Corrected: An earlier version of this story should have said that home-schoolers in Wisconsin oppose legislation to more closely regulate virtual charter schools. Larry Kaseman, the executive director of the Wisconsin Parents Association, a statewide home-schooling group, said the legislation would undermine home-schoolers’ freedom to choose curricula, to decide which tests to give, and to operate with little to no interference from government officials.
Home-schoolers across the country have put their organizational skills and political clout to heavy use in recent weeks as lawmakers in a number of states seek to more closely regulate the families who opt to teach their own children.
In Nebraska, more than 1,000 home school supporters turned out at the state capitol in Lincoln late last month to fight a measure that would place a number of restrictions on home-schoolers.
That week in Tennessee, hundreds of home school advocates descended on a public hearing at the statehouse in Nashville to protest proposed legislation there that would require home school students to take the same state exams as public school students.
When a lawmaker in Mississippi recently tried to do the same, home-schoolers flooded the statehouse with letters, e-mails, and phone calls. The measure died in the Senate education committee before it ever got a public hearing.
Home-schooling also is under new court scrutiny. A California appellate court issued a Feb. 28 ruling that would bar parents who don’t have teaching credentials from home-schooling their children, and saying that doing so could bring criminal complaints. The decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeals, in Los Angeles, brought a pledge from the home-schooling parents involved in the case to appeal to the state supreme court.
The recent spate of legislation, in particular, worries home-school advocates who see it as a way to “subject home-schoolers to tests that are based on public schools’ curriculum,” said Dewitt Black, a lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association, a national advocacy group based in Purcellville, Va. “That really is a frontal attack on nonpublic education.”
An estimated 1.1 million students are home-schooled nationally, and those numbers are growing, Mr. Black said
In Nebraska, a state senator raised the ire of home-schoolers with a bill that would annually require all nonpublic school students, including home-schoolers, to take a standardized test or submit materials to state education officials to prove that they are making enough academic progress.
Home school students whose test scores fell below the state’s 50th percentile would be required to enroll in an accredited public or private school. The bill has not been voted on.
Roughly 6,000 children are home-schooled in Nebraska, where, since 1984, home-schoolers have operated with little to no interference from state or local school officials.
“The intent of this seems to be to end home schooling in Nebraska and to take away the parental rights and the religious freedoms of those of us who choose to teach our children at home,” said Kathleen Lenzen, a member of the Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association. Ms. Lenzen’s husband is the president of the statewide organization, which is composed of 400 home school families.
Ms. Lenzen said that many home-schoolers already use standardized tests such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. to measure student progress.
“But to tell home-schoolers that they must take a state test is the same as telling them that they have to use the state curriculum,” Ms. Lenzen said. “And that goes right at the heart of why we teach our children at home, to have the rights and the freedom to choose the curriculum.”
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, has said he would veto the measure if it were to pass.
In Tennessee, Rep. G.A. Hardaway has been pushing for a new law to require all school children to pass the same state exams as public school students to receive a high school diploma. In response, the state’s home school community waged a telephone and email campaign against the bill before a public hearing on Feb. 27.
Mr. Hardaway, a Democrat from Memphis, said he didn’t intend to target home school students, but wanted to draw the attention of state education officials to what he called “an uneven playing field” for public school students.
Tennessee now requires students to pass a series of three standardized exams, known as Gateway tests, to earn a diploma. Mr. Hardaway said that requirement is not fair when it’s only applied to public school students, especially when graduates of nonpublic schools are eligible for state-lottery-funded college scholarships.
“In order for it to be a fair race, everyone needs to start from the same starting line,” he said.
The state board of education, however, has already approved a new policy that will soon eliminate the Gateway tests in favor of a series of end-of-course exams, which will account for 25 percent of a student’s overall course grade.
A version of this article appeared in the March 12, 2008 edition of Education Week as Home-Schoolers, Under New Scrutiny, Pushing Back