received great academic educations, but whose parents deny them any proof of high school. There are home education graduates whose home birthing parents even denied them birth certificates, without which one can’t even prove citizenship. These home school graduates are consigned to a minimum wage existence, as they can’t attain any higher education with no birth certificate or proof of high school education. This is unacceptable to me.
The homeschool community should be leading the way in demanding accountability in home education. We who are not abusing our children, we who are providing a quality education, we who want to be accepted participants in community life, should demand politicians put in place a process that differentiates between quality home education and child neglect, and in the worst cases, abuse. Honest and capable home educating parents have nothing to fear from accountability. If they are of the Christian faith, that goes double, as we are supposed to “live such good lives among the pagans that they . . . may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits (I Peter 2:12, NIV).” No one lights a candle to hide under a cover, but to put on a stand for all to see, so Jesus told us (Mark 4, Luke 8, Luke 11). Christian home educators, above all kinds of home educators, should welcome accountability and seek it out!
Home educators claim to love children, and many of them claim to be disciples of Jesus, who also loved children. How then can the homeschool community shrug off the child deaths at the hands of abusive home educating parents? It seems to me that if we love children as we say we do, we would gladly submit to any level of accountability in order to protect the few who are languishing in bad homes because of the current lack of meaningful accountability. As soon as I heard the story of a homeschool graduate who suffered medical neglect, I thought to myself, “If only that child had an annual school physical, that serious health problem would have been discovered!” I am now 100% in favor of annual school physicals for home educated children, as well as daily logs of activities, lists of texts and materials used in education, and annual portfolio evaluations by a licensed school psychologist, as per the state of Florida home education requirements. Children deserve these protections.
I am in favor of closing all the loopholes, including the awful private school clause in the state of Florida. I see no problem with basic education requirements such as reading comprehension, basic math literacy, and minimal composition requirements as well. Annual school physicals, that include hearing and vision tests, should be minimum requirements. Anyone incapable of keeping a daily record of activities (Even unschoolers can do this! All of life is learning, right?) is in my opinion not competent to be in charge of a child’s education. The key phrase in Florida’s statutes, that learning is taking place “commensurate with his/her ability” means that while there would be no minimum score on a nationally-normed standardized test, all children should show progress from year to year. If a child cannot show progress, then the state should offer helps and interventions, such as evaluation for learning disabilities or teacher workshops offered to parents who want to improve. After two years of no progress, a parents right to home educate is forfeit and the child must be placed in credentialed education program that meets in a building with classrooms, run by trained professionals. A private school “that allows for home education” should not be an option.
I think that more exposure to the bright light of accountability will be good for all home education programs. My own program, while it is academically rigorous and in many ways an excellent choice for my children, had its weaknesses. For example, my son was not aware that he had ADD until he enrolled in community college and had trouble staying focused outside of class. Since we focused on academics every day until the work was done, with no set class times, how could he have known? He had no homework; it was all homework technically. Perhaps if I had continued to have those annual year-end evaluations, it may have been apparent to a school psychologist eventually. My daughter also had issues that a trained professional might have seen and been able to help us with. My religious proclivities had me seeing everything as a moral issue when biology and genetics were making adolescence especially difficult for my student. An extra pair of objective eyes looking at the family dynamics might have saved us a lot of grief.
To be plain, I am saying that the only way my home education could have been better was if I had access to professional accountability all the way through graduation, as I had in Florida. It would likely have made things much easier on my teenagers. Annual portfolio evaluations and annual physicals would be a help, not a hindrance, to home educating families. As responsible adults, we home educators should welcome accountability that will win praise for those doing well, assistance for those floundering, and exposure for those who are harming the children in their care.
We can have accountability that improves the quality of home education rather than hinders it. It is humanly possible to write regulations that refrain from dictating pedagogy and merely evaluate results on a periodic basis. It is possible to have cooperation between the home education and professional communities, such as annual school physicals, learning disability screenings, and teacher workshops, that work in the best interests of all homeschooled children. It is not enough for home educating parents to only care about their children, and not those children whose abusive parents use home education as a cover for their crimes. We need to work within our civic communities to make sure every child that can be helped is identified and offered help, while every healthy home schooling family is recognized and rewarded for pursuing excellence. It’s the least we can do for the least of these our brethren.
LaDonna Sasscer homeschooled her two children in Florida and North Carolina from 1995 to 2011. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool parents, see our Testimonials page.