On December 10th, the largest room in Georgias Legislative Office Building was filled to capacity with parents and legislators as Rep. Carolyn Hugley argued for her revised version of House Bill #586 before the Georgia House Education Committee. This bill attempts to restrict home schooling in Georgia, and is part of a general anti-home schooling trend in the state. The bill was toned down after lobbying by home school parents brought it under the medias eye, but it is by no means harmless. Precisely because the new version is less immediately damaging, its relatively minor restrictions are dangerous. If passed, the bills restrictions would become routine, and further governmental regulation would draw less attention. In the current climate of increased governmental control of all types of schools, it is important to remain aware of changes in educational policy which may curtail educational freedom.
This bill would restrict the time period during which a home study program may be declared to the two weeks before the public school semester. Currently, the declaration of intent to study at home may be filed at any time. The reasons for this are simple, but important. Often, a child will be taken out of school to study at home when he is not doing well in school. Under the proposed bill he would be left in class, distracting the other children and frustrated in his own education. This does a disservice to the teacher, who must cope with a child who is not learning well, at the expense of the other students. The only people benefited by this are administrators, who would only have to deal with this particular paperwork four weeks out of the year.
Even more sinister is the new testing requirement the bill provides for. Home scholars would be required to take a standardised achievement test every year instead of every three years. The tendency towards more testing nationally is alarming enough. A major tenet of home schooling is freedom from "teaching to the test," and avoiding "the test for testings sake" is a factor in many families decision to educate their children at home. Again, this provision would benefit educational testing companies.
The additional testing and paperwork would also benefit the Georgia Association of School Social Workers (SSW). In a memo to other social workers, Nathaniel Shelton, Legislative Committee Chair of the Georgia Association of School Social Workers, comments, "depending on the outcome of this bill it might be the vehicle that will help us get more SSWs in the schools." Among the bills other provisions, it would instate semi-annual progress reports, presumably to be reviewed by School Social Workers. For students wishing to return to the public school system, a mandatory review of all test scores and progress reports would be added, along with the option of administering more standardised achievement tests at the discretion of the local superintendent of schools.
These restrictions would infringe on the right to educational freedom, by requiring, in effect, that students either be taught to a specific national curriculum content from their homes, or failing that, return to the public educational system. This bill has been introduced as a response to concerns by legislators that home school parents will neglect to educate their children, but there is no evidence to support this concern. A 1997 study by Dr. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, showed that when home schooled children took standardised basic battery tests, their average scores were between the 77th and 92nd percentiles, regardless of race, gender, income, or parental level of education. These scores should not be a cause for concern. For the sake of administrators and businesses, Rep. Hugley would have us sacrifice our freedoms and our childrens opportunity - but we must not, and will not, let them slip away.by Amity Sewell
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