J. Michael Smith, Esq.
Michael P. Farris, Esq.
Response to the Washington Post
Homeschoolers Say No to Mandatory State Testing
Director of Media Relations
August 25, 2009
“Homeschooling is the sleeping giant of the American education system,” is the opening line of a recent article by Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews.
He’s also right when he says, “All surveys of home-schooled students so far indicate they have higher achievement rates on average than regular students,” and when he dismisses the claim that homeschoolers might not be properly socialized by saying, “Homeschoolers go outside often and get just as big a dose of pain and joy and ignorance and wisdom as regular school kids.”
Where Mathews goes wrong is his support for a recommendation by Robert Kunzman, an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Education whose new book Write These Laws On Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling, calls for all homeschoolers to be subjected to regular, compulsory, standardized state testing.
To be fair to Mathews, it seems that his desire is to defuse what he sees as a gathering movement within the public school establishment to regulate homeschoolers.
He reports that his contacts are becoming nervous about the fact that homeschoolers are nearing 4% of the school-aged population and growing at 9% per year.
“Some public school educators I know are uneasy about this. They don’t know home-schooling families well. They worry those kids are being ill-served by well-meaning but inexperienced parents. There is potential for more battles over regulating home-schooling.”
In effect, Mathews gives homeschoolers a gentle and timely reminder that we must be ever vigilant to defend our right to homeschool.
As Mathews correctly notes, HSLDA has been at the forefront of reducing regulations on homeschoolers, but he fails to mention why so many state legislatures have agreed with our view.
The crucial missing detail from Mathew’s article is that the homeschool academic surveys he alludes to show that the level of state regulation has no impact on the results of homeschooled students. Consider the most recent study of homeschool students’ test scores conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute, and commissioned by HSLDA. Homeschoolers in low regulation states scored on average in the 87th percentile and those from high regulation states (which require some form of testing) also scored in the 87th percentile.
The question HSLDA regularly puts before state legislatures is, “If government regulation does not improve the results of homeschoolers, why is it necessary?” The obvious conclusion based on the research is that government regulation of homeschoolers is a waste of taxpayers’ money and parents’ time.
Regrettably, many homeschoolers have known for some time that the success of the movement might provoke greater scrutiny. And the success of homeschooling cannot be denied. We continue to grow in numbers, and homeschooled children continue to significantly out-perform public school students—by 37 percentile points in the latest homeschool academic achievement study. This academic success is achieved at a fraction of the cost (average public school student—$10,000 per child per year—average homeschooler—$500 per child per year). No wonder we’ve drawn the attention of the education establishment.
Public school officials are accountable to taxpayers, and taxpayers may begin to ask, especially in an economy that’s struggling, questions like, “Why are my property taxes so high when homeschoolers are getting much better results for a fraction of the cost?”
The response brewing within the education establishment appears to be to try to make homeschoolers more like public school students by subjecting them to state-mandated testing. It’s not a strategy that will work.
Today, homeschoolers can be found in all walks of life and all political persuasions. We are a diverse movement with a variety of opinions. There’s one issue, however, that unites almost all homeschoolers—opposition to mandated state tests.
The reason is simple—once the state chooses the test, you have to “teach to the test”, and consequently your curriculum will have been chosen for you by the government. This is an intolerable intrusion and one that would radically alter homeschooling.
Freedom and flexibility are the hallmarks of homeschooling. Once they are removed and the state is allowed to regulate the curriculum through testing, then homeschooling will be changed beyond all recognition.
One of the main reasons homeschooling is so successful is because parents are able to design an education program for the individual child. Homeschooling parents can allow their children to advance rapidly in areas where they are strong and spend more time on areas where a child may be weak. Trying to advance at a state-mandated even pace through all subjects just isn’t feasible for homeschoolers.
There’s also the nagging question of what the state will do if a child fails one of its tests. Does that mean the child would be forced into public school?
The state has a legitimate interest in the upbringing and education of children by parents only when the state has evidence that the children are being harmed. It has no right to impose its education views on parents who choose to educate their children outside the state system.
HSLDA hopes that state legislatures will continue on their path of lifting restrictions on homeschooling and that the homeschool movement will continue to grow and thrive without state interference. But Jay Mathews has done the homeschool community a service by reminding us that people within the public education establishment are thinking about ways to regulate our education choices.
Every homeschooler should be ready and willing to actively oppose any attempt to impose a state mandated testing regime.
We have been warned.
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