New Home Schooling Law Passed in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Legislature passed a new home schooling law hours before the close of the 1988 legislative session, specifying new procedures by which home schools can legally operate. The passage of the law brings great relief to home schoolers in Pennsylvania who spent many weeks diligently tracking the legislation and fighting off potentially disastrous amendments. In the end, most of those harmful amendments were removed or amended, and the final version of the bill, while lengthy, should provide for a far more peaceful climate in Pennsylvania. It is hoped that the new law will put an end to the large number of disputes (including the Jeffery case in which several HSLDA families successfully challenged the vagueness of the old law) which have arisen in the past over school district approval requirements for home schoolers.
Under the new law, parents need only have a high school diploma or GED to home school their children. Parents must file an annual notarized affidavit by August 1, or prior to the commencement of home instruction, which sets forth the name and ages of the children to be taught, the names of the “supervisor” (i.e. parent), proof of immunization, medical and dental examinations, and information regarding curriculum materials, which must cover all of the required subject areas. In addition, parents must certify that they have not been convicted of certain crimes (including child abuse) within the past five years.
The law specifies that this affidavit and the curriculum information it contains cannot be used by the superintendent to determine if the home school complies with the law. In other words, superintendents are not authorized to approve the content of curriculum and texts.
Home schools must provide 180 days or 900 hours of instruction at the elementary level, or 990 hours at the secondary level. The parent-supervisor must maintain and provide the superintendent with certain documentation of the home school program, including a portfolio of records and materials (including a log of the work completed and samples of student work), and an annual written evaluation.
This annual evaluation must be done by either a licensed psychologist, a certified teacher, or a nonpublic school teacher or administrator with two years of teaching experience within the last ten years. The evaluator must review the child’s portfolio and certify “whether or not an appropriate education is occurring.” “Appropriate education” is defined elsewhere in the law as meaning “a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required…and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program.”
In addition to this annual written evaluation, standardized achievement testing is required in grades 3, 5, and 8 in reading/language arts and mathematics. Parents can choose among at least five different nationally recognized tests to be named by the Department of Education, or can use the state’s testing program.
The law also includes specific procedures regarding children “who have been identified pursuant to the federal Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA), as needing special education services.” Such children may home school under the new law with the additional requirement that a certified teacher, or school or clinical psychologist, must approve the program as addressing the specific needs of the child. This written approval must be submitted with the affidavit.
On the whole, this new law represents a great improvement in the legal status of home schooling in Pennsylvania. Subjective approval is no longer required or permitted, and parents need not undergo detailed evaluations of their qualifications and their curricula. There are still provisions of the law which are not perfect, but home schoolers throughout the state can breathe a collective sigh of relief at the passage of the law, since many families need no longer live in fear of superintendents and policies that have in the past made their home schooling difficult or impossible.
Charges Dismissed Due to New Law's Passage
Several HSLDA member families in Pennsylvania have been facing truancy charges filed during the 1987–88 school year. Now that the Pennsylvania Legislature has passed the home schooling law, HSLDA attorneys have been successful in getting the charges against four different families dismissed.
The Yarian and Brown families were both convicted of truancy in January of 1988. The families appealed these convictions, but the appeals were put on hold until a decision was entered in the Jeffery case. Although HSLDA’s Chris Klicka tried to get the charges dismissed after the Jeffery victory, no action was taken until after the new law passed. Now, on January 11, 1989, the Court of Common Pleas of Tioga County entered an order dismissing the actions against both families.
The Joseph Arseneau family of Mont Alto had also been convicted of truancy early in 1988 and were appealing their convictions. Before the case was set for trial however, HSLDA was able to get the charges withdrawn due to the new law.
A fourth family, the Suda family of Dallas, was appealing truancy charges from the 1987–88 school year, but their hearing before the magistrate had been indefinitely postponed in light of the pending Jeffery case. After the Jeffery decision, the Dallas School District informed the Sudas that the decision enjoined the district from pursuing truancy charges, and therefore the charges were dropped.
The HSLDA legal staff views the dismissal of the charges in these four cases as an indication that both the Jeffery decision and the new home schooling law have already greatly improved the home schooling climate in Pennsylvania. If this trend continues as the new law is implemented, Pennsylvania's status could well change from being formerly one of the most dangerous and difficult states, to being perhaps not one of the easiest, but at least a less restrictive state for home schooling.
IMPORTANT NOTE TO PENNSYLVANIA MEMBERS!
Your affidavits need to have the following language inserted at the beginning in order to be in proper form:
State of Pennsylvania )
County of_______________ )
(YOUR NAME), being first duly sworn on oath, deposes and says:
You may simply attach a cover sheet with this statement to the affidavit sent with our mailing, or you may rewrite the affidavit with this as the opening.
The Teacher Certification Myth
Dr. Sam Peavey of the University of Louisville has served as an expert witness in court cases, legislative committees, and many other official studies across the nation in recent years. As a career educator and researcher, his testimony contains not empty rhetoric, but facts, based on numerous studies and years of experience, concerning the legitimacy of teacher certification requirements. His conclusions, as a member of the education establishment, are a powerful testimony to the lack of true concern for children’s academic achievement, and the overwhelming concern of that establishment to maintain its monopoly on education in the U.S.
The following is an excerpt of Dr. Peavey’s testimony before the Compulsory Education Study Committee of the Iowa State Legislature, on September 30, 1998. Iowa passed a moratorium on the prosecution of home schooling families for the 1988–89 school year in order to re-examine the legitimacy of the state’s certification requirement for home schoolers. As he explains, such requirements are entirely without basis in research or experience, and need to be critically reexamined in light of the rights of parents to educate their children, and in light of the overwhelming success of home schooling in children’s academic and social development.
I am Sam Peavey, Professor Emeritus of the School of Education of the University of Louisville. Although I have been away from Iowa some years, I am a native of the state. My boyhood was spent within a one-mile radius of where I now stand. My home was a few blocks east on Grand Avenue, and these capitol grounds were my favorite play area. I attended East High a few blocks north and later the University of Iowa. After advanced study at Columbia and Harvard, I taught at the University of Northern Iowa prior to joining the faculty of the University of Louisville from which I am now retired.
In view of the nature of my testimony, it is well that you understand clearly the background from which I shall be speaking. My entire professional career has been in public education as a school teacher and administrator and as a university professor of education. My major responsibilities have been in the fields of teacher education and curriculum development. I have worked closely with the preparation of thousands of prospective teachers for state certification and have served on numerous committees and commissions dealing with the accreditation of schools and colleges. All of that, plus a life membership in the National Education Association, identifies me as a bona fide member of the public education establishment.
A major thrust of my testimony will be some soul-searching observations of how we in the education establishment have come to be regarded as a powerful, self-protective, vested-interest lobby devoted more often to controlling education than to improving it. The public sees our power as derived in a large measure from our influence with legislators and state and national officials whom we have helped elect. That is well understood by this committee.
You will hear our voice and feel our pressure on every education issue. However, the one issue that will always roll out our biggest guns is any legislative proposal to revise the state’s official regulations on teacher certification and school accreditation. We in the establishment view those regulations as the basis of our power to control who may teach, what shall be taught and how it shall be taught. We see the mounting movement toward educational freedom as a threat to the position and power we have attained. The matters under consideration by this committee have many of my colleagues in the establishment running scared. Others of us, however, will be urging you to open your minds and hearts to the clear evidence of what educational freedom and alternative schools can mean to the quality of our children’s education.
…The state, of course, does have the authority and responsibility to assure that all children are receiving the minimum essentials of knowledge and skills. Beyond these minimum essentials, the state has no authority or responsibility to intrude. A simple, standardized testing of those essentials will provide all of the evidence the state needs to satisfy its proper concerns. Nearly all states now recognize and accept that fact. I can assure this committee that as a whole the home schools and non-public schools are achieving those essentials significantly better than public schools. This committee can rest assured that the current crisis in education is not in the private and home schools.
…If your committee wishes to develop the clearest and fullest perspective on the emerging rebirth of educational and religious freedom in America, I have one suggestion I would respectfully urge you to consider. I would hope that each of you on the committee might take an open, unbiased look at the achievements of the home schools in the development of their children’s scholarship and character. It may serve to remind you, as it did me, how far our society has drifted away from the traditional family to the wholesale institutionalizing of our children’s upbringing. It may lead you to wonder, as it did me, why the education establishment or the state would criminalize these true examples of family sacrifice and solidarity on which home schooling is thriving. It may cause you, as it did me, to ask why successful, family-centered education should not be made one legal, respected educational alternative for those few remaining families who are willing to give themselves so fully to their children.
…Let me assure you that home schooling is not for everyone. As I have stated, the nature and quality of family life required for a successful home school is now quite rare in our society today. That is why so many of us find it difficult to conceive of a home school in those communities where broken families, absentee fathers, working mothers and latch-key children have become the norm. The general deterioration of family life has produced tragic consequences in school life. Ask any teacher or principal about that. Home schools are providing us an encouraging example of a struggle against that tragic tide.
The power of the state to control schools was generated as a means to assure universal education. Many observers today suggest that the preservation of the means has taken precedence over the achievement of the end. As a consequence, state legislatures and courts have been struggling with the obvious conflict between school law and justice. Fortunately, almost all states have now resolved that pointless dilemma by granting citizens the freedom to educate their children apart from arbitrary and invalid state regulation. The results have fully justified that faith in freedom.
…I have spent a long career in developing and administering programs for teacher certification. I wish I could tell you that those thousands of certificates contributed significantly to the quality of children’s learning, but I cannot. A half-century of research fails to show any significant correlation between a teacher’s certificate and students’ achievement.
…The U.S. Supreme Court in Griggs (1970) ruled that any test or educational requirement for employment was unconstitutionally discriminatory if no valid relationship could be shown between the requirements and performance on the job. After fifty years of research, we have found no significant correlation between the requirements for teacher certification and the quality of student achievement.
…But the obvious question remains. What makes a good teacher? Since the turn of the century teacher educators have sought to determine what makes a good teacher so they could make some more. Studies have focused on personality traits, breadth of scholarship, teacher competencies, teaching behaviors, knowledge of child development, standardized teacher examinations and so forth. None appeared to show any significant consistency in affecting the quality of students’ learning.
However, in spite of those years of frustration, I am pleased to report to you that there has been discovered one valid, legal, honest, professional, common-sense way to identify a good teacher. As far as I know there is only one way, and it is about time for legislators to recognize it and write it into school law. It involves a simple process. Step one is to stop looking at the teachers and start looking at the students. Step two is to determine how well students are learning what they are supposed to be learning. The quality of learning provides the only valid measure of the quality of teaching we have yet discovered.
…No, I am not recommending the discontinuance of certificates and accreditation. They can serve some purpose on peripheral matters of school environment and facilities. I am concerned that we recognize and admit that our legalistic formulas for quality education are not translating into quality learning in the classroom. I am concerned that our lawmakers stop the criminalizing of private efforts to improve education that evidences better results than we are achieving within traditional legal frameworks. I am urging my colleagues in the establishment to give more attention to improving education and less time to controlling it.
And no, I am not promoting private and home schooling. But yes, I am truly intrigued by what the nonpublic schools are now achieving in those states where legislatures have shown a new faith and a new vision in the freedom to teach and to learn. The home school in particular seems to me to present the greatest challenge to professional educators. Education in a family setting offers a unique opportunity to study the interaction of living and learning and teaching within the most normal and authentic laboratory we could devise. It is heartening to learn that over a hundred university studies are not focused on the home school. Those studies have already corrected many misconceptions and many misrepresentations. It may be enlightening to look at some of the findings.
There is certainly no question that the children in home schools are achieving very well. They commonly score a year or more above their peers in regular schools on standard measures of achievement. State studies and national surveys confirm their successful academic attainments.
…In spite of this impressive record of academic achievement by home schoolers, the critics of home schools charge that home school students are missing the wholesome and positive socialization they would get in a larger institutionalized environment. Here again, the home school may have something to contribute to our concept and understanding of social growth and development in children. It is significant that courts have ruled that the state has no authority to prescribe its preferred pattern of socialization for children. Family values take precedent in the development of social character.
Researchers in child development are reported to be finding evidence that the traditional organization and routine of schools may be producing negative socialization in many children. They question the usual practice of segregating children in their own age groups in a bell to bell, cell to cell schedule of living and learning. Such an isolating and confining environment may be seriously retarding normal social development and maturation, they report. Such abnormal segregation and submergence of individuals in a large group of their age mates is being seen as a source of negative social outlooks and relationships. Peer pressure, peer dependence, and peer domination may create serious problems in a child’s socialization and leave lasting scars on the child’s self-image. The lack of acceptance felt by many children within their classroom groups may be vastly more harmful than being in a home school environment with close and caring family members of all ages. We need a lot more study and information before we should venture prescriptive judgments on these matters of socialization.
We in the public schools recognize that our problems of socialization are a mounting concern even more tragic than our academic decline. Faculty meetings, national conferences and professional journals now deal regularly with the facts of life in our classrooms: emotional stress, self-image, competition, boredom, loss of identity, frustration, rejection, moral confusion, social isolation, delinquency, promiscuity, vandalism, dropouts, burn-outs, drugs and alcohol, and suicide. Rest assured that parents in home schools, like all parents, are deeply concerned about providing an environment that will foster and safeguard their children’s socialization and social character.
Contrary to the common image of home schooling, the home school is more than an isolated parent and child at a kitchen table. Home schoolers now enjoy close relationships with local, state and national support groups, rich sources of professional materials, excellent newsletters and periodicals, available counsel from advisory centers, extension relationships with both public and private schools, educational television, community and school libraries, museums, field trips, family-centered businesses, and a mounting array of professional literature on home education. The home school is providing a worthy and effective educational alternative for a small but dedicated minority today.
In conclusion, may I respectfully suggest that we would all do well to consider the court judgments on education freedom in Levison (Illinois) and Roberts (Massachusetts). Both cases caution the state that the proper purpose of compulsory education is that, “ALL CHILDREN SHALL BE EDUCATED, NOT THAT THEY SHALL BE EDUCATED IN ANY PARTICULAR MANNER OR PLACE.”
I leave you with that most relevant and compelling thought.