Without first obtaining the consent of Congress, President Clinton ordered the U.S. Department of Education to develop national reading and math tests for fourth- and eighth-graders. In a speech to the Maryland state legislature in May 1997, Clinton carefully explained that, "[T]he federal government will not require them, but they will be available to every state and every school district that chooses to administer them. I believe every state must participate and that every parent has a right to honest, accurate information about how his or her child is doing based on real, meaningful national standards. . . . We need . . . tests that measure the performance of each and every student, each and every school, each and every district . . ."
When asked if this was a federal power grab, he responded, "That's nonsense! We will not attempt to require them. They are not federal government standards, they are national standards" (American School Board Journal, May 1997, p. 22).
This is nonsense. National standards are federal government standards. They have the same effect.
President Clinton's proposal to develop national tests relies on the very broad authority of the Fund for Improvement of Education (FIE). This fund allows the "Secretary of Education to support nationally significant projects to improve the quality of education and to contribute to the achievement of the National Education Goals."
The current plan calls for the tests to be developed over the next two years and to be available for administration beginning in 1999.
Secretary of Education Richard Riley supports the President's plan for national testing. At an April 29, 1997, House Sub-Committee hearing, Riley testified, "New test instruments must be developed because the NAEP assessments are not designed as individual student tests. . . . the NAEP can assess performance on a very comprehensive set of items while keeping the testing time for individual students to a minimum. This works well for a state or national average, but it doesn't tell a parent, a teacher, or a principal how an individual child is doing."
Secretary Riley estimates that it will cost the FIE approximately $22 million to develop these tests.
Congressman Goodling Leads Charge in Opposing National Testing
In a House Committee on Education and the Work Force hearing on May 14, 1997, the Committee Chairman, Congressman Bill Goodling (R-PA), blasted the Department of Education for beginning test development when it "did not have specific or explicit statutory authority to develop the President's national tests in reading or math."
Goodling attempted to add an amendment to H.R. 1469 which would have stated that, "None of the funds made available in this or any other act for fiscal year 1997 . . . for the fund for the improvement of education . . . may be used to develop, plan, implement, or administer any national testing program in reading or math." However, a procedural glitch stymied Goodling's efforts to add the amendment.
But the Congressman has not given up. He is now working on a resolution which would solidify congressional opposition to national testing. The National Center has been asked to offer ideas for the resolution language.
What Does This Mean for Homeschoolers?
Clinton and the U.S. Department of Education offer reassurance that the national tests will be voluntary. But not even state education officials are buying that line.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education hosted a series of meetings on the national tests. Present at those meetings were representatives from the Department of Education and the Clinton White House, as well as important education officials from around the country. A transcript of the February 28 meeting revealed the far-reaching problems posed by this national test.
In the meeting, White House staffer Mike Cohen described Clinton's goals for the national tests. University of Kansas professor John Poggio responded, "There is a sense, I think we all recognize that what gets tested is what gets taught. . . . When students start performing poorly on your [national] test it will cause us [the states] to change everything we're doing."
Rebecca Kopriva of the Delaware Department of Education explained that national tests will conflict with state standards: "We can't afford [at the state level] to have our tests be significantly different than yours [national tests]. . . . this is going to drive a lot of what we are doing. And it won't only drive it in grades four and eight. It's going to drive it throughout the years because they are going to gear to grade four and eight. So just be aware of that."
She went on to point out that the "voluntary" nature of the test is a lose/lose situation for the states. If states don't use the tests, their school systems will be considered uncooperative and they won't receive federal education funds. If states do the testing and the children score poorly, states must change their curricula to fit the test.
Gary Phillips, who is working on the design of the national reading and math tests believes the new national test will be "helpful" for all students and parents. He said, "With our releasing it to the public, what we hope is parents can look at it, homeschoolers can use it. I mean, you could use it for a variety of reasons once it's out there. So there's a whole bunch of potential uses you can have with the test once it is released."
Will this national test set national standards? Phillips responded, "We're not anticipating setting standards on the test. Who knows what might happen on later down the road." Touché. That is the problem exactly—what will happen later on down the road?
Where Do We Go from Here?
Pro-family groups in Washington are all opposed to Clinton's push for national testing. Congressman Goodling is leading the battle to prevent Clinton from developing and releasing any type of individualized national testing. The Congressman's resolution, hopefully the precursor to a bill prohibiting the creation of a national test, should be introduced some time in July. At that point, the National Center will be urging homeschoolers and all concerned citizens to contact their Congressman in support of the Goodling resolution.
H.R. 1385—Will It Affect You?
House Resolution 1385, primarily a reform of the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), provides job training and literacy classes for adults to get or keep them off welfare and unemployment compensation rolls. From an economic standpoint, this bill would be a step in the right direction because it attempts to streamline JTPA by cutting programs and eliminating duplication.
Unfortunately, misinformation about the true nature of H.R. 1385 has generated a lot of concern among homeschoolers. The National Center for Home Education has received numerous calls from worried parents expressing a wide range of concerns about the impact of this bill should it pass.
After carefully reviewing H.R. 1385, the National Center determined that in its present form, the bill will not affect homeschoolers.
From a constitutional perspective, however, HSLDA is opposed to H.R. 1385 and JTPA on the basis of the 10th Amendment and Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers did not enumerate job training as a power of Congress.
Although HSLDA would like to see all unconstitutional programs halted or repealed, we have not issued a nationwide alert on H.R. 1385 because it is not directly related to homeschooling. But, through negotiations with staffers on the Committee on Education and Workforce, several improvements suggested by HSLDA, Family Research Council, and the Right to Read Foundation were added to the bill.
- Several technical passages were clarified to indicate that mandatory family literacy services and educational programs for children can only be required for those families where parents are voluntarily participating in parental literacy services.
- "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to provide local workforce development boards with authority to mandate curriculum for schools." "Local workforce boards," which govern job training and literacy programs, replace the "private industry councils" (PICs) which already exist in current law. Under H.R. 1385, the chief elected official in the local community appoints the members of the board instead of the governor, and the board no longer must be drawn from the unions.
- "Nothing in this title shall be construed to affect homeschools, nor to compel a parent engaging in homeschooling to participate in an English literacy program, family literacy services, or adult education."
In summary, H.R. 1385 only affects individuals who voluntarily seek and enroll in government adult literacy programs and job training programs. It does not affect the private sector.
Tax Credit in Budget Agreement
On May 2, 1997, President Clinton and the Republican congressional leadership both claimed victory in striking a budget deal for fiscal year 1997–98.
HSLDA staff attended a briefing on the details of the agreement at the Capitol by Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA), Majority Leader Dick Armey (TX), Majority Whip Tom DeLay (TX), and Republican Conference Chairman John Boehner (OH).
In spite of press accounts to the contrary, the budget agreement was general in nature with few firm details—good or bad.
What is clear is that the White House agreed to specific tax relief and entitlement savings in exchange for increased discretionary spending.
Republicans stipulate that they received permanent tax relief for families, entitlement savings, increased defense and transportation spending in exchange for annual discretionary spending which must be readdressed each year.
The agreed upon tax relief provision provides for $85 billion in net savings over five years and $250 billion over 10 years. The details of the specific amounts and structure of the package will be determined by the Ways and Means Committee. However, leadership has indicated that they will pass the $500 per child tax credit, as well as capital gains tax relief, revision of the inheritance (death) tax, expanded IRAs, and tax relief for parents who send their children to college.
A few questions remain unanswered concerning the details of this provision: Will the credit be phased in over several years or begin right at the $500 level? Will there be some sort of early age cut-off or will it apply to any child under 18? Will it apply to all families regardless of family income or will there be an income cap?
HSLDA supports the $500 per child tax credit and will continue to report on additional details as they are released.
Tax Deductions v. Tax Credits
Many organizations in the pro-family and home education movement have supported a $500 per child tax credit as a method for providing family tax relief. A tax credit has tangible benefits over a tax deduction in the following way:
A tax deduction reduces the amount of your net income subject to taxation. For example, if your income is reduced by a deduction of $500, then your savings would be $150 (15% tax rate) or $280 (28% tax rate).
A tax credit, however, directly reduces the amount of tax owed, dollar for dollar. A $500 per child tax credit reduces your taxes by $500 for one child, or by $2,500 for five children.
U.S. Service Academies Accepting Homeschoolers
The National Center for Home Education recently conducted a survey of the Army, Navy, and Air Force academies to discover if and how homeschoolers are admitted into their schools. The results were encouraging. The academies indicate that they are receiving more applications from homeschoolers every year. Between one and five home school students have been admitted to the academies each year, and these students are doing well.
The survey also provided answers to some of the questions commonly asked by those who wish to apply to a service academy.
- Should a homeschooler who wishes to enter a military academy take certain academic courses?
Yes. It is a key factor for an applicant to have a strong foundation in math and science. Community college classes in the junior and senior years of high school would be a good way for a home educated student to demonstrate competence in the appropriate course work. It is important for a homeschooler to have taken laboratory sciences and one or more calculus classes.
- Are there specific admissions policies for homeschoolers?
No. Homeschoolers are treated in the same manner as public schooled students. However, each student is handled on a case-by-case basis, so the admission process varies slightly with each applicant. Admission requirements are similar to those of most four year colleges, but parents and students are encouraged to call the admissions office of the service academy in which they are interested to discuss their situation and address their questions directly to a counselor.
The Air Force Academy's admission formula is based 60 percent on academics, 20 percent on extracurricular activity, and 20 percent on the interview and panel review.
- What tests should a student take, and what scores are acceptable?
All service academies prefer SAT or ACT scores to GED or SAT II scores. For admission to the Air Force Academy, the average ACT scores are: 29 in science, 29 in math, 25 in verbal, and 29 in reading. The average SAT score is 650 in math and 620 in verbal.
The Naval Academy will accept ACT scores but prefers the SAT. The minimum score for the SAT at the Naval Academy is 610 in math and 520 in verbal.
West Point's average ACT score is 28 in math and 30 in reading. The average SAT score is 650 in math and 620 in verbal.
- What kind of transcripts do the academies accept?
The academies prefer standard transcripts. The Naval Academy stated that they would take anything that proves the courses taken. Portfolios, however, did not interest the academies. The Air Force Academy puts greater weight on the applicant's SAT or ACT results.
- Does the application include an essay or interview requirement?
Yes. All service academies require essays, and all, except West Point, require an interview. West Point does not include the interview as a formal part of the application process.
- Must homeschoolers obtain a congressional recommendation? If so, how is it obtained?
Yes. Congressional recommendations are obtained by contacting one's senator or representative and asking for a recommendation for the academy of the student's choice. They will send you a packet with forms to complete.
- How important are sports and community activities?
All three academies stress the importance of athletics. They want to see that a student can carry a large academic load, handle physical training, and have good social skills. The more community and sports activities the student is involved in, the better chance that student has to get into an academy. The point is to show that a person can get along with people and work with a team. West Point stated that their evaluation of an applicant is 60% academic, 30% extracurricular activities, and 10% sports. They stated that it is very important for a homeschooler to excel in extra activities.
As more and more students complete their families' home school programs and contemplate college and other training options, it is likely that service academies will begin a more active recruitment of homeschoolers. If a home-educated student is considering applying to a service academy, it is never too early to begin planning. Participation in sports (4-H, YMCA, private schools, etc.), community service (scouts, church activities, etc.), and supplemental courses in higher mathematics and science will greatly increase the likelihood of acceptance. It would also be wise for the home school applicant to meet his representative and senators—this will allow the congressman to put a face with a name and make it easier for the student to obtain a recommendation.
Japanese Homeschoolers Need Your Help!
Japanese public schools are known throughout the world for their outstanding students. However, academic excellence in Japan has come at a heavy price, according to a recent Washington Times article (Willis Witter, "Japan discourages homeschooling," Washington Times, May 19, 1997, p. A1, A13). Students are routinely harassed by bullies and teachers. Several students have died following excessive corporal punishment from their teachers, and suicides among young Japanese are a weekly occurrence. More and more students are dropping out of school (80,000 at the last count), but a few are turning to homeschooling as an answer to the abuses in the educational system.
Unfortunately, homeschooling is illegal in Japan. Homeschoolers must operate as private schools in order to avoid legal hassles, but the Times article noted that the government does not recognize these schools and taxes them as ordinary businesses. Homeschoolers are referred to as toko kyohi, or "school refusers." The Ministry of Health and Welfare has introduced a bill which would open the fifty-seven Japanese reform schools to school refusers. Although the bill says children shall not be sent to these reform schools without parental consent, there is a legal loophole which would allow authorities to "determine" if the quality of parental care is "rapidly deteriorating." Once this is established, the school officials would be able to place a child in a reform school without parental approval. The parents' right to direct the education of their children would be subject to the arbitrary whims of public school officials.
The Times quotes a leader of a Japanese home school organization who estimates that there are about 1,000 homeschooling families in Japan. The Japanese culture is very group-oriented; in order for homeschooling to be widely accepted, it must have the approval of the government. But often homeschoolers face more persecution from the population at large than from government officials. Insults are regularly hurled at homeschoolers by total strangers.
Political pressure from homeschoolers in the United States has been very effective in getting homeschooling recognized in South Africa.
"The only reason I can find for the change of tune [in the South African government]," noted one South African home school leader, "is the international pressure that has been brought to bear on them through the initiative of HSLDA."
Now homeschoolers in the U.S. and Canada have the opportunity to support the few, brave parents in Japan who are teaching their children at home. Please write the Japanese Embassy, encouraging them to support homeschooling and to introduce legislation recognizing the right of parents to direct the education of their children. In particular, share real-life benefits and successes of your home school.
Ambassador Kunihiko Saito
2520 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Note: This is not only a great opportunity to help establish the freedom to home school in Japan, but it is also the perfect introduction for teaching your children about geography, the history and culture of Japan, the freedoms we enjoy in the United States—and the need to remain vigilant to protect those liberties.