Home Education Magazine - November-December 1998 - Columns
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Government School Programs, Curfews, Changing Tests
Word on Homeschool Participation in Government School Programs from Across the Country
"SDHSAA Districts Defeat Homeschool Amendment," The Press & Dakotan, posted on the web June 10, 1998
"Homeschooler, Sports Debated: States Seek Common Ground on Rules," Associated Press, July 15, 1998
"Homeschoolers at School? Fairfax Considers Allowing Course Enrollment," Victoria Benning, Washington Post, July 17, 1998, p. C1
"Cell Phone/Pager Policy Mulled by School Board," Mary Wright, South Haven Tribune (MI), July 20, 1998, p. 1
"It's a Crying Shame and It Can't Be Allowed," Pat Montgomery, The Learning Edge, July, '98, p. 1
(Argh! I Missed the Title!), Jason Blevins, Denver Post, May 14, 1998
"Homeschooled Can Join Team," Bridget Edlund, The Inquirer (Philadelphia), June 17, 1998
Vermont's Senate Education Committee, which is tackling several questions "as it works to give the state's approximately 1,500 homeschooled students" access to public school resources, is going "on the theory that homeschooling parents pay taxes and should be able to reap the benefits of their local schools. Senator Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) said he doesn't want too many Vermont students to be encouraged to participate only marginally in the public schools. 'The public school is a community institution and participating in it represents a traditional form of American civic life.'" And here's a back-handed compliment if I've ever seen one. "Not only do homeschoolers represent a defection from that system, but the defection of the best and brightest."
Currently, the Vermont Principals' Association "bans homeschooled children from organized high school sports." (Though it's my understanding that they can participate in individual sports.)
Other New England states already have their policies in place. "In Maine, homeschooled students by law have access to public schools and their resources."
In New Hampshire, a private group regulates school sports, the NH Interscholastic Athletic Association. Here, "homeschoolers can particpate as long as their parents request it, they live in the district and the local school board approves." (A whopping 31 homeschoolers from 16 out of 87 high schools took part last year. An awful lot of ado about nothing, isn't it?!)
South Dakota's High School Activities Association, on the other hand, recently defeated an amendment to allow homeschoolers into "sanctioned extra-curricular programs." Passage required a 60% plurality; the measure garnered 45.4% when 170 out of a possible 192 schools took part in the vote.
It appears that things aren't as cut-and-dried on the local level, but are they ever when personalities and personal agenda enter the equation?
Fairfax County, VA's school board is considering a proposal for part-time homeschool course enrollment. If passed, the district would be the only one in the Washington, D.C. area with such a policy (though the article notes that the Falls Church district allows part-time enrollment on a case by case basis), and it would represent a complete about-face from their previous position of demanding that public school be an "all-or-nothing proposition." Why?
The 1997 General Assembly changed the law, so now "local districts will be compensated by the state for any homeschooled or private school students they enroll in math, science, English, social science or foreign language courses." (Can you say, "Show me the money!"?)
Some board members "have asked the staff to add provisions that such students must attend their neighborhood school, as opposed to a magnet school, and that full-time students will always be given priority when slots are full in a class." The board is closely split at the time, with several members still undecided.
Will Shaw and the Virginia Home Education Association have gotten Del. Vincent F. Callahan, Jr. (R-Fairfax) to introduce a bill that would force Virginia's school districts to allow part-time enrollment of homeschoolers. "The legislation was carried over to the 1999 session." Callahan commented: "I'm not a great fan of homeschooling, but people do have that choice under Virginia law."
In Glenwood Springs, CO, homeschooling mom Anita Bruno is thinking about legal action after "her 11 year-old daughter was refused admission to a school dance" for sixth graders.
As justification for turning the girl away at the door, principal Jim Phillips told the Denver Post, "Usually, our activities are tied to some sort of academic or behavioral expectation. There is a certain criteria our students have to meet, and I have no way of knowing if a homeschool student meets that criteria."
Superintendent Fred Wall, I think, takes the justification to an absurd level. "We did not look at the dance as an extracurricular activity. We looked at it as a classroom activity." [Who is Fred kidding? A dance as a classroom activity?!]
Why this nit-picking? "Colorado law holds that students participating in a home-based education are allowed to participate 'on an equal basis' in any activity offered by the school... The law defines a school activity as 'any extracurricular or interscholastic activity, including but not limited to any academic, artistic, athletic, recreational or other activity offered by the school.'" It all comes down to how you push, pull and otherwise play with the meaning of "extracurricular."
Phillips, though, is now in a conundrum. A few hours later, another homeschooler came to the eighth-grade dance, and was allowed to stay after being questioned by Phillips. Phillips "does not recall" seeing this homeschooler. Further, he stated he didn't "know Samantha Bruno until the morning of the dance."
Some principal. Samantha "attended grade school under Phillips for four years" prior to going home.
In Michigan, the South Haven High School (SHHS) Board decided what to do with students entering after having been homeschooled. Barring a state Department of Ed waiver, a parent and supervising teacher must sign an affidavit "indicating that instruction was provided under the direct supervision of a certified teacher, and that 90 days and 75 hours of instruction were given for each one-half credit." Among additional criteria are that "placement will be determined by SHHS counseling staff using its criteria," any credits transferred "will be accepted for credit only" (i.e. no grade), and "students must attend SHHS their entire senior year and accumulate at least four credits that year to be eligible to receive an SHHS diploma."
Finally, what do you do with a teen who switched from high school to homeschool while maintaining her interest in music, an interest that won her an auditioned-for space in symphonic band, symphonic choir, Madrigal Singers, and vocal jazz? If you're the Akron, OH Board of Education, you vote in a "policy excluding homeschoolers from participating in any course where an audition is required." This way, the one and only dually-enrolled student in the district is effectively shut out.
While Superintendent Brian Williams tried to get the student, Meghan Scott, "grandfathered in," board member Mary Stormer quipped, "She can participate. All she has to do is enroll as a full-time student."
Seeing Effects of the Public Fund/Homeschool Meeting?
"Charter School for Scandal: How a Controversial Academy Scored Millions in State Education Funds," Howard Blume and Kevin Uhrich, L.A. Weekly, August 14-20, 1998
http://www.laweekly.com/ink/archives/98/38ledel-081498-blume.shtml Tom Cosgrove had a vision. This entrenpreneur-turned-certified-teacher at the age of 60 spent some time substitute teaching before extolling the virtues of California's "voucher initiative" (Proposition 174), "which would have allowed students to use publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools." Cosgrove wanted to start a private voucher school.
When the voucher intitiative failed, Cosgrove utilized a "connection" to Snowline Joint Unified School District Superintendent Dan Steele to navigate the process of forming a public charter school, The Cato School of Reason (1994).
"If school district records are to be trusted, officials never bothered to collect Cosgrove's resume. It was enough that Superintendent Steele was encouraging... Besides, Cosgrove's school addressed a real problem in the Snowline area: expulsions and dropouts. Cosgrove offered his 'campus' as a reclamation center for students who wouldn't or were no longer allowed to attend regular schools. From the beginning, the clientele also included some homeschoolers."
This article is an in-depth, sad story, summarized for our lack of space here with words directly from the article. Karen Waters-Titus, mother of a private school student, was confused when her fourth-grader came home from school with a form to join something called Cato, "which would provide free books, computers and other school resources."
"Waters-Titus had stumbled upon The most aggressive entrepreneurial operations to hit public education in some time. The Cato School... has used its Victorville base to make a play for millions in state apportionment money. Begun in part as an academic halfway house for dropouts and expelled students, the school quickly shifted gears to become a clearinghouse for homeschooling... It then expanded again - almost exponentially - as it formed partnerships with private schools and social-service organizations. A significant boost came from former Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, who signed on as a member of the board and personally recruited half a dozen private schools to Cato's roster. Every step of the way, the school has emphasized the bottom line, while straddling legal and ethical ones."
By November, 1997, Cato had "40 satellite operations" and more than 2,600 students, which meant a jump in income from government education funds of $3.9 million the previous year, to $7 million, "nearly doubling its take of state education funds." At the same time, there are reports of "free" books, not state-of-the-art but from the school district's discard warehouse, purchase of "creationist curriculum" (a definite legal no-no), and no sign of computers for many enrollees.
Remember, "Cato's advertised bill of fare is homeschooling," a focus Cato found after only six months of operation, when the expelled and "problem" students proved to be, well, problems. The advertising is "seductively packaged as an alternative to public school campuses plagued with gangs, large classes and falling roof tiles... For parents who already homeschool, the Cato deal's a hard one to turn down. Just for joining, they get materials and assistance they otherwise would have to pay for... But whatever its merits, the system also has proved a gold mine for Cosgrove, who receives full state funding for students, about $3,600 a year." Again, at the same time, "Because parents are doing the teaching, Cosgrove doesn't have to pay teachers' salaries or their employee health benefits. Nor does he have to outfit or maintain schools and classrooms."
The academic side of this school is also in question. While homeschoolers seemed satisfied enough (they are doing their own thing with free resources, after all), a school district review of progress found there were no approved graduation requirements. Mrs. Cosgrove "quickly threw together a basic academic plan. For high schoolers, the materials included a graduation packet, with materials for 10 content areas, such as history, geography, science and math. Students who declared themselves seniors could earn a diploma as soon as they scored 85% on each of the multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blanks tests. To help them along, the graduation packets included the graduation tests - as well as the correct answers - in eight of the 10 categories. Students could formally take the tests whenever they were ready if they attended Cato for at least three months."
This article contains much more information. Please find it to get the complete picture of what's going on here, and how (as always happens), the State of California plans to legislate proper behavior of charter school entrepreneurs in the future.
Who Says Daytime Curfews Won't Affect Homeschoolers?
"City Council Approves Truancy Law," Michael Smothers, Peoria Star Journal (IL), September 2, 1998
Editorial, Peoria Star Journal, Sept 5, 1998
Chalk up Peoria, IL among the growing number of cities with a newly adopted truancy law, the buzz word for daytime curfews in disguise. This one "gives local courts the right to fine children - and, in some cases, their parents - up to $500 if the children are found out of school... Except for children who are students of legitimate 'homeschools,' the new law bars children from ages 7 to 16 from being present 'at or upon any public assembly, building, business, street, highway or other public place' except for schools between 9 am and 2:30 pm on weekdays between August 25 and June 1."
Councilman Eric Turner stated, "Here we go trying to legislate behavior again. You can't force someone to learn."
But apparently you can try to force increased regulation on homeschoolers via these types of laws. A subsequent edition of the Peoria Star Journal pointed out the "loophole" in the law. "All a child has to do is tell a police officer he's being homeschooled and there's virtually nothing anyone can do to prove otherwise."
Fearing that the city will see a "virtually overnight" jump in the number of "homeschoolers," the paper contends that the "Illinois Legislature should clarify the law and give professional educators at least minimal oversight authority, and not just for truancy purposes but to ensure that the kids really are being educated." It's amazing how long the leaps of logic when it comes to legislation, isn't it?
Why Are All the Tests Changing?
"Council Updates GED for Next Century of Learners," Brian Boney, Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News, September 1, 1998
"College Board Initiates Study on Inflated Grades in High School," William H. Honan, New York Times, Sept. 2, 1998
They called it "recentering" with the infamous Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), but with the General Educational Development Test (GED) it's called "...plans to revamp the test in order to keep pace with the needs of today's employers." Recentering or revamping - these education buzz words are merely synonyms for "dumbed down."
For starters, why is a test of "general educational development" changing to serve "the needs of today's employers"? Because it fits in seamlessly with the School-to-Work agenda of federal-level meddling in education issues.
If you haven't become familiar with it to date, the School-to-Work agenda is effectively - and rapidly - permeating all public (read government) schools. It goes by different names in different states, so it may be a little tricky to track down how it is being applied at your local schools, or if there are plans to implement it soon. After you read the coverage of the dumbed-down GED, you'll be able to recognize School-to-Work signposts if they surface in your locale's agenda.
I can't recommend strongly enough that all homeschoolers, including teens, familiarize themselves with the School-to-Work educational plan. A "revamping" of The few alternative ways to create a potentially necessary paper trail (the GED) - by making it "keep pace with the needs of today's employers" - means they're reaching for the kids outside their immediate grasp. In other words, a homeschooled kid in search of a GED toward more learning or a particular career will have to play the game, at least until he's through with the test.
It's becoming increasingly clear that a very important starting point in helping people understand why we're homeschooling is to ask them to simply observe what schooling is like for their children, then compare it to their own memories of schooling. Could it be that the truancy problem grows as the curriculum increasingly serves the needs of today's employers? And could serving the needs of today's employers be so important that the educational bureaucracy doesn't mind seeing the nation move toward a police state to accomplish its desires?
On to the article.
"The test in 2000 will see a number of changes. In English, the writing and interpreting tests will be merged into one essay test that Ms. Auchter [executive director of the GED Testing Service] hopes will better test communication and analytical skills. In math, the test will allow the use of calculators for nearly 80% of the questions, a change designed to allow more focus on testing a student's ability to estimate the outcome of the data."
"We don't have the recall questions we used to have, like, 'In what year did Columbus discover America?' We're moving away from that."
"We may also change the way we present the test scores. We want to report more than just content area scores. If we can do that by statements on an examinee's skills and not just content area grades, employers will be better served."
Then, from Dr. John Tyler, assistant professor of education, economics and public policy at Brown University, who "helped conduct the latest research on the effectiveness of the GED [the study was called "The GED: Whom Does it Help?"]: "Right now it's strictly a cognitive skills test. But if it could be modified to test communications ability and ability to work in groups, it would aid employers."
But back to the "old" use of the test, when it aided the student who took it. Dr. Shirley Binder, vice president for student enrollment at the University of Texas at Arlington, added, "In general, we expect to see a high school diploma and... transcript. If a student doesn't have the high school diploma, we expect to see a GED diploma. The credentials are important."
The second, related article from The New York Times discusses the "disparity between grades and the SAT" scores, a disparity that is so troubling that "the president of the College Board said the organization has commissioned a Rand Corporation study of the issue."
While the nation has seen a rise from 28% to 38% of SAT test takers with "A" averages over the last decade, "the SAT scores of those students fell an average of 12 points on the verbal portion, to 505, and 3 points on math, to 512."
I don't understand why they need a study, as Stewart seems to already have a grip on the problem: "More subjectivity is going into assessments," he said. "This also could be the result of the increased emphasis on accountability by teachers. That is, since teachers are supposed to be teaching better they are giving out phony grades in an unconscious effort to show themselves teaching well - something that is exploded by the SAT tests."
Sadly, the National Education Association president, Bob Chase, says "we just don't know" why this is happening...
While the article does allow the College Board's chief research scientist to say "the rise in math scores over the last four years" is because students may now bring along a calculator (I know this gets confusing when they just pointed out a lowering of scores over the last ten years, but this all goes back to how many and who is taking the test), it makes no mention of the "recentering" that, when it was accomplished, raised all test takers' scores about 100 points before they even rolled out of bed on test day.
© 1998, Linda Dobson
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