Homeschooling Outcomes or Sampling Problems? A Look at Ray 2003

This post summarizes our recently added research review, which provides a critical analysis of Ray (2003, 2004). Click HERE to read a more in-depth version of the arguments presented.

In 2003, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) commissioned Dr. Brian Ray to conduct a study on the lifetime success of homeschool graduates. The results of the study were written up in two documents: a 2003 summary of the results, entitled “Homeschooling Grows Up”, which was produced by HSLDA and posted on their website; and a book entitled Home Educated and Now Adults, which was published in 2004 by Ray’s National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI).

Ray’s study, which took the form of a survey, is widely cited to support the claim that graduates of homeschooling are well-socialized and go on to lead successful lives: Ray reports that his participants had positive attitudes about homeschooling and life in general; that they were fairly religious, attending religious services regularly and reporting that they had the same religious beliefs as their parents; that they were involved in local community organizations, knowledgeable about current events, and active in politics; and that they reported high levels of life satisfaction, job satisfaction, and financial satisfaction.

Ray’s study relies on a fairly limited definition of successful socialization—he asks his participants about their religious beliefs, political activism, and occupations, but he does not ask broader questions about the quality of their relationships, their ability to navigate US culture, and their problem-solving strategies. Nonetheless, it is one of the few studies which have been conducted on homeschool graduates.

Unfortunately, Ray’s study has so many methodological problems that we can draw few conclusions from it. The most glaring methodological problems are:

1) Bias

Ray did not survey a random sample of homeschool graduates. The main method Ray used to recruit homeschool grads to take his survey was to publicize it in homeschooling organizations’ newsletters, as well as to use “word-of-mouth, and personal networks” (Ray 2004: 17). He may have known several of the participants personally, and many others may have been older siblings of children currently being homeschooled, friends and relatives of homeschoolers, or active and activist members of homeschooling organizations. This is the very population that would be most likely to have strongly positive views about homeschooling, to want to present homeschooling in a positive light, and to be highly involved in their communities.

In other words, Ray’s sampling method is like attending a meeting of the chess club and surveying the members to find out who likes chess. Is it really a surprise if 99% of them say yes?

Ray’s questions themselves were also biased, leading respondents to give the answer prompted by the question rather than the honest answer. Our own Kathryn Brightbill, who was one of Ray’s participants, noted that she could easily discern the intended answer for each question.

2) Non-representative sample

Ray’s participants were primarily white Protestant female college students between the ages of 18-24 who considered having been homeschooled to be an important part of their identity. Few participants had children or an income. These participants were not representative of all homeschoolers in their age, race, and gender, nor were they comparable to the general US population. Their youth (7% were under 18) and lack of exposure to life experiences makes it impossible to know how likely they were to have successful careers and families. Furthermore, Ray did not collect data on the homeschool graduates’ backgrounds (such as their parents’ income and education levels), so we cannot determine whether homeschooling played a role in their high life satisfaction or community involvement.

It is impossible to use the responses of this select group to claim that all homeschoolers are well socialized, or that socialization is not a problem in the homeschooling community, or that homeschool graduates are successful in life. We can only state that, in this limited and biased sample, most participants had been socialized to some degree.

3) Unanswered questions

Ray’s report of his findings provokes more questions than it answers. For instance, though 7,306 people answered Ray’s survey, he only analyzed the responses of 5,254 homeschool grads—he excluded people homeschooled for less than seven years from consideration. He tells us virtually nothing about these 2,000 people’s responses—why? Also, his participants answered survey questions on their marital status and marital happiness, as well on other topics like whether they had taken standardized tests while being homeschooled. Why did Ray choose not to report his participants’ responses to these questions? And finally, though most of his participants were too young to accurately judge their lifetime successes, 15% of them were over age 24. Yet Ray does not perform a separate analysis of this group—why? Though Ray does not explain these choices, we might hypothesize that to include this information would be to present homeschooling in a less positive light.

Because of these problems, we can only conclude from this study that it is possible for young graduates of homeschooling to have high levels of life satisfaction and community involvement. We cannot conclude that all homeschooling graduates are well socialized—the study did not show whether the participants would be capable of earning degrees, forming families, or achieving career success. It does not tell us whether they were capable of making friends, identifying their own likes and dislikes, working as part of a team, resisting peer pressure, conversing with someone who does not share their religious or political beliefs, standing up to a bully, etc.

Instead, it shows Ray’s skill at manipulating data to serve his own agenda. This is stated most baldly in a quote from Bruce S. Cooper on the back cover of Ray’s Home Educated and Now Adults (2004): “Ray’s study disconfirms, then, what critics have long said: that without the institutionalized socialization of attending an organized school, kids would be limited in their futures, their education, their well-being, their civic engagement, and their happiness. Not true, for education begins, grows, and continues throughout life, at home.”

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What To Do if You Suspect Educational Deprivation

The diversity of homeschooling law has a significant impact on how failure to educate in a homeschool setting is approached from a legal perspective. As I struggled last week to explain this to a colleague, I found using a concrete example helpful. That was the genesis of this post.

John and Stacey homeschool their daughter Grace, who is 10. Grace is struggling with reading and doesn’t know any math past basic addition. John’s sister, Nancy, is worried about Grace. She has tried to reach out to Grace, but she lives out of state and only sees her a few times each year. She has tried speaking with John and Stacey, but neither sees a problem with the current situation. Concerned, Nancy would like to report her niece’s situation so that she can get help.

But Nancy faces a dilemma. Who can she report her concerns to? Can she call the local school district, or should she instead call social services? How are situations like Grace’s handled? The answer depends on which state John and Stacey live in.

Who Has Jurisdiction?

Homeschooling law varies widely from state to state, as does which body has jurisdiction over homeschooling. Most states have homeschool statutes that place homeschooling under the jurisdiction of state or local education officials. In states where homeschooling takes place under the private school law, jurisdiction may be more confusing. Further, many states have educational neglect provisions which give social services some jurisdiction over homeschooling in cases where a concerned citizen makes a report.

In Louisiana, parents may choose to operate under either the state’s homeschool statute or its private school law. In the first case, they must submit annual assessments of their children’s progress to the Louisiana Department of Education. In the second case, they must file an annual form with the Louisiana Department of Education. In either case, the local school district’s only involvement is to receive notice from the Louisiana Department of Education of which students in their district are being homeschooled and which are attending private schools.

In Wisconsin, neither state nor local education officials have the authority to monitor homeschooling. Parents need only provide annual notice of homeschooling the Department of Public Instruction. However, should someone report a family for failure to educate, the local school district may ask them to provide evidence that they offer 875 hours of instruction per year as required by law.

As a result of the huge diversity in homeschooling law, some states do not technically have “homeschooling” on the books. In these states, homeschooling takes place under a different legal term. For the purposes of this post, however, I will use the term “homeschooling law” to refer to any provision that allows for education to take place in the home, whether that be a homeschool statute, an alternative instruction provision, or the private school law.

Reporting to School Officials and Social Services

Now that we know that jurisdiction over homeschooling varies, how does this impact Nancy’s options for getting help for Grace?

States without Educational Neglect Provisions

Twenty-six states do not give social services jurisdiction over educational matters. Because these states do not include failure to educate in their neglect statute, they leave enforcement of compulsory attendance statutes solely in the hands of the school districts and the state department of education. If John and Stacey live in one of these states, Nancy should not contact social services unless she has other concerns, such as abuse or neglect. Instead, Nancy can contact local or state education officials, depending on which has jurisdiction over homeschooling.

If John and Stacey live in Arizona, Nancy can contact the family’s local school district to report her concerns, but the school district will only ensure that John and Stacey submitted the proper paperwork when they began homeschooling. Nancy can also contact the local police to report that John and Stacey are breaking the law by not providing the required instruction in reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science. If local law enforcement is able to prove this that they are not providing the required instruction, John and Stacey may be charged with a misdemeanor.

If John and Stacey live in North Carolina, Nancy can contact the Division of Non-Public Education to report her concerns. The DNPE will contact John and Stacey to ensure that they are homeschooling legally and complying with the requirements of the state’s homeschool law. If John and Stacey are not homeschooling legally, the DNPE will report the situation to the family’s local school district. At that point, the local school district will take over and ensure that Grace attends school.

States with Educational Neglect Provisions

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia do give social services jurisdiction over educational matters. In these states, failure to educate is included in the neglect statute, though the specifics of the statute may vary from state to state. In these states, social services may become involved in cases of chronic truancy or may investigate to ensure that homeschool parents are in compliance with their state’s homeschool law. If John and Stacey live in one of these states, Nancy can contact either social services or local education officials, or both.

If John and Stacey live in Indiana, Nancy can contact social services to report her concerns. Social services will investigate to ascertain whether John and Stacey are providing Grace with “instruction equivalent” to that in public schools, as required by law. Social services may work with John and Stacey to improve the education Grace is receiving and bring it in compliance with the law. Ultimately, if John and Stacey do not comply with the law Grace may be reported to the local school district as truant.

If John and Stacey live in Minnesota, Nancy can contact social services to report educational neglect or the family’s local school district to report lack of compliance with the homeschool law. The school district will ensure compliance with the paperwork aspects of law, including both notice and testing, and will refer noncompliance to the Minnesota Department of Education and ultimately to the county attorney. Should the school district suspect that the family is not providing instruction required by law, they will lodge a report of educational neglect with social services, which will then investigate.

Summary on Reporting

When parents are not following the legal requirements for homeschooling, a child may be considered absent from school without a valid excuse and thus truant. When a homeschool program fails to meet state requirements, the parents may be charged with a misdemeanor or the homeschool program may be terminated, after which the child will be required to attend school or be considered truant. In states that include educational neglect in their abuse and neglect statutes, parents who fail to provide their children with education required by law may be charged with educational neglect. Thus cases of failure to educate in a homeschool setting may involve charges of truancy, violating the homeschool law, or educational neglect.

Regardless of whether the local school district, the state department of education, or social services investigates, and regardless of whether the term used is truancy or violation of the homeschool law or educational neglect, the main question will be whether John and Stacey are meeting the requirements of their state’s homeschool law.

When the Law Is the Problem

Unfortunately, in some cases Nancy may find that even reporting her concerns does little to fix Grace’s problems. In many states the homeschooling law is so lax that parents can legally provide their children with an inadequate or nonexistent education. Whether Nancy were to relay her concerns about Grace to social services, the family’s local school district, or the state department of education, these officials might ensure that John and Stacey are filing any required paperwork, but would not be legally allowed to take other measures to ensure that Grace receives an education. In these states, children like Grace can slip through the cracks.

If John and Stacey live in Arkansas, Nancy can report her concerns to the family’s local school district. The school district will ensure that John and Stacey have filed their annual notice of intent and that Grace takes an annual standardized test as required by law (there is no minimum score). If John and Stacey have filed the paperwork and are having Grace tested annually, there are no further requirements—the law does not actually require homeschool parents to educate their children.

If John and Stacey live in Alabama, Nancy can report her concerns to the family’s local school district. The school district will ensure that John and Stacey have enrolled Grace in a church school as required by law. These church schools generally take the form of minimalistic online enrollment programs designed only to provide homeschoolers legal cover and rarely have any actual requirements. Provided Grace is enrolled in one of these programs, John and Stacey meet the requirements of the law.

Some states require some form of assessment to ensure that students like Grace are making academic progress. In these states, Grace’s lack of academic progress may be noticed even without Nancy reporting her concerns. However, even in these states assessments are often limited and children like Grace may go unnoticed.

If John and Stacey live in Florida, they must document that Grace has made academic progress “commensurate with her or his ability.” However, Stacey can ask her sister, a certified teacher, to sign off on Grace’s progress regardless of her severe deficiencies. If this is the case, Nancy may have little recourse. Read Kieryn Darkwater’s story for an example of this occurring.

If John and Stacey live In Oregon, they must have Grace tested every three years. Grace will need to score in at least the 15th percentile to avoid a remediation process. If Grace can make the 15th percentile nothing more is required, regardless of how far behind she is. If this is the case, there is nothing Nancy can do. Read Kimberly R.’s story for an example of this occurring.

Conclusion

Regardless of what state John and Stacey live in, Nancy should use her best judgement and do what she can for Grace. It’s important that she understand that many states rely on concerned citizens like her to report educational deprivation in homeschool settings. Many states leave homeschoolers alone and do not verify that they are providing adequate instruction unless prompted by a worried friend, neighbor, or relative. In many cases, reporting concerns about a homeschooled child may lead to the child’s family being given the support and accountability they need to step up the education they provide.

If Nancy decides reporting her concerns is in order, she should find out whether her state includes failure to educate in its neglect statute. If it does, she can report her concerns to social services; if it doesn’t, she can only report to education officials. In the latter case, she should determine whether state or local officials have jurisdiction over homeschooling. If she is unsure, it doesn’t hurt to call one or the other and ask.

Whatever the outcome, Nancy should also be prepared to be there for Grace and support her. Even if nothing changes as the result of reporting her concerns (or if she decides not to report them), Nancy can encourage Grace’s interest in academic pursuits and provide her with gifts that encourage her to foster her interests. Nancy can also be there for Grace when she gets older, helping her to take the GED or enroll in remedial classes at a community college as needed. Such support can make a great difference for a child in Grace’s situation.

Related Resources:
How to Report Educational Neglect
Recognizing Educational Neglect
For Family, Friends, and Neighbors
Educational Neglect Statutes
State Child Abuse (and Neglect) Reporting Numbers
Find a Child’s Local School District
Find a State Department of Education

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How I Was Almost Rescued from Abuse

I am the second child, oldest daughter in a family that eventually grew to nine children, with each child spaced about two years apart. My parents read Michael Pearl and Above Rubies. They attended Bill Gothard’s ATIA (Advanced Training Institute of America) seminars and received HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) materials. They attended a local homeschool group for a while, but couldn’t get along with the other parents. They jumped from church to church, and found support in a Mennonite colony located about two hours away from our home.

My parents were abusive. They spanked us brutally for failing to respond to their orders with instant obedience and taught us that if we had rebellious thoughts about them god would send ravens to pick our eyes out. Neither of my parents worked. My mom was a “stay at home mom” (and tried to homeschool) and my dad dabbled in various failed businesses but couldn’t hold down a pay-rolled job because of the interpersonal aspects—he couldn’t handle having a boss or being a peer with (or god forbid a subordinate of!) women in the workforce. They yelled at us, and they neglected our nutritional needs. They fed us rice and oatmeal because without even one income they couldn’t afford to feed us, and they appealed to other church families to give us hand me down clothing, including shoes and underwear, so they would literally never have to buy us anything. They spent approximately $200 on clothing for us in the approximately 20 years between the birth of my oldest brother and when I left at age 17.

My parents used material from HSLDA and ATIA to talk to us about keeping family business private, because otherwise social workers would come and ruin our lives and it would be all our fault for not keeping our mouths shut.

When I was about 8 years old, a relative made a report to the Children’s Aid Society (Canada’s equivalent of Child Protective Services) after observing our physical abuse and neglect. There would have been about six of us children at the time. Two social workers for CAS came out to our house. Their names were Cathy and Kathleen, which at eight I thought was funny because Kathy could be short for Kathleen. Cathy was training Kathleen. They came to our house and talked to us. It’s hard for me to remember the order of things because I was so so young, but there must have been an initial visit that prompted them to open a file and something to justify keeping it open. It is my understanding that my parents voluntarily agreed to a short series of supervision meetings with the social workers in order to avoid raising suspicions.

Cathy and Kathleen were very kind ladies, nothing like what we had been trained to fear by our parents. They smiled at us and learned our names (no small feat when there are six kids running around), and they took the time to listen to us. They remembered my doll’s name. My parents carefully prepped us with the right answers before every visit, and we were given to understand how serious our punishment would be if we let any family business slip. For example, we were told what to tell them about the food we ate, which was not exactly accurate. I was not allowed to tell them what we were spanked for and whether an object was used (“say no to that!”). My parents took their collection of rods and stored them in the woods. They made us do a bunch of workbooks so they would be able to show the social workers that we were doing schoolwork. The social workers were not there specifically because we were homeschooled, though they were concerned by my siblings’ literacy problems. Mainly they were worried about our profound (and likely painfully obvious) isolation from others, which I now understand to stem partially from concern about social development and partially from concern that isolation would prevent signs of abuse from being noticed and reported properly.

In the end, enough concerns were noted, even with the careful prepping my parents did in advance of the meetings, that my siblings and I were taken to the police station by the social workers and two police officers and asked to give taped statements to the police. The interviews were difficult because we had been taught to tell the truth, but also carefully taught not to talk about family business including the abuse, so it was difficult to avoid lying and to also avoid telling the truth. As I recall, based on the tapes and the notes by the social workers, my parents were approached by the social workers with a deal that they could go to court and CAS would only ask for a supervision order with the conditions that my parents had to stop the physical abuse and comply with very basic homeschooling requirements. My parents declined, and the case was referred to family court. The intent in family court was to establish a long term supervision order with those conditions, or if that failed due to my parents refusing to accept the conditions of the supervision order, to obtain an apprehension order which would mean we would be taken into foster care.

I remember that my father said that this was what HSLDA was for. He spent quite a bit of time on the phone, and from my understanding, someone from HSLDA made phone calls for my parents to help them find a lawyer who would take the case for free. I also remember him saying he was going to use HSLDA to get Cathy and Kathleen fired.

But at this point the case was out of the hands of the social workers. My parents continued to blame the entire fiasco on the social workers, but in reality the social workers knew that they were dealing with controlling parents and hurting kids, and passed the case to their supervisor and from there it went to the court, which is exactly what is meant to happen to protect children who are being abused.

Following the directions of our parents and their newly-obtained lawyer, my siblings and I declared in family court that we wouldn’t testify against our parents. As a result, I understood that the case was thrown out of family court because the judge was unwilling to enforce supervision if we children would not stand behind our statements that indicated abuse. CAS decided to try prosecuting criminally for the physical abuse. If this was successful it would have resulted in my siblings and I being apprehended and taken into foster care. The case was referred to the criminal court across the hall and I was called as a witness and ordered to testify to the truth, regardless of my relationship with my father. This meant that he sat a few feet away from me, staring at me while I was asked to answer questions about his parenting, which was being treated as criminal activity. If I remember correctly, the result of the criminal case was a finding that my parents were not guilty of criminal activity but that they would need to accept long term supervision by CAS.

We were never out of the custody of our parents during the case, so when the case ended, my parents were advised to pack us up in the middle of the night and leave. I don’t know who told them they should do this. They took us to the nearby colony of Mennonites that had been supportive during the case. The Mennonites kept us in their homes for a few weeks, and then contacted Mennonites in Ontario and arranged to send us to them. My parents moved us halfway across the country, starting over in a new religious community that was quite willing to help hide my parents from CAS.

This is not how things are meant to happen. Abused children should not be put through two court systems and then spirited away in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, this is what can happen when organizations value protecting parents over protecting children and, as a result, actively defend abusive parents from justice.

I know that people’s experiences with social services can vary, but for me and my siblings, being in contact with social services gave us a small glimpse into what the world outside of our family was like. We had been taught to be afraid of social workers, but Cathy and Kathleen weren’t evil and they weren’t scary. They were there to help hurting kids and that is what they tried to do. Unfortunately, when religious organizations de facto assume that parents are doing a good job, the result can be a war between a system set up to protect parents and a system designed to help children and families. When this happens, the children will lose. It would be much better if homeschooling parents taught their children to be wise in trusting others rather than teaching them to fear everyone. Creating a fear of everyone instills poor self esteem and sets children up to be unable to trust others.

Please know that while social workers are not perfect, they do not head into homes to tear apart families. They gave my extremely neglectful and abusive family every opportunity to self-correct, and then they followed proper channels when that failed. Although it took another 10 years after moving to Ontario, with several unproductive investigations prompted by various reports, CAS did eventually stage a successful intervention. As a result of this intervention, my younger siblings were finally given the opportunity to pursue an education and to experience life without wilful neglect and poverty.

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Advice from a Homeschool Grad Turned Public School Teacher

You were homeschooled?  And now you’re a public school teacher?

I get that question fairly often…and I understand why.  Many homeschoolers strongly dislike public schools—some even fear them or consider them evil—how in the world did someone who was homeschooled most of her life and never even attended public school end up working within those walls? That’s a story for another day. Today I want to share a few suggestions, from a veteran teacher’s perspective, to hopefully empower you as a homeschooling parent, student, tutor, or advocate.

For those of you out there who are just beginning to homeschool, or for veteran homeschoolers starting to think about how to prepare your kids for college and beyond, I have some ideas to share.

First of all, congratulations!  What an incredible task you have chosen to undertake!  In my mind, there is little that compares with the joy and excitement of teaching young people—watching their minds work, seeing the lights come on as they grasp a new concept, enjoying the electric atmosphere of a classroom filled with engaged students, and most of all, standing back and looking on with pride as I see them taking pride and ownership in their work and extending the ideas beyond what we have learned in class.

When I was younger, I always wanted to homeschool my future children.  As a teacher now in the public schools, I see both the positive and negative aspects of institutionalized learning versus the individuality of homeschooling.  Were I to have children now, I’m not sure how I would choose to educate them.  However, since I now have experience in public, private, and homeschool environments, I feel that I can be fairly objective when I assess the options, and I have several suggestions, from the perspective of someone who has walked many miles in various types of shoes:

DO:

Expose your kids to many different types of people.

One of my greatest regrets is that I spent most of my life with white, Christian, middle-class homeschoolers.  Although there were “token black/Asian families” in my life, I had very little experience with people of other races, cultures, religions, or even economic levels.  In the global world we live in, it is vital to have skills of polite and respectful interaction with people of all types.  These are skills I had to learn in my adulthood, but I see my 9/10-year-old students practicing and refining these skills with incredible effectiveness!  There is nothing to be feared from exposing your children to people with other cultures and value systems and teaching them to respect and value those with whom they may disagree.  These skills will take your children far in life, no matter what they do, and experience with people from a variety of backgrounds prepares children to feel comfortable and confident in whatever situation they may find themselves.

Encourage your children to pursue their interests.

As a child, I loved to read.  Homeschooling meant that I had lots of extra time to read books that interested me.  When I got older, I became interested in piano, drama, and sign language.  My mom encouraged me to take classes and even begin teaching sign language classes to other homeschoolers, an experience I would not have had if I’d been in school full-time.  During those long hours of planning, teaching, and even grading, the seeds for my future as a teacher were planted and nurtured, and I gained skills in classroom management, motivating students, and interacting with parents.

Equip your kids for college, if they choose to go.

Even though I wasn’t particularly interested in college as a highschooler, my parents were determined that I would graduate with all the credits necessary to enter college, if I chose to go.  Later, I was very grateful for this.  College is so expensive these days—and it’s discouraging to have to take remedial classes or redo missing credits at community college.

Look at your state’s standards and see if your children can do the things listed for their grade level.

Educational standards are a guideline for what skills the state feels should be mastered at various ages.  Most state standards (and even the new Common Core standards) are fairly straightforward and list basic skills that most families want their children to have.  Using these as a rough guide can save you a lot of time trying to figure out what skills are necessary for a well-rounded education and how to fit them all into your curriculum.  Most math and literary skills are fairly sequential, and these basic steps should make sense to parents and educators.  Depending on the structure of your curriculum, you may follow a different sequence for science and social studies.  (For example, in my state, we do a survey of American history in 4th-5th grades and then move on to ancient history in 6th and the Renaissance in 7th—but as long as children are exposed to all the material, it isn’t that important which year they learn it.)

Use the public library as a resource.

Even as a teacher with school-based curriculum available to me, I often make use of the library because of the extensive amount of resources it provides.  My students particularly enjoy math, science, and history DVDs from the library, and I even supplement with nonfiction books for our research projects.  The key to engaging children and helping learning to “stick” is to provide many and varied opportunities for learning—if kids can read a book, watch a video, take a field trip, and do an activity, they are much more likely to recall the things they have learned.  Herein lies the beauty and freedom of homeschooling!  Librarians usually love homeschoolers and are excited to help them find resources for projects or topics of study. J

Seek help if you are not an expert in the topic you are teaching.

Let’s face it: we aren’t all experts in everything!  When my curriculum requirements or subject matter change, I have to get busy researching my topics!  When I don’t know enough about a topic, I seek out friends or other teachers who can help me.  As a homeschool parent, you are probably teaching multiple levels, and your curriculum is constantly changing from year to year.  There are so many resources available to homeschoolers now in the forms of co-op classes, tutors, and even dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to receive college credit before they graduate!  Don’t assume that your students will be able to teach themselves Spanish, algebra, or chemistry—they will most likely need a coach who is an expert in those fields.  If you aren’t that expert, seek out resources to connect them with folks who are.  You will prevent frustration and help your child be much better prepared for college and life if you do.

DON’T:

Talk about public schools (or the people inside them) as if they are less valuable or less intelligent than homeschoolers.

When I was growing up, I pretty much viewed “public schools” as scary places full of bored, mean, disrespectful kids with teachers who didn’t care about them or give them a quality education.  My first time in a public elementary school was in college as part of a volunteer program.  I was shocked when I entered and an older boy held the door for me and kindly gave me directions to the office.  The children I worked with were sweet and cooperative, and I met teachers and a principal who truly cared about the kids and were excited about the enrichment program I was organizing.  Over the next few years, I visited many schools, and I found that most of them were largely the same: filled with happy kids in brightly-colored rooms where teachers encouraged them to live productive, character-filled lives and tried to make learning fun.  The children I work with continually amaze me with their exceptional intelligence, kindness, and respect.  Many of my students have vibrant faith that they share with each other and with me.  School is a place where creativity and independent thinking are encouraged, but there are still plenty of rules to ensure that everyone is treated with respect.  I love my students deeply (as do most of my colleagues), and I have learned to value families that are very different form my own, to appreciate other cultures and belief systems, and to interact productively with a multitude of folks—and my life has been enriched tremendously as a result.

Be afraid of child protective services, or teach your children to be.

As a kid homeschooling during the 80’s, there was a lingering fear in the back of my mind that someone from CPS could show up at our door accusing us of truancy if we didn’t stay inside during school hours.  We were enrolled with “umbrella schools,” so there was no question that our homeschooling was legal, but I still thought of them as “bad people.”  I now know many folks who really are social workers, and it’s kind of crazy to remember that I thought that way at one time.  First of all, social workers are tremendously loving and giving people who devote their lives to caring for others.  Children should see them as helpful, safe community members like firefighters and police officers.  Secondly, social workers have so many serious cases going on that they truly don’t have time to harass dedicated, well-meaning homeschool parents.

Fear that admitting your child is struggling means people will urge you to put him or her in public school.

I have known families who were afraid that admitting their children were struggling was like saying they were unfit to teach them.  The truth is, many kids struggle with learning.  Some are developmentally delayed or suffer from dyslexia or other learning disabilities.  Admitting that your child is struggling and asking for help does not mean you can’t teach him or her; it means you are doing the responsible thing and searching for help for your child from someone who may be able to give it or equip you to do so.  Homeschoolers can bring their children to public schools for free speech and language services, and based on the county/school system, they may be able to access other free resources, as well.  Exceptional education teachers see hundreds of struggling kids, so they may be able to give you suggestions to help your own child.  The best types of intervention for struggling learners are usually designed for one-on-one or small group instruction, anyway.  There’s no “magic bullet” that will “fix” your child, but there are plenty of strategies to try—ask for help!

Most of all, enjoy this time with your children.  Encourage them to press on when things are difficult, and get excited about your teaching, so your students will catch your enthusiasm and become eager learners themselves!  Have a wonderful time experiencing the delights of learning with your children and making memories you will all treasure.  I was homeschooled, and it was a great experience!  Were there flaws in my education?  Sure—aren’t there always?—but I can honestly say that the majority of my educational experience at home was positive, and it equipped me to be the teacher and person I am today.

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The Interests of Every Homeschooled Child

Imagine your ideal school environment—an educational system set up entirely for your benefit, in all of the ways that you yourself learn best. You get to pick the subject requirements, the requirements for someone to be a teacher, the classroom sizes, whether there should be standardized tests—everything that is involved with the school system, you get to create, with no compromises. What would this school look like? What would the requirements be?

Now imagine that this ideal school environment was suddenly the law across the land. Do you think everyone would be happy under it?

The obvious answer is no. The math-lover designs a curriculum that is heavy on math, while the fan of Beat poetry works it into every lesson. Some people love the challenge of testing, while others would prefer to have no grades whatsoever. A school system can’t be set up to accommodate every single person’s wishes. You end up with a compromise, with many people’s policy ideas being meshed into a single system—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

So now we turn to homeschooling, where the environment can be fine-tuned to an individual’s wishes, and where a homeschooling parent can set up what they consider to be the ideal environment for their child.

Imagine your ideal homeschooling environment, either as a homeschooling parent or as a homeschooled child. What are the most important elements to you? Positive parental involvement, allowing children to go at their own pace, a curriculum that is innovative and fosters a love of learning? Whatever it is, these are the reasons you’re homeschooling. There are no limitations placed on you. Isn’t homeschooling the greatest option ever?

Now, imagine that instead of this ideal environment, you are a homeschooled child with no control over these factors. Your parents may not be involved, or may even be abusive. If there are state requirements you’re supposed to be meeting, you have no idea, because no one has ever checked on you. You want to read, but your parents won’t teach you how. You want to learn, but you don’t have the resources to do so. Is homeschooling still a great option for you?

Now, you may be thinking, “That’s BS, there’s no family that homeschools that horribly, or if so, it’s only a tiny minority.” But the truth is, we at CRHE know multiple families that fall into both camps: the fantastic homeschooling families, where learning is prized and the family functions well, and the neglectful or abusive homeschooling families where kids are not taught. We have received testimonials from individuals whose families reflected aspects of both at varying times, where parents were better in states with accountability measures states but slid into neglect when they moved to states without oversight. And while we don’t know how many homeschooled children are currently being abused, we know that that is a number that is greater than zero—and that homeschooled children who are abused are particularly vulnerable because they do not have the same access to mandatory reporters as other children.

There is a great thought experiment by the philosopher John Rawls called “the veil of ignorance”, where he asks the reader to design a world where “no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like.” Without knowing what kind of family or educational environment you would be born into, what oversight or accountability for homeschooling would you want to have in place? What checks and balances would you want to exist? What would you do if you were born into an educationally neglectful and abusive homeschooling family with no outlet, while the law protected your parents’ right to educate you however they saw fit and keep you from those who might notice your plight and step in?

Some homeschool alumni have read our policy recommendations page and become upset at the thought of any homeschool being “fettered” by oversight or accountability. In particular, the requirements for assessment and record-keeping have provoked a consternation from some alumni, often because these are policies that either their parents didn’t do or that they weren’t aware their parents were doing. A common refrain from these alumni is that we are judging their childhoods and their education and finding them lacking. But when we talk to these alumni one-on-one and ask them about their childhoods and education, we inevitably find that their families were actually meeting the basic standards we suggest, and that fulfilling basic accountability requirements would not have been a problem.

We welcome input from homeschool parents and alumni on ways we can improve our policy recommendations to better reflect and support positive experiences while providing effective and flexible accountability. But it should be borne in mind that our policy recommendations are not intended as a critique of healthy, involved parents who are already homeschooling in a child-centric manner. Our policy recommendations are intentionally flexible, to ensure that every family is able to design their ideal homeschool environment. Our recommendations are designed as a safety net to prevent extremes of abuse and neglect that are not part of anyone’s ideal homeschooling environment.

We ask that homeschool alumni with positive experiences to remember that our policy recommendations are not a referendum on their education, and to bear in mind that not every homeschooled child has an experience as positive as theirs. The vast majority of our policy recommendations are either already in place in some state or already practiced by many if not most homeschool parents. We seek not to penalize parents who are homeschooling responsibly but rather to provide a measure of common-sense accountability to protect and support children in abusive or neglectful homeschool environments.

One child’s freedom of education should not come at the cost of other children’s futures.

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The Alaska Data and Homeschool Academics

Homeschool advocates often champion studies they claim show that homeschooled students score thirty percentile points above average as proof of the superiority of homeschooling. Unfortunately, these studies have some serious flaws—they do not use random samples and they do not correct for background factors. For an overview of what we do and do not know about homeschooling and academics, see our introduction here. Given the flaws that characterize most studies of homeschooling, I was fascinated when I stumbled upon some data from Alaska.

There is a lot more here than what I will examine in this post. I am not formally trained in statistics and I will not even touch on what what the data says about race or gender. There are also limits to this data. We only have testing data from those Alaskan homeschoolers who participated in Alaska’s popular and innovative correspondence school programs. While this covers the majority of homeschoolers in Alaska, it means we don’t have data on the performance of the remainder of Alaska’s homeschoolers. Still, this data avoids some of the flaws of other studies of homeschooling and academics and is vastly more interesting than anything else I have seen.

Alaska’s Correspondence Schools

Alaskan parents can homeschool under the state’s homeschool law, which is probably the most minimalist in the entire country—no notification, no parent qualifications, no required days of teaching, no required subjects, no assessments. However, the majority of homeschool parents in Alaska choose to homeschool under one of Alaska’s many correspondence programs.

These correspondence programs do not use videos or mail-in workbooks, and they do not replicate the public school curriculum at home. They are designed with conventional homeschoolers in mind and allow parents to choose their own curriculum and plan out their own school years. They require a yearly education plan for each student, quarterly progress reports, and annual testing. In exchange, each parent receives around $2000 per child per year for use on things like textbooks, classes, and tutors.

In the 2012-2013 school year, almost 11,000 homeschooled students participated in 28 different correspondence programs across the state. Because these programs technically operate as public schools or charter schools under state law, they are required to put together an annual report at the end of each school year. These reports include testing data for each grade where testing is required—grades 3 through 10—broken down by things like age, gender, and poverty level, and are released to the public.

The Basic Scores

Throughout the remainder of this article, I will compare the scores of students homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools with Alaska’s public school average. Students’ scores for reading, writing, and math are broken down into “advanced,” “proficient,” “below,” and “far below.”

Alaska Reading Scores

Alaska Writing Scores

Alaska Math Scores

In the following chart, I have combined “advanced” with “proficient” and “below” with “far below”:

Summary Scores

Students homeschooled through Alaska’s popular correspondence schools do better in reading than the state average but worse in math. This difference in performance further confirms studies that have found a homeschool advantage in reading and a homeschool disadvantage in math.

Background Factors

Very few studies of homeschooled students’ academic performance have accounted for background factors. We know that public school students whose parents have college degrees tend to do better academically than those whose parents do not have college degrees. When looking at the academic scores of homeschooled students, we need to ask how background factors like parental education affect children’s performance. Otherwise we cannot locate the effect of homeschooling from the effect of various background factors.

By breaking student test scores down by whether they are “economically disadvantaged” or “not economically disadvantaged,” we can examine how parental income affects homeschooled students’ test scores. Roughly one third of the students were economically disadvantaged and roughly two-thirds were not economically disadvantaged.

Reading, Writing, Math, economic comparisonThere is a clear academic difference between economically students homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools who are and are not economically disadvantaged. The difference between these two groups in each subject is smaller than the difference between public school students who are and are not economically disadvantaged (you can view that difference here). Unlike for public schooled students, however, the difference in scores varies by subject—it is most significant in math and least significant in reading.

Economically Disadvantaged Homeschoolers

In this section we will compare the scores of economically disadvantaged students homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools with the state average scores for economically disadvantaged students.

Reading Disadvantaged

Writing Disadvantaged

Math Disadvantaged

Here are the scores are summarized, with “advanced” and “proficient” combined and “below” and “far below” combined.

Economically Disadvantaged Summary

When we look only at economically disadvantaged students, we find that those homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools outperform the state average in writing and, especially, in reading, but slightly underperform the state average in math.

NON Economically Disadvantaged Homeschoolers

In this section we will compare the scores of non-economically disadvantaged students homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools with the state average scores for non-economically disadvantaged students. (The dividing line here is 200% of poverty.)

Reading NOT Disadvantaged

Writing NOT Disadvantaged

Math NOT Disadvantaged

Here are the scores are summarized, with “advanced” and “proficient” combined and “below” and “far below” combined.

Reading, Writing, Math, NOT Economically Disadvantaged Students

When we look only at students who are above 200% of poverty the reading difference disappears, we find that those homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools perform slightly worse in reading, worse in writing, and significantly worse in math than the state average.

Analysis

Data is all well and good, you say, but what does it all mean?

Conclusion 1: Background factors matter, even in homeschooling. This data confirms something that should not be surprising: Students homeschooled by wealthier parents do better academically than those homeschooled by poorer parents. It is likely that other background factors, like parental income, race, and family stability also affect homeschooled students’ scores. This conclusion is important because some homeschool advocates mislead prospective homeschool parents by telling them that factors like household income do not affect homeschooled students’ academic performance.

Conclusion 2: The idea that homeschooling results in higher test scores is a myth. Overall, students homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools outperformed in reading and underperformed in math. In other words, homeschooling may change students’ academic performance, resulting in higher reading scores and lower math scores, it does not raise their overall scores. Further, homeschooled students above 200% of poverty actually underperformed their peers in every subject and students below 200% of poverty still scored below their peers in math.

Conclusion 3: Homeschooled students’ reading advantage may be explained by background factors. Studies have consistently found that homeschooled students are strongest in reading. Some scholars have suggested that homeschooling may offer a reading advantage. Given that homeschooled students generally have more time on their own for reading than other students, this makes intuitive sense. However, when we looked only at Alaskan students above 200% of poverty the reading difference disappeared. The homeschooled students scored no better, and in fact scored marginally worse, than their public schooled peers. When looking at data that suggests a homeschooling math advantage, we need to question whether this is a result of socio-economic factors rather than a result of homeschooling.

Conclusion 4: Homeschooling Has a Math Problem. Many studies have found that homeschooled students perform less well in math as compared to other subjects such as reading. What has been less clear, however, is whether they actually underperform public schooled students in math. Based on this data, the answer appears to be yes. Whether we look at the average scores, the scores of students above 200% of poverty, or the scores of students below 200% of poverty, homeschooled students perform worse in math than the public school average. While a full 43% of public school students above 200% of poverty are advanced in math, this is true for only 29% of their homeschooled peers.

Conclusion 5: Something else is going on here, but we don’t know what. While homeschooled students above 200% of poverty outperformed those below 200% of poverty, there was a large difference when each demographic was compared to its public school counterpart. When looking only at students above 200% of poverty, those homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools underperformed the state average in every subject. In contrast, when looking only at students below 200% of poverty, those homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools outperformed the state average in reading and writing and underperformed the state average only in math. Taken at face value, this suggests that homeschooling has better results for economically disadvantaged students than for those who are not economically disadvantaged.

There are a variety of factors that may help explain why this odd finding. The most likely explanation is that economically disadvantaged homeschoolers differ from economically disadvantaged public school students in additional factors such as race or family stability. Because homeschooling families more frequently exist on one income and have a large number of children, it may be that there is a discrepancy between income level and perceived socio-economic status for many homeschool families below 200% of poverty. In other words, parents may be better educated and have a higher level of access to social capital than where they fall relative to poverty level may suggest. It may also be that homeschooled students below 200% of poverty tend to be clustered up around 150% of poverty while public school students below 200% of poverty tend to be more spread out.

Any explanation that credits economically disadvantaged homeschooled students’ elevated scores to the benefits of homeschooling as an educational method must explain why homeschooling does not provide that same benefit for students who are not economically disadvantaged. It could be that the reason is that economically disadvantaged students are more likely to be in school districts with fewer resources while students who are not economically disadvantaged students are more likely to be in school districts with more resources. There are a variety of possible explanations, but this is a finding that really does demand an explanation, not a slogan or pithy response.

And there you have it. The Alaska data.

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What about Socialization?

“What about socialization?” The question often brings up unpleasant associations for homeschoolers—being judged for their lifestyle by a teacher or a doctor; a social worker threatening to break up the family. It is such a loaded question that quite a few homeschooling resources mention socialization specifically to reassure homeschoolers that it’s not something to worry about and that their critics are just misguided or ignorant.

But what does anyone really mean by ‘socialization’? According to the Home School Legal Defense Association’s analysis of the topic, socialization means

  • Regular interaction with people, especially adults and children of all ages—not social isolation
  • Preparation for the “real world”; e.g. engagement in civic life, competition in the job market
  • Development of self-esteem, without the burden of peer pressure
  • The ability to think independently, as well as to work as part of a team

This understanding of socialization, however, is incomplete.

Socialization, as understood by social scientists,[1] is defined as “the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, skills, and character traits that enable them to participate as effective members of groups and society” (p. 6). That is, socialization is not something that you seek in and of itself. Instead, it is a set of opportunities for you to learn a number of useful skills. “Gosh, I feel really isolated, I need more socialization” doesn’t make sense according to this definition. If anything, you ought to say “I think I will need to know how to ____ to be an effective member of society, but I haven’t had enough opportunities to learn this skill. I need to spend more time in a social environment that fosters this skill in me.”

Socialization occurs everywhere, in every interaction with people. In the family, the child’s primary agent of socialization, he or she gains a status and a cultural heritage. Children develop patterns for establishing relationships and learn to model desirable behaviors and initiate activities. In the peer group, children gain experience in independence and egalitarian relationships and gain a sense of who they are by comparison with others. They also learn cooperation and role taking. In the community, children broaden their range of experiences and gain different perspectives on life, taking on new statuses or roles (p. 44-51).

A person can be said to be well-socialized if she has successfully learned a sense of self-concept, the ability to self-regulate, the drive to accomplish things, the performance of social roles, and culturally-specific developmental skills (p. 36-43). These aims of socialization are further described below.

1) Develop a self-concept

“Self-concept is an individual’s perception of his or her identity as distinct from that of others. It emerges from experiences of separateness from others. The value one places on that identity [is] self-esteem. … A self-concept develops when the attitudes and expectations of significant others with whom one interacts are incorporated into one’s personality” (p. 36-37). Critical elements of self-concept developed during childhood and early adulthood include: a sense of trust in oneself and other people; a sense of autonomy and the development of a will; a feeling of initiative to try new things and ask questions; the capacity to enjoy work; the ability to explore choices and make commitments; and the ability to establish intimacy. Elements of self-concept critical to adulthood and later life are a sense of generativity or productivity—the desire to make a lasting impact on the world—and a sense of acceptance of responsibility for one’s life.

2) Enable self-regulation

“Self-regulation involves the ability to control one’s impulses, behavior, and/or emotions until an appropriate time, place, or object is available for expression. This can be interpreted as routing our feelings through our brains before acting on them according to the situation. Regulated behavior often involves postponing or modifying immediate gratification for the sake of a future goal. This implies being able to tolerate frustration. … As children develop cognitively and have more real experiences, they learn how to interpret events and how to express emotions appropriately. They develop strategies for coping with disappointment, frustration, rejection, and anger” (p. 40-41).

3) Empower achievement

“Socialization furnishes goals for what you are going to be when you become an adult …These goals provide the rationale for [following society’s rules and give] meaning or purpose to adulthood and to the long process a child has to go through to get there” (p. 41). Important skills include the motivation to achieve and the ability to explain success or failure.

4) Teach appropriate social roles

“In order to be part of a group, one has to have a function that complements the group. … We have many social roles throughout life, some of which occur simultaneously” (p. 41); for instance, many people take on the social roles of child, sibling, partner, parent, friend, and worker at some point in their lives.

5) Implement developmental skills

“Socialization aims to provide social, emotional, and cognitive skills to children so that they can function successfully in society” (p. 41). These skills depend on the culture of the society. In 21st-century North America, social skills like how to obtain information from other people, use the telephone and the internet, and make small talk might be important to learn. “Emotional skills may involve controlling aggressive impulses, learning to deal with frustration by substituting another goal for one that is blocked, or being able to compensate for mistakes. Cognitive skills may include reading, mathematics, writing, problem solving,” etc. (p. 42).

Eventually, socialization results in the development of values (“qualities or beliefs that are viewed as desirable or important”), attitudes (“tendencies to respond positively or negatively to certain [stimuli]”), and morals (“evaluations of what is right and wrong”) (p. 67-68).

If a social scientist says  a child is “not well-socialized,” what she means is that he lacks some age-appropriate skill which he will find necessary to be an effective member of society. It is not a judgment about conformity to others’ expectations—rather, it is a sympathetic assessment of someone’s ability to accomplish what he wants to accomplish in his life.[2] For instance, if he lacks a sense of trust, it might be hard for him to establish intimate relationships. If he lacks the ability to self-regulate, he might have anger management issues. If he lacks the motivation to succeed, it might be hard for him to find and keep a job.

Socialization is extremely important to children’s well-being. Homeschool parents should devote serious effort to understanding what is involved in socialization and making sure their children receive the socialization they need to succeed in life.


[1] This discussion of socialization is drawn from Child, family, school, community: Socialization and support, 9th ed., a 2013 textbook on socialization written by Roberta M. Berns, an emerita professor in the Psychology and Social Behavior Department at the University of California-Irvine (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning).

[2] “In light of homeschool advocates’ criticism of institutional schooling’s socialization efforts, it bears mention that asking, ‘Do homeschooled children acquire the necessary social skills to function effectively in broader society?’ does not mean homeschoolers (or anyone else) must mimic the behavior and customs of the wider culture. Rather, the relevant question is whether children gain the social fluency to navigate that context, learning how to develop relationships and work effectively with others.” (Kunzman & Gaither 2013: 19).

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Utah: Don’t Legalize Educational Neglect!

Utah State Senator Aaron Osmond’s bill SB 39 fully exempts homeschooling parents from any and all state educational requirements.

Both the Utah House and the Senate have passed SB 39. It is now on its way to Governor Gary Herbert to be signed into law.

As stated by Senator Osmond, parents who homeschool their children would be “formally exempt from any and all state educational requirements such as classroom time, curriculum standards, testing, or reporting.” We at CRHE believe that subject requirements are an important part of ensuring homeschooling parents’ accountability and provide guidelines for an education. Eliminating guidelines would decrease access for homeschooling parents.

CRHE believes that while parents should be able to choose how to educate their children, they should not be able to choose whether to educate their children. Senator Osmond believes otherwise.

If SB 39 is signed by the governor, the state of Utah will legalize educational neglect by homeschooling parents.

When asked if this policy meant that it was possible that a parent could choose to ignore the so called “three-R’s” in education or even choose not to educate a child at all, Osmond says that nothing prevents that now.” It is reprehensible that Senator Osmond would use the current deficiencies in the state’s homeschooling law as an excuse to remove the law’s requirements altogether.

Senator Osmond’s claims about the state’s current educational neglect law displays a stunning lack of understanding of that very law. Currently, Utah’s Child & Family Services does not generally investigate educational neglect unless called in by the school district, which acts first in cases of educational deficiency in homeschooling situations. While SB 39 would remove the school district from the equation, the state’s educational neglect statute states that “a child may not be considered to be educationally neglected . . . if the child’s parent or guardian establishes by a preponderance of evidence that . . . the child is being instructed at home in compliance with Section 53A-11-102.” Section 53A-11-102 is, of course, the state’s homeschooling law, the very law Senator Osmond wants to dismantle.

If Senator Osmond is successful in removing any requirement that homeschool parents educate their children, he will also remove homeschooled students from the purview of the educational neglect statute entirely.

SB 39 would remove any remaining shreds of accountability from Utah’s homeschool provisions, effectively making it legal for homeschool parents to choose not to educate their children. While many homeschooling parents will provide their children with an excellent education regardless of what the law does or does not require, this is not true for all homeschooling parents. Utah, of all states, should be aware of this: After FLDS leader Warren Jeffs endorsed homeschooling in 2000, all FLDS parents started homeschooling their children. Parents in this cult frequently cease educating their children once they reach age 12 or 14, thus severely curtailing these children’s options. It is already difficult to prosecute such cases under the current law.

Removing the law entirely would not just make such educational neglect more difficult to prosecute, it would make that very neglect legal.

Please take action! Utah Governor Gary Herbert may sign SB 39 by this Friday. Contact Governor Herbert by phone at 801-538-1000 or by email using the online form at http://governor.utah.gov/goca/form_governor.html and urge him to veto SB 39 for the sake of Utah’s homeschooling families.

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Pennsylvania: HB 1013 and Accountability

Eleven U.S. states include a portfolio option in their homeschool law. Under this option, homeschool parents put together a portfolio of each student’s work to be evaluated by a qualified individual, typically a certified teacher. The evaluator then determines whether the student has made adequate academic progress, and in many states must write a report on the student’s ability and progression. Portfolio evaluations provide accountability for homeschool parents, offer parents an opportunity to receive input and advice about their children’s education, and help safeguard homeschooled students’ interest in an education.

However, of those eleven states, only one of them—Pennsylvania—ensures accountability for the individuals who evaluate homeschooled students’ annual portfolios. Pennsylvania law currently requires the supervisor of the home education program (i.e. the parent) to provide the superintendent of the local school with both a portfolio of the student’s work and a “written evaluation of the student’s educational progress” composed by a teacher or other professional. See 24 P.S. § 13-1327.1(e). This provides the superintendent with the ability to compare the written evaluation with the portfolio, offering a measure of accountability for the evaluators.

HB 1013 would remove this level of accountability.

If enacted, homeschool parents in Pennsylvania would be required to provide the superintendent with only “an evaluator’s certification stating that an appropriate education is occurring.” Parents would no longer need to provide the portfolio to the superintendent, which removes the accountability for evaluators that was originally built into the law. Further, evaluators would provide simple “certification” of the student’s progress rather than a more thorough “written evaluation” of the student’s progress. This cuts down on both the information available to the superintendent and the advice and guidance offered to the parent.

In most states with a portfolio option, superintendents can ask to see a student’s portfolio if suspicions of educational neglect arise. However, HB 1013 would remove even that option. Under HB 1013, if allegations of educational neglect were to arise the superintendent could only ask the parents to have another evaluation and provide another certification. The superintendent would be barred from ever seeing any evidence of the student’s academic progress beyond an evaluator’s certification. This is a problem because some evaluators have been known to shirk their responsibilities.

Accountability for evaluators is important because educationally neglectful parents frequently look for evaluators who will sign off on students’ progress without examining their work thoroughly, if at all. You can see this below in the testimony of two homeschool graduates.

Kierstyn King: “My home state, Florida, required an annual portfolio review by a certified teacher. We had one portfolio review done by a teacher who was a neutral third party, and she started asking me questions about my education that year. My mom became upset and we never went back. Instead, one of my relatives who is in the adult education field and has been a certified teacher for as long as I can remember “reviewed” our portfolios for us. I say review lightly, because no thorough review was expected or given—if that had been the case, my math and my siblings’ writing and reading comprehension skills would have been noticed. Instead, we presented our portfolios, and they were signed off on without a glance.”

Teresa M.: “At the time my parents were homeschooling us in the state of Ohio a certified teacher was needed to sign off that the children were being educated. They were supposed to look over the last year’s work to verify. The woman who did ours was also a member of our church and homeschool support group and never even looked at the stuff mom brought her, which wasn’t much. I even remember mom commenting that ‘P only cared about her check clearing.’”

Without accountability, the portfolio evaluation process cannot be counted on to ensure that homeschooled students are not slipping through the cracks. Without accountability, evaluators can sign off on students’ work without looking at their portfolios or actually evaluating their academic progress—and educationally neglectful homeschool parents will seek out evaluators who do just that. If we knew that every evaluator would carry out their job responsibly and as required by law, accountability might not be such an issue. Unfortunately, we do not. This is why accountability is so important, and why Pennsylvania’s current law should be maintained.

CRHE applauds the Pennsylvania law as the only homeschool law in the country that provides accountability for portfolio evaluators. It would not be in the best interests of Pennsylvania’s homeschooled students for this to change.

HB 1013 is sponsored by Representative Mark M. Gillen, who can be reached at his home office at (610) 775-5130 or at his capitol office at (717) 787-8550. It was referred to the Education Committee at the end of last year’s legislative session. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives will reconvene for this year’s legislative session on February 10, 2014.

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Virginia: HB 63 and Sports Access

Virginia homeschoolers are barred from participation in public school sports leagues by the Virginia High School League’s requirement that each student athlete be “a regular bona fide student in good standing of the school which he/she represents.” HB 63, a bill before the 2014 Virginia General Assembly, would change this. As advocates for homeschooled students, we are passionate about expanding homeschool sports access. HB 63, which you can read in full here, has our support.

Currently, 29 states offer homeschooled students full or partial access to public school sports leagues. In the remaining 21 states (Virginia included), high school athletic association eligibility requirements bar homeschooled students from participating in public school sports leagues. Fortunately, homeschool sports access has increased in recent years. 6 states that had previously prohibited or severely limited access revised their laws or policies in 2012 and 2013 alone. Click here for CRHE’s analysis of homeschool sports access laws.

HB 63 would open up opportunities for homeschooled students to participate in healthy athletic and social extracurricular activities. We support homeschool access to public school extracurriculars because options for homeschooled children that include group athletic and social activity encourage healthy child development and wellbeing. Further, we believe that a positive and cooperative relationship between public schools and homeschool families is in the best interests of the child, the parents, and the school; such a relationship can in some cases bring homeschooled children in negative home environments into contact with mandatory reporters or provide role models and positive influences they might not otherwise have had. In states and districts where sports participation is permitted, the response has often been positive.

While elementary aged Virginia homeschool students have access to a variety of community sports leagues, the competitive athletic options available to high school level homeschooled students are often severely limited. We do not believe families should be forced to choose between homeschooling and competitive sports participation. Some children’s best interests may be best served by both homeschooling and participation in public school sports leagues.

Common objections to sports access have to do with academic requirements, funding, and abuse of the law. HB 63 addresses all three of these concerns. First, participation is limited to any student who “has demonstrated evidence of progress [pursuant to the state’s homeschool law] for at least two consecutive academic years immediately preceding the academic year during which the student seeks to participate.” This ensures that public school athletes struggling with academic requirements don’t switch to homeschooling and immediately resume athletic participation, and it also creates an academic standard for homeschooled students. HB 63 also limits sports participation to the homeschooled student’s district of residence and states that homeschool athletes will be “subject to all policies governing such participation that the local school board may establish.” Finally, HB 63 addresses funding, stating that homeschool athletes may be charged “reasonable fees” to “cover the costs of participation in such interscholastic programs.”

CRHE supports efforts to allow homeschooled students to participate in public school curricular and extracurricular activities, including sports, and is hopeful that this legislation, and other legislation like it, will pass. We have only one caveat: HB 63 does not cover students homeschooled under the state’s religious exemption. We believe that all homeschooled students, regardless of which option they are homeschooled under, should have access to extracurricular activities, including sports, at their local public schools.

For more information on HB 63, see The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers’ Homeschoolers’ Sports Access page, which includes frequently asked questions, an explanation of how HB 63 will work in practice, and a collection of stories from Virginia homeschool families who hope to gain access to public school sports leagues.

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