Legalization of Home Schools Should Proceed

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At a time when large numbers of mothers are joining the workforce and pressing state governments to provide child-care services, as many as 100,000 other mothers--and fathers--are choosing in an alternative movement to make the education of their own children a full-time career in the home.

Not seeking government assistance, however, home-schooling parents are asking states simply to stop prosecuting them for violation of compulsory-education laws.

Indeed, since 1982, 20 state legislatures have amended their compulsory-education laws to permit home schooling, and a number of other states are considering such actions. In Pennsylvania, for example, an omnibus bill with a home-schooling section unanimously passed the House Education Committee in June. Iowa legislators recently approved a bill suspending compulsory-education prosecutions until a home-schooling bill can be passed.

And current research indicates that the academic growth and social development of home-schooled children meet or exceed the typical levels of achievement in public schools.

Yet such major education groups as the National Education Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principals have actively opposed the legalization of home schooling.

In light of the evidence available, public-school educators and state policymakers alike should acknowledge the legitimacy of home schooling and support its expeditious legalization.

Without citing research to support their position, public-school organizations have suggested that home schooling is inferior to public education, in its social as well as its academic preparation of children. In the most extreme position adopted by such groups, the naesp in its 1986-87 platform urged all members "to support legislation which enforces compulsory attendance and prohibits at-home schooling as a substitute for compulsory school attendance."

Similarly, the nea earlier this year held that "a child's educational and social needs are best addressed in a school setting."

What are the bases of these positions? Have these organizations looked at recent research?

In fact, growing evidence indicates that home schools can contribute positively to the social development of young people.

Many home-schooling parents argue that they are keeping their children away from damaging aspects of the school socialization experience, such as peer dependency, drug abuse, violence, and negative attitudes toward learning. But they are also pleased that home schooling results in a close family, where their children are each other's best friends.

The only study of the social attributes of home-schooled children found that such students score significantly higher than others on a self-concept scale.

Another study, looking at teaching methods used in home schools, found that home teachers, unlike some of their counterparts in public education, do not humiliate their students.

And a glance at any one of the hundreds of state and local home-schooling newsletters reveals that groups of home-schooling families regularly participate in a wide variety of activities, from academic fairs and field trips to regularly scheduled small-group classes.

The academic results of home schooling have received closer scrutiny. Nine different reports on achievement-test scores have found that, in general, home schoolers score higher than their public-school peers on standardized tests, and no report has yet found that conventionally schooled students score higher than home schoolers.

Four of the reports of home-school success come from the departments of education in Oregon, Tennessee, Arizona, and Alaska. Oregon, for example, found in 1986 that home schoolers scored at about the 75th national percentile on achievement tests. Home-schooled children in Tennessee scored substantially higher in reading than public-school students and approximately the same in mathematics, that state's 1987 study showed.

It is always possible to find flaws in a given study. But when report after report arrives at the same result, the conclusion becomes inescapable.

The fact that home schoolers generally score higher than other students on achievement tests does not, however, mean that home schools are more effective than public schools. Demographic data suggest that children taught at home would also be likely to score above average if they attended schools.

In Washington State, Jon Wartes, a public-school guidance counselor, enlisted the help of six centers that test home-schooled children. In addition to administering the Stanford Achievement Test, the centers asked home-schooling parents to complete a questionnaire.

These adults proved to be above average in educational level: 32 percent had four years of college, compared with 19 percent of the general adult population in the state, and only 3 percent of the home-schooling parents did not hold high-school diplomas--versus 22 percent of adults.

The study found a weak positive relationship between students' test scores and parents' educational level. Even so, children of parents who had only a 12th-grade education scored as a group slightly above the national norm.

Similarly, Maralee Mayberry, a sociologist at the University of Oregon, found that Oregon's home-schooling parents tend to have higher educational levels than the general population. And 46 percent listed a family income of $25,000 or more, compared with 28 percent for all families in the state.

Another factor differentiating home-schooling parents was church attendance. Of home-schooling parents in Oregon, 73 percent attended religious services at least once every week, compared with 28 percent of the national population.

Home-schooled children, then, appear generally to come from families with higher levels of education, income, and church attendance than the general population; children from such families most likely would also score higher than average if they attended schools.

In the states that allow home schooling, supervisory policies vary widely. On one extreme, some states permit home schools to operate with no more supervision than they give to other private forms of education. Other states--at the opposite pole--require parents to have college degrees or teaching certificates, or stipulate that home-schooled children score above an arbitrary level on achievement tests.

A middle ground has been struck by a 3-year-old Florida law that requires parents to keep a portfolio of their children's work and to submit to their school superintendent annually either a certified teacher's evaluation of their children's progress or the results of an achievement test administered by a certified teacher.

In the first year of this law, 1,267 families notified their superintendents that they were home schooling; 1,935 families did so in the second year, and 2,894 in the third.

Just before the final votes were taken in 1985, the state superintendent wrote letters to all legislators asking them to vote against the home-schooling bill. Only the inclusion of a sunset provision limiting the law's validity to two years enabled it to pass. Gov. Robert Graham signed the bill despite the superintendent's request that he veto it.

In 1987, the law was renewed by an overwhelming vote. Indeed, many of the legislators who had originally voted against it shifted their support: They had become convinced that home-schooling parents were successfully educating their children.

Not one family's education evidence, they had learned, had been found deficient. The head of the House Education Committee even appointed as his page a home-schooled boy who had received all A's when he first entered school in the 9th grade.

As more states pass laws that are friendly to home schooling--such as Florida's--home schools and public schools can develop cooperative rather than adversarial relationships.

The school reformer and home-schooling advocate John Holt suggested that home schools are mini-laboratories where educational experiments can take place. Perhaps some of the methods that succeed at home can help schools overcome some of their most serious problems.

While, for example, many of America's children grow frustrated and learn to hate books when schools teach them to read before they are ready, home-schooling parents often wait until their children are older--and their children become readers.

And while children in public schools are becoming increasingly ignorant about American and world history, home-schooling parents are reading biographies and historical fiction to their children--raising young people who are more interested in Abraham Lincoln than they are in the current rock star.

Neither conventional schools nor home schools have a monopoly on good teaching methods. But as home schooling becomes legal, parents and educators have an opportunity to open a dialogue potentially beneficial for all.

Vol. 08, Issue 02, Page 32

Published in Print: September 14, 1988, as Legalization of Home Schools Should Proceed
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