I woke yesterday to an email requesting me to participate in a discussion on HuffPost Live on whether Homeschooling needs more regulation. I think this article in The New York Times prompted the segment.
By the time I got in touch with the associate producer who had contacted me, they had lined up their guests. Maybe next time!
If I had gotten the chance to speak with Nancy Redd, the moderator, here’s what I would have added:
Regulation of homeschooling is enacted state-by-state. The states vary in their level of regulation to a preposterous degree. So to ask the question “is there too much regulation?” lacks an understanding of the landscape of Homeschooling law. Some states don’t even require notification. Some require only notification. Some require notification of homeschooling, as well as test scores, and/or professional evaluation of student progress. There are still others that also require home visits, curriculum review, etc.
Here’s my moderate one-line answer to that polarizing question: I think some states (the ones with high regulations) over-regulate and others (the ones with no regulation) don’t.
The education of a child involves many competing interests: the child’s, the parent’s, society’s, school districts’ (including principals and teachers), and those of the education industry.
Society has a vested interest in how we parents prepare our children for citizenship. Ideally, our children will grow up to be law-abiding, productive members of their communities. If not, society pays the price via the criminal justice system or social services. I respect that interest. As a member of society, I share that interest!
Parents have a fundamental right to prepare our children however we see fit. Our right generally trumps society’s interest. I wrote about that here.
Children, of course, have rights to basic needs like food, universal state-paid education, health care and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, and equal protection of the child’s civil rights. Parents’ rights are important and deserve respect, but children’s rights are equal and deserve the same level of respect.
Schools and companies don’t really have rights either, but they do have interests, mostly financial. I personally don’t care about those interests. One of the reasons we homeschool is because we want our kids to be participants in an educational process rather than commodities in the education industry.
How do you deal with all these competing interests? My view is that there should be checks and balances. I know. Not very controversial. That’s probably the real reason I didn’t make it on to the panel!
In my view, homeschooling parents have a right to educate our children however we determine is best, using whatever method we deem appropriate. But I do think that states should 1) know that our children exist and 2) have a method to check up on a child if a valid concern is raised.
I do not believe that states can offer me a cadre of experts to tell me what “success” is for my children. If I did, I’d send them to school. I do, however, believe that there are some basic competencies that I have a duty to help my children achieve. I welcome support from the state because I am assuming and hoping that it has my child’s best interests at heart as well. Of course, if I find out that they do not, I will fight tooth and nail to protect my family.
How does this look? I think New Hampshire is a model state for achieving a balance between these interests and rights.
In New Hampshire, parents must notify the state once but then it is assumed that homeschooling will continue for the rest of a child’s education. The notice is simple and easy to do.
Thereafter, we homeschoolers are expected to
1) keep a portfolio of our children’s work and progress (the portfolio can include anything and everything from reading lists, to workbooks completed, to photographs, to drawings, to tickets to museums, etc. It is simply meant to be a reflection of how they are spending their days in the event an issue arises); and
2) have the child evaluated annually either with a standardized test, an evaluation of the portfolio by a certified teacher or a teacher currently teaching in nonpublic school, or using a mutually agreed upon method with the appropriate participating agency.
Find more information about New Hampshire Homeschooling laws here.
The portfolio and testing results are the property of parents and parents do not have to share the results unless an issue arises.
I believe that if you are homeschooling with your child’s best interests in mind, you would welcome these regulations.
One of the gifts of homeschooling is that I know my children very well. I can tell you at any point in any day what their strengths and weaknesses are at that time. I know they are thriving. I don’t need the portfolio or testing to tell me this. And they don’t need it either.
Nonetheless, the portfolio keeps me on track and fills me with pride and happy memories as I see how we are spending our days and the standardized tests scores give me comfort in knowing that my children could get back into the murky waters of our public school system any time.
Public schools have checks and balances with parents and boards and the public scrutinizing every move. Private schools have checks and balances with parents and boards too. It is only fair that homeschoolers have checks and balances as well.
Regulation is supposed to be a means toward an end. That end, in my mind, in this case, is a child’s best interests. Any party to the situation can abuse their power, but that is a discussion for another day.