Home Education Magazine
March-April 1998 - Columns
News Watch- Linda Dobson
Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and the World
Too Many Homeschoolers
No doubt the bulk of this period's mail brought gloomy accounts from America's southern states, Kentucky and Georgia to be exact.
"States Send Home Schools Back to the Drawing Board," Christina Nifong, The Christian Science Monitor, December 29, 1997, p. 3
I've often wondered what states would do when they finally realize homeschooling is here to stay and perceive there are too many homeschoolers. Looks like we're beginning to find out.
One trick is to increase regulations on the act of homeschooling. Another is for state universities, like those in Georgia, to practice blatant discrimination by requiring more and better test scores from prospective homeschooled students than from public schooled ones.
That's why Seth O'Hara, ten-year homeschool veteran, 1480 SAT scorer, and one of Coca Cola's youngest computer programmers hit a snag when Coca Cola offered to pay for his attendance at the college of his choice. "New regulations at state universities say that homeschooled students will be considered only if they take four SAT II subject tests and score higher than most of the students who take the tests - the top 15% of state public school students." (You may remember from a 1-2/98 News Watch report that kids who attend "accredited" Georgia high schools need only complete the SAT I.)
"It is the first time in nearly two decades," writes Nifong," that a state has imposed stricter laws on homeschooling. And as more rules are proposed in upcoming legislative sessions here and in other states, parents and administrators are increasingly debating the merits and perils of teaching children at home."
While homeschooling numbers have consistently increased steadily over the last ten years or so, in some states they have exploded. "During the past several years in Texas, the number of homeschoolers has grown by 40% annually. Kentucky has seen its number of homeschoolers jump 140% between 1991 and 1996. And Georgia has had a tenfold rise of homeschoolers since 1984, when homeschooling became legal." Too many homeschoolers; something must be done.
"A new bill will be introduced in January asking parents to take further steps in alerting authorities if they plan to homeschool." In the interim, Seth O'Hara will apply to Georgia Tech - without SAT II test scores. "When turned down, he will likely file a discrimination suit."
Kentucky has chosen the increased regulation route to stem the tide of public school abandonment. I'll prepare you for our upcoming Kentucky news coverage by sharing the words contained in this CSM article of Woodie Cheek, superintendent of the Jenkins Independent (such irony!) School District in Kentucky. "We have hundreds, if not thousands, of children that have used the lack of regulation, lack of guidelines in Kentucky as a way to drop out of life and society." (Woodie should really be teaching the art of exaggeration.) "We have serious problems in education in Kentucky, and the only way to deal with this is to increase regulations."
More Details On Georgia...
"Homeschooling: State Wants More Rules for Parents," Doug Cumming, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 7, 1997
This article spends its opening lines outlining Georgia's legal homeschooling requirements and telling about two happy, successful homeschooling families, but we're going to jump to the bottom line.
"'We're not talking some small homogeneous group anymore,' said Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus), who unwittingly stirred up hundreds of opponents when she submitted a bill this year to tighten regulations, such as requiring that homeschool parents have more than a high school education. 'We're not talking about a little group that all thinks or feels the same. You're talking about a group that's as representative as the population in general.'"
"'It's going to continue to grow,' Hugley said, noting that parents are homeschooling now for many reasons besides religion. 'Many simply think they can do a better job than the public schools.'"
So when common sense statements are tossed about as justification for tightening control, we'd better find out why. Take a look at the statistics. While in the last four years statewide public school enrollment increased by 13.4%, homeschool "enrollment" has more than doubled in the same period; 17,481 homeschooled kids, or 1 of every 83 Georgia students. (This doesn't include the uncounted underground homeschoolers.)
Too many homeschoolers. So higher education officials fabricate a need for "a separate yardstick to determine whether homeschoolers meet (get a load of this!) the rising standards required of others for college admission and HOPE scholarships." School social workers and superintendents cry they need "more authority to ensure that parents claiming to teach a home study program are qualified to do so" because the law is being used as "a cover for truancy, neglect, or [to use] children as baby sitters."
They think there are too many homeschoolers. I think the only remedy is to encourage even more.
"Bill Aimed at Homeschools: Advocates May Fight New Requirements," AP, Cincinnati Enquirer, November 11, 1997
"Curd Reassures Homeschoolers," Jennifer Wohlleb, Paducah Sun (KY), November 29, 1997, p. 1A
"Wrong Target: Bad Homeschools Pose Biggest Threat," Editorial, Paducah Sun, November 30, 1997, p. 4A
"Tales Out of School," "Bad Things Can Happen If No One is Watching," "Homeschoolers are Competing on National Tests and Coming Out Ahead," "Homeschools Operate on Their Own," "Trouble in Class? Some Choose the Easy Way Out," all by Valarie Honeycutt and Jim Warren, Lexington Herald Leader (KY), December 14, 1997, various pages
Additional articles ran in the Lexington Herald Leader on December 15, 16, and 17, 1997
Kentucky State Representative Freed Curd (D-Murray), House Education Committee chairman, "plans to introduce legislation next year to correct inadequacies at some Kentucky homeschools." He says the state may also establish minimum educational requirements for homeschool teachers, "as is the case in ten other states."
However, Kentucky is one state where homeschools are considered private schools, and the "Kentucky Supreme Court rulings strongly limit the state's ability to regulate homeschools."
The Lexington Herald Leader appears to have an ax to grind regarding home education. The plethora of articles noted above are, at least in part, the result of a "three month investigation" and "a survey of 88 Kentucky school districts."
The investigation revealed "for many less committed families and for some school officials, homeschooling is an escape route" to avoid school disciplinary problems or to keep drivers' licenses which are at risk with failing grades. "Evidence suggests" some students are going home to parents "who are too poorly educated to teach adequately." There are also indicators that "some educators might even be getting rid of troublesome students by shipping them off to homeschool."
From an estimate by officials that 25% of homeschoolers quit school for the above-named reasons, the newspaper deduces that "as many as 2,500 homeschooled students are being shortchanged educationally this year." (This is based on an estimate of 10,000 Kentucky homeschooling children.)
The newspaper shared sample homeschool notification letters received by officials. "I, (name), is going to teach my son at home," read one. Another said a mother would teach at home "staring know (starting now). We fell like this would be better for them. Right me back, and tell me what to do."
The paper also shared selected horror stories. In 1994, a school counselor "told state officials about a 10 year-old homeschooled boy who was functionally illiterate when his parents enrolled him in public school." He didn't know colors or the alphabet, and the counselor recently stated he's "a very difficult student. Socially I don't think he's ever caught up, nor academically."
The director of Bluegrass Home Educators recounts a call from a mother who questioned, "I can just take my kids out of school? I don't have to do anything with them, right? I just don't want to take the time to get up and send them to school."
Then there's the story which follows the statement, "Not The officials in 88 Kentucky school districts surveyed...has initiated a truancy case against a homeschooler." The paper first states that in 1994, 17 year-old Wesley Jordan "was tortured at the hands of his mother and stepfather after [emphasis mine] they told Martin County school officials they were homeschooling him." (Mother and stepfather are now serving two- and 20-year prison sentences, respectively.) Yet later in the same article it states mother "wrote the school system in August 1995, stating that henceforth Wesley would be schooled at home 'from a moral standpoint' by his stepfather."
Jordan's father has filed suit claiming "the abuse of his son could have been discovered - and stopped - sooner if school officials had monitored Wesley's homeschooling. The school system has denied blame."
A Martin county official, however, among a handful of others, "say they're visiting every home school in their district this year."
And then, as if the irony of using all that paper to share the above was lost on them, the Lexington Herald Leader also announced, "In Kentucky, 112 homeschool students who took the Standard Achievement test this year outperformed their public school peers by 20 to 22 percentile points in reading, language, math and other subjects...[Public educators] acknowledge that dedicated, hard-working parents can do an exemplary job of educating their children if they're willing and able to make the required sacrifices."
Positive Words Out Of Arkansas
"Homeschoolers in State Top U.S. Average on Test," Chris Reynolds, Arkansas Democrat, December 6, 1997
Although a 1997 law "freed many of Arkansas' 6400 homeschooled students from taking an annual standardized achievement test," testing is still required in grades 5, 7, and 10, and the results are in.
The article explains homeschoolers' results were compared with "a national sample of students who took the same test in 1995, and their scores were reported as percentiles." As you're probably aware, "scores of 90 or higher rank in the top 10% nationally. The 50th percentile denotes average performance."
Arkansas has approximately 90,000 public school students in the three tested grades. Fifth graders on average earned a composite score of 47; seventh graders 49; tenth graders 48.
The nearly 1,100 homeschooled students in the three tested grades had a composite score of 61 for fifth; 61 for seventh; 60 for tenth.
University of California at Los Angeles education professor James Catterall says homeschooled students would probably earn good grades in public school, too, as their parents "are highly educated." But homeschooler Sandy Malcolm says, "It's the back-to-basics curriculum."
Catterall thinks a homeschooler's back-to-basics approach "isn't that different from public schools. Schools have been, were and always will teach the basics when it comes to mathematics," he said. (We're paying all those taxes for only one R?!)
Home Is Remedy When School Makes Boy Sick
"Mother Removes Byrd Pupil," Janet Caggiano, Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA), December 10, 1997, p. B6
"This is a sad day," Erin Welsch said yesterday. "It's traumatic to pull a kid out of school. I see this as a last straw."
While you may not share Mrs. Welsch's less-than-eager attitude about beginning homeschooling, remember she wasn't drawn to it by her heart strings. Mrs. Welsch's 13 year-old son, Danny, gets sick at Byrd Middle School where a $176,000 roof repair job failed to eliminate leaks which create odor and the formation of mold. The school is spending $2.2 million to do it right this time, but Mrs. Welsch reached the end of her wait when an air purifier she brought to Danny's classroom was removed "because she never got permission."
She doesn't know whether she'll continue at home, use a variance to allow her son to attend another school in her county, or send her child to private school. "Danny missed 23 days of school last year and has missed about two weeks this year, his mother said. He also has left school early many times."
So what does Danny think of homeschooling? "I think this will be fine," he said. "I'd rather be out of school then be in school and sick." Now there's an attitude more of us can relate to.
More On Curfews
"Survey Finds Growing Use of Youth Curfews in U.S. Cities," AP, December 1, 1997
"Drag Truants into Court, Judge Urges," Lori Rozsa, Miami Herald, December 30, 1997
A U.S. Conference of Mayors report "found that 276 of 347 responding cities had a nighttime curfew. Seventy-six had a daytime curfew as well."
Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, chairman of the mayors' conference task force on youth violence, touted the "financial incentives" of curfews claiming "truancy can cost a school system millions of dollars in lost revenue" where funding is based on school attendance. But 23% of responding cities cite cost increases in the form of "more paperwork, court appearances, and time officers spent dealing with youths." In San Jose, curfew enforcement raised the police payroll by $1 million.
23% of the cities said they had problems implementing the curfews. "Fourteen cities said there had been constitutional challenges to the curfew." (Only 14?) The American Civil Liberties Union is suggesting the money used to enforce curfews would be better spent on programs for youth.
The most recent areas to jump on the daytime curfew bandwagon is Collier County, Florida, where juvenile court Judge Frank Baker has proposed "children between the ages of 5 and 15 be prohibited from being in a public place during regular school hours." Offenders would be subject to a juvenile court appearance, and their parents to an up-to-$100 fine.
Here's one of this News Watch's more interesting quotes. Judge Baker thinks "the courts are better able to monitor and enforce school attendance." (Maybe they could just set up mini-courts right there in the schools, across the hall from the social workers and next door to the health clinic, all in close proximity to the metal detectors at the front door, for protection.)
Judge Baker has modeled his proposed ordinance after the one Roswell, New Mexico's Mayor Tom Jennings claims works well. He admits there have been some "snags, like the issue of homeschooled kids," but Roswell resolved its snags "by requiring students to carry identification cards to show where they belonged during the day."
Collier County Sheriff Don Hunter is enamored with the proposal as he has an eye on "a different sort of punishment" for truancy. "A judge could actually impose conditions on the young person, such as community service, curfew, extracurricular homework." Folks, this guy is happy about the prospect of court-ordered homework!
Judge Baker gets the article's last words: "We know there's a strong relationship between truancy and delinquency. The goal here is education." It might help if homeschoolers in Collier County provide Judge Baker with a lesson on the difference between education and compulsory attendance in a failing institution.
Around This World
In Japan, Alternative Ed Linked To Truants And Dropouts
"Can Truants, Dropouts Find an Alternate Road to Education?" Mick Corliss, The Japan Times, January 4, 1998, pp. 1 & 2
In this one of an eight-part series of articles for this English language newspaper, reporter Mick Corliss takes a look at alternatives to state education in Japan. These alternatives appear not to be successful, viable family options, but options for kids who are truant or drop-outs, "the overlooked casualties of the rigid educational system."
"More than 77,000 students missed more than 50 days of school in 1996 for the expressed reason that they 'hate school,'" states Corliss, admitting this is merely an official number, and when you add in those "who missed more than 30 days for other reasons, such as illness...the total exceeds 180,000."
Corliss notes a gradual change in society's attitude toward these students; instead of problem youth they are "labeled" nonattendance students. Even the Education Ministry has been forced to acknowledge the country has a problem and accepts that "school refusal" can happen to any child and is not "akin to a sickness requiring treatment."
However, "If a student's principal acknowledges it to be in the best interest of the child, attendance at alternative institutions can be recognized as credit toward a diploma, as long as it is deemed to be helping the student return to the mainstream education system." Not exactly what many of us think of as a liberating educational alternative, is it? Yet the alternative institutions are called "free schools," with some, like the best known Tokyo Shure, at least a bit "freer" than others.
Kyoko Aizawa, who runs the homeschool support organization Otherwise Japan and who attended the GWS conference last August, points out that Japan needs alternatives that are "not under government control."
Genji Tsuda is an attorney who specializes in child welfare law.
"Ever since the Meiji Era," says Tsuda, "Japan's educational system has been designed to strengthen the nation-state. The emphasis has been on producing people who can help Japan become a great power...The inertia of the status quo has preserved this antiquated system, embedding it deeply in the social psyche." I'd say Tsuda has put his finger on the pulse of what is wrong not only in Japan, but in America and elsewhere.
Perhaps this is why the Tokyo area has seen a recent boon in what are termed "support" schools where dropouts (1 in every 50 high school attendees) "who want degrees but don't want to attend public schools" can go for help with correspondence courses.
Alternative schools, Corliss points out, "are often expensive and, in the case of children under 15, designed to return students to the fold of mainstream education." All the more reason to rally for true home education in a country where those who practice it "could be considered violators of the School Education Law and subject to fines."
"'Because information is scarce, existing options are obscure and parents remain ignorant that they have a right to educate their children outside of school,' Aizawa says."
"'...people are beginning to see that the current system is not necessarily in the best interest of the child,' Tsuda says. 'The time is coming for everyone to work together to rethink the system.'" The information Kyoko Aizawa points to is key. Let's hope Mr. Corliss continues to watch and report.
From The Telegraph (London) by Diane Appleyard, November 25, 1997
Homeschooling is "booming" in England, says Appleyard, with numbers rising from "a mere handful 20 years ago to 10,000 today." Malcolm Muckle, a Londoner who set up Education Otherwise's web site, credits the site with connecting British home educators so they may "swap information, ask for help with legal problems, discuss their children or just get in contact with each other."
But Appleyard questions whether home ed is a "sensible option" and asks if parents are "being swept along by this trend, scared off by all the horror stories about state education?"
The words of Roland Meighan, "leading light of Education Otherwise" and former University of Nottingham Professor of Education are intertwined with those of Ted Wragg, Professor of Education at the University of Exeter "and a leading writer and broadcaster on education issues" to show two very different points of view on home education.
"...for many parents, state education is not what they want for their children," states Meighan.
Wragg counters: "Sending your children to school is far more than just filling their heads with facts. Schools offer specialist facilities, such as gyms, labs, game fields. Good teachers mean your child is being taught by a specialist. School is vital for a child's social development, and there are also the out-of-school activities which develop a child." Yawn.
Schools, says Meighan, can "suck children into drugs, smoking and accepting uncritically certain styles of fashion and taste."
Wragg concedes that home ed could be the best option for a few children, then raises the issue of "separation anxiety." Yes, folks, the increasingly popular psychological argument against homeschooling. Remember, we popped critics' balloons on academic achievement and socialization; it was only a matter of time before psychological arguments appeared. Now we hear the fascinating possibility, mind you, that "[homeschoolers] may delude themselves that their children will be somehow 'corrupted' by school, and they want to keep their children away from other people."
Homeschooler Katherine Thomas reveals her six year-old son isn't reading. Appleyard notes "many parents would be concerned if their child wasn't reading at six. But Meighan says: 'Research has shown that home-educated children are usually two years ahead of those at school. They also have greater self-confidence, and better social skills at dealing with people of all ages.'"
We get the "considered" opinion of a non-homeschooling parent. "To me, school prepares them for what happens afterwards in life - the actual education is such a small part of it." (One of school's many problems, to be sure.)
"Flexi-schooling" is mentioned, meaning "educated partly at home and partly at school." We learn of one mother's success with this and discover that acceptance of this "new concept" depends on each head teacher. "In this country, there are now 15 Open Learning Centres, where home-educated children can meet and have group tuition. The Open School at Dartington in Devon offers home-educated children electronic courses in GCSEs via fax and e-mail."
Roland Meighan calls homeschoolers "turned on" independent learners because they follow their own interests. But Appleyard can't let that sit: "But because of the very fact that these children are allowed to follow their own interests most of the time, the question remains as to how they will cope with the world once they move out of their comfortable, private learning environment and whether they will ever really fit in."
"State-Held Pupil Files Under Fire: Government Set to Issue All Children with Identity Numbers Next Month," Mark Jackson, Times Educational Supplement (London), January 2, 1998
Details of this plan may be seen at http://www.open.gov.uk/dfee/dfeehome.htm
Under government plans "released for consultation shortly before Christmas, schools will be required to feed details of children's attainment, behavior, special needs and social and ethnic background into a central Department for Education and Employment (DFEE) computer. All pupils will be given an identity number."
Only schools with less than fifty students will be exempt, Jackson reports. "Special computer programs are also being produced so that the mammoth task of compiling the new-style Form 7 and passing it on to the DFEE can be carried out automatically by school computers."
The government claims ID numbers are necessary "to protect against mix-ups. Schools will have to use them whenever they provide information on a child - such as pre-registering pupils for key stage tests and reporting results." But despite reassurances the DFEE has no interest in "the identity of individual pupils," many are concerned with privacy issues.
The Data Protection Registrar "has told ministers to drop the idea." Head teachers don't like the plan, either. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, states, "If there is a convincing case for the proposals then heads will listen; but as yet that case has not been made."
"The Office for Standards in Education, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and local authorities will all have to access pupil files, as will schools seeking information about a new pupil's background."
Let's hope the DFEE's computers work as well as our IRS's.
Out In This World
Sarabeth Matilsky, New Jersey
While sitting in the Seattle airport after attending Not Back to School Camp in Oregon in 1996, homeschooler Sarabeth Matilsky (17) decided next time she would ride her bike to camp "even though she had never done much cycling...and even though she didn't even particularly like physical exertion" (or so she thought). This is how Adventure Cyclist (11-12/97, p. 7) caught up with Sarabeth at Adventure Cycling headquarters in Missoula last July. On her model release form for the publication she wrote, "I never knew I could do anything so difficult, handle so much adversity, and ride out smiling."
Rachel Kliever, Ohio
Rachel Kliever (14) should have her letter to the editor printed in Vogue's January issue by now. "She wrote concerning a negative comment someone had made about Princess Diana's hairstyle that, unfortunately, ended up in the issue immediately following her untimely death," explains Rachel's mom. Rachel also received an official reply from the British Embassy upon expressing condolences to England's princes.
Adam Grimm, Oregon
Oregon's only homeschooled National Merit Scholar in 1997, Adam scored 800 on the verbal portion of his PSAT and SAT exams. "In addition to the National Merit Scholarship," shares the 12/97 issue of Oregon Connection (4470 SW Hall Blvd. #286, Beaverton, OR 97005), Adam "has also been awarded a Type 1 Air Force ROTC scholarship which he is using to study electrical engineering and computer science at Rensselaer Polytchnic Institute (RPI)...and a room and board scholarship from RPI. He reports from Troy (NY) that he is happy and enjoying both his social and academic pursuits."
After learning these darlings of the pop rock set were homeschoolers I started jotting down their television appearances. Since "Hanson-tracking" looks like it could become a full-time job, I've given it up. My notes reveal a "Saturday Night Live" appearance (12/13/97), a story on "Entertainment Tonight" (12/17/97), a performance on the "White House Christmas Show" (12/19/97), and a conversation with Regis and Kathy Lee during Christmas week where homeschooling was mentioned in conversation.
In the wee hours of New Year's morning, "Saturday Night Live" star Molly Shannon, sharing the stage with Conan O'Brien (don't know if I spelled that right but I'll be darned if I'm staying up that late to check it!), spoke about luck rituals and mentioned that Rebecca Sealfon, spelling bee champ, was a "nut" and was homeschooled. (It's quite possible that a skit Molly performed on "SNL" as a Catholic schoolgirl in a spelling bee was at least in part modeled after Rebecca.)
MHLA (Fall/Winter) reports a Saturday morning cartoon show called "Doug" sports a character named Patti Mayonnaise who announced she was going to homeschool. Grace's husband in "Grace Under Fire" mentioned he planned to homeschool their son in one episode.
And since I'm becoming highly television illiterate and have never even heard of the next show, I'll quote from MHLA: "And now, a homeschooler is a full-fledged prime-time lead character. Dharma Finkelstein from "Dharma and Gregg" was homeschooled by hippie parents in Marin County, according to TV Guide's Fall Preview issue. Her creator, Chuck Lorre, describes Dharma in the article as 'a female character not drawn out of pain. She's a source of light, somebody who actually trusts her instincts. She's my fantasy human being.'"
Worth Looking Up
"Parents Will Need to Step in to Bolster Schools' Teachings," John Rosemond (columnist), Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/19/97, p. G4 - As a North Carolina, private practice family psychologist, Rosemond is asked what a mother can do with a 5 year-old who "seems to have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and who entered kindergarten knowing how to read and perform single-digit multiplication - "pretty much self-taught in both areas."
While blaming the problem of this boy's school's refusal to put him into first grade and the gifted and talented "programming" on money (!), Rosemond states: "I'm getting around to telling you that you need to accept the realities germane to your son's school situation and take personal responsibility for addressing whatever educational deficiencies you identify."
A personal plea for support of a voucher system follows.
"We're Taking Your Children: An Agency Out of Control," Ragnar and Lindy Schneider, CA Homeschool News, Dec/Jan '98, p. 2 and "Mom Defies Law - Loses Custody of Daughter," Howard Richman, PA Homeschoolers Newsletter, Winter '97-'98 Issue - Two very sad stories, as their titles indicate, just may reveal why vigilance is still necessary for homeschooling parents.
"Staying Home," Kate Rothwell, Frederick Family Magazine (MD), 8-9-10/97, pp. 22-27 - Nice to see a homeschooling article in the premiere issue of a local family magazine. After first pointing out that Maryland is an "all-or-nothing" homeschooling state, noting that "the public schools do not critique the actual content of the [homeschool] program," and stating "if you want to teach your kids that the moon is made of Ivory Soap, that's your choice (!)," this article takes a close-up look at three families with different approaches.
"Mothering a Child with Attention Deficit Disorder," Liz Thompson Grapentine, New Beginnings (La Leche League periodical), Nov.-Dec. '97, pp. 164-167 - Author presents a tender treatment of the subject, taking the reader through diagnosis, environmental changes, behavioral changes, and medication. Points out that homeschooling may be an option as "[it] allows a parent to tailor the learning environment to suit their [sic] child's own learning style and needs. This one-on-one attention provides immediate feedback when a child is struggling. Parents may choose to avoid tests, time limits, or correcting papers because these may be difficult for a child with ADD to cope with." Also credits most teachers and schools as "very willing to work together with parents to set up the best possible learning environment for a child."
© 1998 Linda Dobson
Linda Dobson is author of the acclaimed book The Art of Education: Reclaiming Your Self, Family and Community (1997, Holt Associates). News items can be sent to Linda at PO Box 85, Rainbow Lake, NY 12975 or emailed to email@example.com.
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