Lets get one thing clear from the beginning; in this country, parents have the right to teach their children at home, provided they meet minimal expectations regarding the preparation of their children for citizenship. This is not just a homeschooling parents view; its the consensus view that emerges from every judicial opinion rendered in a legal challenge to homeschooling
There has been a lot written and spoken about homeschooling, most of it positive. Unfortunately, there always has been a focused, often loud voice, spewing disinformation about homeschooling. One has only to read the published position of the National Education Association to understand whose voice it is, and also what drives the position. Lets be clearit is the success of homeschooling relative to the public education establishment, not a concern for the welfare of homeschooled children that motivates the education establishment to suppress homeschooling.
How successful is homeschooling? To date, every reputable published study has concluded that homeschooled children perform at least as well as their institutionally educated peers on the basics of literacy, mathematics, history, and social studies. In fact, if one can believe the results of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Iowa Test of Academic Proficiency, homeschoolers as a group score approximately 25 percentage points above the general population. This is the test regime most often employed in the public schools in Georgia, so it must have some credibility. And these results are not unique to one year, or to one cleverly-selected sample of homeschoolersthey are repeated time and time again, all over this country. The message is crystal clear; homeschooling works, and works extremely well, as method of primary and secondary education.
Even the education establishment has recognized that it cannot attack homeschooling simply on the basis of academic results. Thus, for many years, the education establishment raised the issue of "socialization"how could homeschooled children possibly be learning to cope in the "real world" if they were being isolated at home? Socialization is much harder to study than academic achievement, and there have been few reliable studies comparing the socialization of institutionally educated versus homeschooled children. But the studies that have been published suggest that homeschooled children are at least as well socialized as their institutionally educated peers. Much more convincing than scientific studies is simply the observation of groups of homeschoolers compared to groups of institutionally-educated students, for example, on field trips, at the theater, or in other similar settings. Furthermore, homeschooled children quite often are out in their communities, taking arts and crafts classes, volunteering, participating in theater, singing in choirs, and myriad other activities. They most definitely are not isolated, and their experience of the "real world" is out in the world, not in the artificial environment of the narrow age-group settings found in educational institutions.
The education establishment has realized that the socialization issue will be seen for the red herring that it is, and has searched for other means to suppress homeschooling. Two new strategies have emerged, and these pose real threats to homeschooling. The first strategy is to argue that homeschooling needs some form of accreditation. A number of reasons have been offered: it eases the transition back to the public school for those homeschoolers who go back, it is the basis for awarding a recognized diploma, and it makes it easier to provide homeschoolers access to public school programs and facilities such as science classes, libraries, sports, etc. But accreditation is simply another word for conforming, and the desire to not conform is the fundamental reason for choosing to homeschool. Homeschoolers as a group will not be seduced nor will they be tricked by the false promises of accreditation.
The second strategy for suppressing homeschooling is one that is much more likely to be successful, and it is to drastically limit homeschoolers access to public higher education. In this, the education establishment has discovered its only effective weapon against homeschooling. The strategy has been used in Georgia, and it unfolds in this way. First, the state Board of Regents establishes a goal of "raising academic standards in the state," and promulgates a policy requiring entering students to have completed a "college preparatory curriculum." Next, the Board of Regents dictates that if a student graduates from a "recognized" public or private school, having taken the designated courses, he or she will be presumed to be "college prep curriculum"-qualified. Finally, the Board of Regents will "recognize" the need to provide access to homeschoolers, and will promulgate an admissions policy for homeschoolers that requires a large number of specific subject tests, such as the SAT II tests, to demonstrate CPC proficiency. The policy specifically prevents institutions from using a portfolio to establish CPC proficiency.
This strategy is extremely effective for three reasons. First, the staff people at the state Board of Regents are members of the education establishment, and therefore anxious to "do their part" in the war against homeschooling. Second, homeschoolers are inclined to take a position that "if you are so stupid that you dont want me, Ill go somewhere that appreciates me." Since there are many private colleges and universities that welcome or actively recruit them, homeschoolers have alternatives, albeit generally much more expensive ones, to public higher education. It is this aspect that works so effectively to suppress homeschooling; many parents, faced with the prospect of private college tuition, simply give up and send their children back to the education establishment. Third, the Board of Regents often is not an elected body, so it does not answer directly to the voters, and often works completely out of view of the public. Thus, there is simply no mechanism for the citizenry to effect changes in Board policies.
There will be those who ask, "Why dont you just take the additional tests, if homeschooling is so effective?" The answer is one that may be difficult for non-homeschoolers to understand. We choose to homeschool, in part because we believe deeply in the need to be an effective learner, as opposed to the need to learn specific factual material. Homeschoolers, left alone, typically become extremely well educated in the specific subjects that interest them, in addition to becoming proficient in the basics. Subject tests, like the eight SAT II tests currently required in Georgia, force children to learn specific factual information, chosen by somebody else, just as if they were in an educational institution. In other words, it is a way to force them to conform. What makes this a travesty is that there is no documented evidence that the proficiency demonstrated by the tests is necessary for success in the students chosen academic field of study. And even if it is, for one or two of the tests, to require eight is discriminatory and punitive.
Homeschooling is a movement that has grown rapidly in the past decade. In 1984, when Georgia adopted a homeschooling law, it was estimated that there were approximately 600 active homeschooling families. Today, the estimate is 12,000. If the 20% growth rate of the past five years continues, homeschoolers will number more than 100,000 by 2007. It is the size of the movement that makes the education establishment so desperate to suppress homeschooling, or at least to force homeschoolers into greater conformity. And they have found two new strategies that they can deploy largely out of the view of homeschoolers until it is too late for an effective response.
It is our independence and our desire for privacy that has made us vulnerable to the education establishment. Homeschoolers dont publicize their successes. Homeschoolers dont cultivate their elected officials. Homeschoolers dont "sell" homeschooling to their neighbors. Homeschoolers have ignored the misinformation and disinformation, and allowed the education establishment to work behind the scenes for too long. It is time for homeschoolers to "come out of the closet," and demand respect and fair treatment by the education establishment. If we educate the public, if we cultivate our elected officials, we can make those demands successfully. Otherwise, we must contend with the reduced opportunities and the continuous threat of additional regulation and restriction.
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