|The Washington Times||August 7, 2006|
Washington Times Op-ed—Respect Earned But Not Always Given by J. Michael Smith
by J. Michael Smith
How many parents would say that as their teenager gets older and shows more and more maturity, that is the time to begin clamping down and placing more restrictions on him? It does not make sense. Most parents would be glad to allow their teenager more freedom if he is demonstrating he can be trusted to be responsible.
The same principle should be applied to homeschoolers. The success of homeschooling demonstrates that parents can be trusted to educate their children, which should lead to more freedom, not less. Since the re-emergence of homeschooling in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, homeschooling has grown to an estimated 2 million children. Homeschoolers represent about 4 percent of the school-age population.
Homeschooling has proved that it produces students who excel in academics and are socially well-adjusted. Homeschoolers consistently score 20 to 30 percentile points above the national average on standardized achievement tests. Also, the latest study from the National Home Education Research Institute, titled Homeschooling Grows Up, shows that homeschooled graduates are more involved in their communities than the average public school student.
As homeschoolers have proved themselves over the past 20 years, the level of government regulation has declined across the 50 states. Only a handful of states, including Pennsylvania and New York, place burdensome regulations on homeschoolers. In those states, homeschoolers are seeking greater freedom through legislation, which until now has been defeated. Though it has taken much time and effort, the overwhelming majority of state legislatures have made the decision to trust parents to educate their own children.
Some critics, however, still maintain that a home education is inadequate, justifying new regulation. They face a difficult challenge because the state’s legitimate interest in an education program already has been laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Wisconsin v. Yoder. The court ruled that the acceptable results of an education program are literacy and self-sufficiency. In other words, the student should be able to read, write and support himself without recourse to the state after he has completed his education. Homeschooling more than meets that standard, and critics have been unable to demonstrate otherwise.
Literacy and self-sufficiency also are goals of the public school system. Parents send their children to public school expecting them at the minimum to reach this standard by the time they graduate. Public schools are funded by taxpayers and therefore are subject to regulation by the given state. Because homeschooling is not taxpayer funded, the state has a legitimate interest only in the result, not the process of education. Homeschoolers have proved over time that the results are outstanding.
Unfortunately, some governments still don’t get it. For example, in Puerto Rico, legislation has been introduced recently to bring homeschools under the supervision of the public school system. Homeschooling parents would be subject to extensive regulation, including the requirement to answer intrusive questions and provide personal information about the family to the government. This action shows a lack of trust of homeschoolers and a failure to recognize the outstanding academic achievements of homeschooled children.
Homeschoolers have earned the right to be free, and as more non-homeschoolers recognize that homeschoolers are both academically excellent and socially well-adjusted, the case will be stronger. Nevertheless, homeschoolers are realistic and recognize that most policy-makers will never fully trust parents to educate their own children. The battle to maintain homeschool freedom will not end soon and, unfortunately, may never end.
Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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