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Home Schooling Doubles in N.D. Since Deregulation

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The number of North Dakota children being taught at home apparently has doubled in the seven months since the legislature loosened the state's home-schooling laws, advocates of such instruction said last week.

The new law--which was fought in the legislature by state teachers' and administrators' organizations--allows parents with college degrees to teach their children without supervision by a certified teacher, provided they follow the state-mandated curriculum.

Parents with high-school diplomas can either teach their children under the supervision of a certified teacher or pass the state teachers' examination.

All home-schooled children must take annual standardized achievement tests.

The growth of home schooling in the state--and the continuing "rough spots" in implementation of the new standards--illustrate on a small scale the impact of a national trend toward relaxation of state requirements on parents who elect not to send their children to public or recognized private schools.

Since 1982, 30 states have changed laws or regulations in order to ease contraints on home schoolers, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Certification Requirements

Passage of the North Dakota law left only two states that require all teachers in home schools to be certified, according to J. Michael Smith, vice president of the home-school legal group, which is based in Paeonian Springs, Va.

One of the states is Iowa, where legislators tried unsuccessfully last spring to reach a compromise in a long-running dispute over the issue. A moratorium on prosecutions of 8parents under compulsory-attendance laws expired in July.

But top Iowa officials have urged restraint in enforcement of attendance laws, pending another legislative effort next year. The state board of education in September approved a compromise proposal allowing use of noncertified teachers provided students were tested annually.

In the other state, Michigan, the issue is being fought out in the courts. A state appeals court in August upheld a law requiring use of a certified teacher for children taught at home. Parents who sought to overturn the requirement on religious-liberty grounds have appealed to the state supreme court.

In Ohio, meanwhile, a regulation went into effect in August that establishes statewide standards under which students can be excused from compulsory school attendance. If parents follow simple state guidelines, said Mr. Smith, the district superintendent must permit students to be taught at home.

Supervision, Testing Issues

Both critics and proponents of home schooling agree that North Dakota's new law needs some fineel10ltuning. "There have been some rough spots, but we anticipated that," said the Rev. Clinton Birst, president of the North Dakota Home School Association.

Mr. Birst estimated that roughly 200 children in the state are now being taught at home.

One area of dispute is the part of the law that requires noncertified parents to be supervised by a certified teacher for one hour per week. The state education department interprets the law to require "supervision of the child environment one hour per week per child," said Peter Gefroh, director of secondary education for the department.

But that interpretation "is very disruptive to the home-schooling environment," Mr. Birst argued. If concurrent monitoring is not permitted, he noted, a family teaching three children at home would have to have 12 hours of supervision a month.

The education department also has yet to work out the "quality assurance" section of the law, which mandates annual testing of home-schooled children.

State officials are developing regulations spelling out minimum levels of academic progress as measured by the tests, and what to do for students who do not meet the standards.

Mr. Birst argued that such regulations should take into consideration the individual circumstances of each student and family. "What does one do if a child had previously been in a public school and not done well there either?" he asked.

1993 Expiration

The North Dakota Council of Administrators and the North Dakota Education Association are withholding judgment on the new law.

Both organizations had vigorously opposed relaxing requirements for home-based instruction. "Students should have a qualified certified teacher, whether the instruction is taking place at home, at a public school, or a private school," said Walt Hatlestad, president of the teachers' group.

The union plans to conduct a survey this winter of local school officials to see how the law is operating.

Regardless of the results of that survey and an upcoming evaluation by the education department, the home-schooling issue is not going to go away. The law is scheduled to expire in June 1993, giving educators' groups and home-school advocates another chance at changing, expanding, or killing it.

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