Home Schooling: More Pupils, Less Regulation

Jan 4, 2015

Image credit: Michael F. McElroy

By Motoko Rich

Until recently, Pennsylvania had one of the strictest home-school laws in the nation.

Families keeping their children out of traditional classrooms were required to register each year with their local school district, outlining study plans and certifying that adults in the home did not have a criminal record. At the end of the year, they submitted portfolios of student work to private evaluators for review. The portfolio and evaluator’s report then went to a school district superintendent to approve.

But in October, after years of campaigning by home-schooling families in the state as well as the Home School Legal Defense Association, a national advocacy group, Pennsylvania relaxed some of its requirements.

“We believe that because parents who make this commitment to teach their children at home are dedicated and self-motivated, there’s just not a real need for the state to be involved in overseeing education,” said Dewitt T. Black III, senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, which has close ties to local Christian home-school associations. Mr. Black wrote an early version of the bill that eventually passed here.

Unlike so much of education in this country, teaching at home is broadly unregulated. Along with steady growth in home schooling has come a spirited debate and lobbying war over how much oversight such education requires.

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12 comments on “Home Schooling: More Pupils, Less Regulation

  • I’m one of the few teachers I know who thinks that home schooling can work, but for it to work the parents have to do an awful lot of hard work. To pull it off gets harder as they get into high school when students should have access to specialist teachers. In Australia some home school parents have formed associations where they share resources and idea and get together regularly for sporting and social functions. Due to our extremely large land mass and very small population many students are forced into school of the air (radio) where they receive limited instructional time with teachers about an hour a day and work from programs. I’ve used some of the materials when I was teaching in composite (multi-aged) classes to help a few of my more advanced students have work to go on with when they’d finished the class work.

    But the state (the rest of us) have a right to expect that all citizens be appropriately educated. After all these people will need to be supported by the state if they are unemployable. All children should have the right to a good education. All education needs to be regulated appropriately. Any country that is willing to consign a large proportion of their population over to ignorance is libel to end up like any one of the many countries where the the bulk of the population is ignorant. I hope the US is ready to join the third world.

    The other thing about this sort of thing is it strikes me there was a time when ignorance was something to be ashamed of. This had its negative side but older people I know who never went to university often have a deep shame or insecurity about not having had a higher education. I don’t feel superior to them at all (I know more than them about areas I studied-but they were off doing various trades for years and know a lot about things I’d love to have more knowledge of), but this speaks of a certain amount of peer pressure being applied. I think we may need some of that back. You should be ashamed to keep your children ignorant. Perhaps the rest of us need to apply a bit of gentle peer pressure.

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  • Agree absolutely. It can work. I home schooled my daughter for a while because we were living in a location for a while where there were no schools I thought were good enough. And when she went back to an actual school she was light years ahead of most of her peers. Home schooling isn’t just for religious nuts in the US. But to be clear I think it is truly disgusting that the US education system is so broken that some people have to home school. The socialization skills you get with peers is as important as the education. I went to a public school in the US when I was a child and looking back I never appreciated what a solid education I was getting.

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  • I hope the US is ready to join the third world.

    Don’t want to sound smart, or extreme, although I am both, but in many ways it already has. Racial divisions, inability to make decisions rationally, in debt up to their eyeballs, militarisation levels they cannot afford, no proper health system, none for 40% of the population, huge underclass, 2.25 million in gaol, 633,782 homeless – god knows how many in extreme poverty, crumbling infrastructure and education systems, 30 000 gun deaths per year, police occupying ghettos “like a foreign troop” (Hughie Newton), social divisions and poverty getting steadily worse. Is there any hope at all for them?

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  • As a college professor of 24 years, students that are home schooled fall into one of two extremes: Either they are prepared well above their peers (about one in 20) or they are far, far, far behind their public schooled peers 19 out of 20 in this group). While I have many, many complaints about the quality of public and private schools in this country, students generally do better if they engage in structured “professional” education environments. Often parents ask me what I recommend and I suggest that they “supervise” their child’s education closely until high school then engage in either AP classes, IB programs, and/or dual enrollment courses. Home schoolers often lack many needed skills and the vast majority lack any sufficient academic skills and knowledge in science, math, and statistics. These deficits are often so profound that they cannot complete even an AA degree let alone a Bachelor’s degree at an accredited college. In addition, if the student is schooled by a fundamentalist religious family, they often do not know history and lack a basic background in the arts as well. I once had a student that didn’t realize that the Pilgrims were no longer in existence and believed that the only laws she “had” to follow were “biblical.” She had never heard of the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and (are you ready for this…) did not know we had been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last twelve years. She left the classroom in tears because I used the word “hell” at some point. She was clearly an extreme case but problems of this sort are not unusual.

    All too often, children are home schooled by parents who do not have enough education to do the job even if their heart is in the right place. My own sister is an example: She home schooled all four of her daughters until high school. Then they went to public school. Unfortunately, only one of them actually graduated from high school. The other three dropped out. All four of them live in poverty and have no hope of a better life. The only jobs they can hold down are entry level service jobs. They had potential as children, but they could never take advantage of it. It still makes me feel sad. They are nice young women and they are doomed to a constant struggle just to get by. Don’t home school your children unless you are really, really prepared to do it right. Most of us are not. I have a Ph.D. but I am not prepared to teach areas outside my field of expertise. Engage in your child’s education; be a part of it every day and improve the process with academic summer camps and trips to museums and science centers. Your child needs to learn how to deal with the “real world”– warts and all. Help them do that well– and they will succeed.

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  • Hi eejit,

    I hear what you are saying but as I don’t live there I’m worried that I might just have remnant bias. There is a lot of American Bashing I see, some entirely justified, I meet almost no-one in my country who for example says they just love Mc Donalds yet they are bloody everywhere! So if I feel myself getting feelings of Anti-Americanism welling up inside I try to think about it very carefully, one thing that horrifies me is that my country seems to want to follow every educational trend America implements, and we seem to be trying to follow the greedy economic model that America and lack of social ethics that America follows.

    So as horrified as I am about the way America does many things I feel my last several governments in this country have been objectively worse (because they are so willing to bend over and follow the US in much of this madness) This frankly horrifies me. Having said that in America’s favour and reason for hope I see America in some states supporting Gay marriage, legalising pot, doing more to reduce carbon, having companies willing to put their money in say electric car technology like Tesla. There is some real progress there even though it seems to be more at the state level than federal. So until we get a better government (read – citizens willing to vote for a better government) as horrified as I am, I’m more saddened my my own country.

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  • Thank you for this bucket of cold common sense tipped over the subject. Teaching is a skill.

    I am very sympathetic to parents faced with poor educational choices, but fight with all your might for good state provision. So hated in the US is the thought of tax dollars being spent on the common good that education budgets are cut and substituted by lottery money, that hugely fickle tax on the poor.

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  • As a college professor of 24 years, students that are home schooled fall into one of two extremes: Either they are prepared well above their peers (about one in 20) or they are far, far, far behind their public schooled peers 19 out of 20 in this group).

    Hi Indygirl76

    I don’t disagree necessarily with what you are saying but you would need to unpack your 20 students into two categories at least. Religiously motivated home schooling and non-religiously home schooled – how many of the 19 were religiously motivated home schoolers (I’d be willing to bet the 1 wasn’t). It’s clear that religiously motivated parents rarely have the same objectives as those that are not religiously motivated. You also have to consider that both groups have been through the sieve of being accepted into college – I’d be interested to know how the 19 managed this. You’d then have to look at how many non-home schooled students couldn’t even get into college. After all how many students fail to get through the more conventional education system. I have a current student in an I.C.T class who struggles with confidence, I spend as much time with him as I can and when I do he can do good work. I know what his barriers are but I can’t in fairness spend half a lesson with him every lesson for a couple of weeks to get him over the hump and independent, the structure of our curriculum (this done by week five, this assignment by week 7 etc.) means he is slipping through the cracks, I know he is capable but is missing a few pieces of the puzzle but because I have 27 students and others to help I cannot spend the time on him at the expense of others. If home schooled his parent/s could prioritise a day or two to get over his lack of confidence in this area and he’d be on his way. State education penalises these students, he is not dumb he just falls victim to essentially, economics. You will do this by then and in this exact sequence or fall behind, because it is cheaper to teach you all the same thing at the same time-frame. This is a genuine weakness in state run education systems.

    It may well be that a higher proportion of home schooled student are allowed to enter college due to poor admission testing (I’d have no idea how you guys do that).

    Because as I explained in Australia we have many students taught in school of the air we know the general statistics in regards to these students. They do very well, although to your point most upon reaching high school will be sent to boarding schools in the nearest big city for their high school (where they are usually ahead of the rest – they are used to independent study and generally have better study habits) , Australia has also many tiny rural schools in which the principle is the teacher of every grade (just primary) and must teach content from prep to year 7, now it’s impossible to plan and teach separate lessons for each year level so structures need to be put in place incorporating things like peer tutoring and a lot of independent work. This is not easy to do and anyone home schooling is essentially going to be using some similar strategies. So if running an approved program and appropriately tested this all works.

    I recently completed some post graduate studies at the local university and of course it was all on-line (other than the testing) there was help from the lecturer but you had to go through the forums and they would answer questions only if other students could not or more often they would direct students to where they could find the answer. So I see no reason why it cannot be done with home school networks. Likewise I’m sure in a groups of a couple of thousand home schools students that parents who are working scientists, mathematicians (or working with mathematics), biologists could be found to give similar on-line help and tutoring to a group of home schooled high school students. Even things like the Karn Academy and you tube go a long way in this direction. However your motivation must be to give your child a full education and the state must check that this is being done. If these two things are okay then it’s going to be hard but do-able.

    Religiously motivated home schooling is usually people who are trying to protect their kids from a secular education, they are actively trying to filter out their students education and it seems they are doing this very well. So you need to be very careful to unpack the reasons behind the choice.

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  • What motivates mothers to keep their children at home? The religious motivation is clear enough. But what else? If regular school is not educationally good enough, the obvious thing is to provide additional teaching at home. Or, more ambitiously, to get together with others, who find public schools inadequate, to set up a small private school.

    Teaching children at home 100% is very onerous and few people would be willing or feel competent to undertake such a task. Don’t these home teachers have anything else to do with their time and energy? Don’t they need to earn a living?

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  • Depends where you are in rural areas where the nearest school is a 5 hour drive away you have no choice, some as you say are not happy with state education in this case now you need to do distance education (formally used to be school of the air now its all internet based). And I agree with Phil and IndyGirl76 that in general you should try to send them to a public school. But it is possible to do very well and unless (in my case) as an educator you are not willing to look at why the examples that work well do in fact work well then we are closing our eyes and saying “MEMEMEMEMEME, I’m not listening!”.

    A lot can be learned from independent schooling that could be, in some cases should be applied in state schools. Too much of public education IMO is based around a poor economic model that shoves more and more students into the classroom and tries in an endeavour to improve schools without spending money by simply adding pressure for schools to do well in national and state testing (which due to being linked to league tables become more important than the actual curriculum), public education can become jaded and conservative. This has real disadvantages many of which can be overcome by teaching your own child at home.

    But you have to have one parent willing to give up work and be genuinely willing to make that their full time job. In my country an average teacher teaches between 22 – 28 students at once if you are home schooling you may be teaching one or two. After 4 or 5 years of this believe me those parents will be excellent teachers (provided they are motivated to learn and of reasonable intelligence). Having said all of this I have no intention of home schooling my own child, and I’ve probably been too loud a voice on this tread, apologies but I care deeply as a teacher about education and have opinions based upon my experiences. All I would say in summary is if you are going to judge home schooling you need first to separate the nut cases who are home schooling to actively avoid educating their children from those who are doing it to improve the education of their children, or have no choice due to distance etc. Then we can have a genuine debate about the relative costs and benefits.

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  • Reckless Monkey,

    If parents have to choose between educating their children at home or sending them to boarding school because they live in a remote area, this is a different issue altogether from deliberately keeping children out of school because of dissatisfaction with nearby schools, for religious or other reasons. The critical point highlighted in the article above is about regulation and monitoring of home education. I really don’t think children’s education should be left entirely to the hazards of the beliefs, ideas and self-assessed competence of parents, step parents and guardians, without the state being concerned about what’s happening behind closed doors.

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  • Aldous,

    I completely agree and I’ve said as much above above (however I’ve ranted too much about this so you could certainly be forgiven for not reading through everything I wrote). My concern is merely to point out the difference is motivation religious, non-religious education needs to pointed out in these debates. I am entirely opposed to religiously motivated home schooling, entirely opposed to non-regulated home schooling, however the evidence in Australian Distance education and the former school of the air for many decades shows it can be done, not easy but can be done, is regulated and runs approved programs. It works, I feel these debates too often get thrown straight at the fringes.


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