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Why the Question of Homeschoolers' Playing Public School Sports Affects All Homeschoolers

Larry and Susan Kaseman

 Should homeschoolers be allowed to play on public school sports teams? This question is being asked around the country, especially as the number of homeschoolers of high school age increases and as homeschooling gains wider acceptance.

 

At first glance, having homeschoolers on public school sports teams might seem like a good idea. It would provide one more opportunity for homeschoolers, one more example of society's acceptance of homeschooling. However, a closer look reveals that it would undermine our homeschooling freedoms. Fortunately, the vast majority of homeschoolers do not support homeschoolers' playing public school sports, and many are opposed.

Unfortunately, the question is receiving more attention than it deserves. A few of the families who do want their children to play public school sports are strongly committed and vocal. In addition, inaccurate information on the issue has appeared in the mainstream media. And some legislators who want to help homeschoolers and gain our support (and votes) mistakenly think they can do this by introducing legislation to make it possible for homeschoolers to play public school sports.

This column will discuss problems with changing state laws and regulations to allow homeschoolers to play public school sports. It will then show how the uncritical acceptance of media coverage of this topic can lead to loss of homeschooling freedoms. Finally, suggestions will be given for what we can do.

Home Education Magazine

Problems Caused By Homeschoolers' Playing Public School Sports

The most serious problem caused by homeschoolers' participation in public school sports stems from the fact that they would have to meet state requirements. However, because of continuing pressure to increase state regulation of all homeschoolers, if regulations were established for homeschooled athletes, there would be pressure to apply them to all homeschoolers.

Why would homeschooled athletes have to meet state requirements? For reasons such as:

* All non-homeschoolers on public school teams are currently required to meet academic and other standards. Homeschoolers would not be allowed to avoid such requirements, especially given the fierce competition that sometimes exists for a spot on a team.

* Without such requirements for homeschoolers, public school athletes who did not meet state requirements could begin homeschooling as a way to avoid them and still play sports.

* It might be argued that oversight of homeschooling athletes is needed to prevent abuse of the situation. For example, students could homeschool for one year, claim that homeschooling had not gone well, and re-enter public schools to repeat that grade. This would give them the advantage of being a year older and more mature that others in their grade. (This happened several years ago in Wisconsin, even though the athletes had to give up being on the team while they were homeschooled.)

Clearly homeschoolers would be required to take school-selected tests, and/or submit their curriculum and academic work for review and approval by school officials, and/or in some other way demonstrate their academic achievement in ways that meet conventional school standards, values, and expectations. It would not be enough for homeschoolers to assure school officials that we were meeting the standards we have chosen based on our principles and beliefs.

Okay, some people might argue, what's wrong with that? Why can't homeschoolers who want to play public school sports comply with whatever regulations the state devises while homeschoolers who either do not want to play school sports at all or who do not want to play badly enough to comply with the regulations simply homeschool as they have been?

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Of course, homeschooling is clearly legal in every state. Of course, the general public's acceptance of homeschooling has increased significantly in recent years, especially as homeschoolers have shown over and over again how well homeschooling works and how capable homeschool graduates are. However, despite these factors, there is continuing pressure for increased state regulation of homeschooling. Once regulations are in place for homeschooling athletes, there will be strong pressure to apply them to all homeschoolers, leading to increased regulation of all homeschoolers.

How do we know this will happen? For several reasons, including the following:

* First, through no fault of our own, we homeschoolers are seen as a threat to the educational establishment, The most powerful interest groups in our society. Most of the educational establishment feels that homeschools need to be controlled and regulated and forced to become as much like conventional schools as possible.

* Second, our society does not trust parents and others who are not trained professionals or "experts." Although homeschooling has gained some acceptance, many people still feel there may be "something fishy going on;" the government probably should check up on homeschoolers.

* Third, the general public has accepted increasing government control of public schools, most recently in the form of new educational standards and increased use of state-mandated standardized tests. Most non-homeschoolers assume the government should also oversee homeschools.

* Fourth, some school officials are telling truants, dropouts, and expelled students to homeschool, or at least suggesting it. These officials are then turning around and saying that greater regulation of homeschooling is needed because truants, dropouts, and expelled students may be escaping to homeschooling.

Because current homeschooling regulations vary from state to state, some homeschoolers would have more to lose than others. In fact, the few states that currently allow homeschoolers to play public school sports tend to be those that had relatively demanding state regulation of homeschooling before the sports issue arose. But the bottom line is that all homeschoolers would lose, even those in states that currently have the most demanding regulations.

As an example of how we would lose, consider the states that require that homeschoolers take standardized tests but do not require that they report their scores to the state. Homeschooling athletes could not simply say to school officials, "Yes, I took the required standardized tests, and I appreciate the fact that I don't have to report my scores to you to be eligible to play on the team." Once homeschooling athletes are required to report their scores to the state, it's a short step to requiring that all homeschoolers report their scores.

Other Problems Caused By Homeschoolers' Playing Public School Sports

* There is a great deal of pressure, competition, and status surrounding positions on sports teams. If homeschoolers became star athletes (which is not unlikely since they have more flexible schedules which allow more time for rest and practice than students attending conventional schools), they might generate a backlash against homeschooling, with people feeling that it wasn't fair for homeschoolers to get to do the fun parts of school and receive the glory without (as they see it) having to do all the school work.

An example of backlash comes from Arizona, where a 1999 law allows homeschoolers to play public school sports. A homeschooler in Arizona observed that the response to this law has created a "public relations nightmare" for homeschoolers. The Tucson Weekly, carried an article on November 11, 1999, titled "Home-Schooled Kids Shouldn't Be Playing High-School Athletics." Author Tom Danehy wrote, "This law, if unchanged, will mean the end of high-school sports. . . Pretty soon the kids who stay home all day (and work on their games?) are nudging out the kids who have to go to school all day and do mundane things, like show up to class and learn."

Even states that started with somewhat reasonable requirements for homeschooling athletes might soon increase them as public acceptance of homeschooling erodes because of this backlash.

* In many states, legislation would be required to allow homeschoolers to play public school sports. Anytime legislation is introduced concerning homeschooling, there is the risk that amendments will be added to increase state regulation of homeschooling, especially in light of the continuing pressure for increased regulation. Therefore, attempts to change current law could easily lead to increased state regulation of all homeschoolers.

In addition, the argument that homeschoolers should be allowed to play public school sports because they pay taxes is somewhat simplistic. Everyone of school age is entitled to attend public schools, whether or not they pay taxes. Also, we pay taxes for jails and fire departments so they are available when needed, even though we hope not to need them ourselves.

Evidence That Very Few Homeschoolers Favor Having Homeschoolers Play Public School Sports

Fortunately, very few homeschoolers support the idea of homeschoolers' playing public school sports. Many actively oppose it, especially when they understand the ways it would lead to increased regulation of homeschooling.

In addition, many homeschooling families prefer alternative approaches to sports that do not carry the risk of increased regulation. Among the possibilities are the following:

* Participation in community sports teams, organized by homeschoolers, if they don't already exist. The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) provides a multi-sport program for all ages and organized athletic competition (407-934-7200).

* Informal sports, such as neighborhood softball games, groups of homeschooling teens, or a foursome for tennis.

* Conventional private schools that allow homeschoolers to pay a fee just to play sports.

* Playing sports in college without having played in high school.

* Participating in sports camps.

* Playing individual sports that do not require a team, such as running and swimming.

* To be sure, nThese alternatives is the same as strongly competitive high school team sports. If that is most important to homeschoolers, they can enroll in high school and consider that part of the cost of playing sports. Homeschoolers and their families need to make their own decisions. However, people who dream of starring on the high school team, winning an athletic scholarship to college, and playing professional sports may want to consider that there are 50 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade and only 8,500 professional athletes in all sports in this country.

Many families find that homeschooling offers better opportunities for sports than does attending a conventional school. Thanks to its flexibility, homeschooling offers tremendous advantages to young people whose long range goal is to become an outstanding athlete, rather than simply to play high school sports. At the same time, it also offers great opportunities for young people whose goal is to develop healthy minds and bodies through positive, supportive physical activity without intense competition and pressure.

Some people may argue that it is not fair to ask homeschoolers who really want to play high school sports, to whom nThe other alternatives is acceptable, not to pursue this option because it would set a precedent of public school regulation of homeschools. One logical response is that homeschoolers who want to play sports can find other ways to do so, as discussed above. They can even enroll in public school if public school sports are that important to them. But homeschoolers who want to homeschool without unnecessary regulation would not be able to do so if the participation of some homeschoolers in public school sports led to increased government regulation of all homeschoolers. Obviously, it is not easy to give up something as important as public school sports is to some families. But many, many homeschoolers have made sacrifices to gain and maintain our homeschooling freedoms. We will need to continue to make sacrifices, some of us more than others, to continue to maintain them.

Evidence that most homeschoolers oppose legislation to allow homeschoolers' participation in public school sports comes from cases such as these:

* A homeschooling mother in New York shared her experience: Recently, while bills were pending to permit homeschoolers to play on sports teams, I worked at a statewide convention attended by over 3,400 homeschoolers to collect signatures on a petition opposing the bills. Working alone, I collected almost one signature per minute over the course of five hours. Of those I approached, perhaps 2-5% preferred the option of access to public school programs (a figure in keeping with the assessments of proponents of the bills); another 10% were undecided or wished to further research the issue before signing. Solidly 85% of the randomly-selected homeschoolers with whom I spoke were eager to send the message that they are "amply able to provide a rich education for our children without the assistance of government school programs, and feel that naming home instruction in state legislation could have the inadvertent effect of increasing state oversight of our private educational programs. Our strong desire is to have the maximum possible freedom to take personal responsibility to provide the best possible education for our children in keeping with our beliefs and principles."

* In Ohio, legislation to allow homeschoolers to play public school sports was introduced at the request of a homeschooling mother. However, another mother hurriedly notified homeschoolers. Attendees at a hearing overwhelmingly opposed the bill which did not get out of committee.

* In February, 1999, a bill was introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature that would have made it possible for homeschoolers to play public school sports. At a legislative hearing on this bill, only 4 people registered in favor of the bill while 131 people (virtually all homeschoolers) registered against it. Testimony from homeschoolers overwhelmingly opposed the bill which died in committee.

Exaggeration of this Issue by the Mainstream Media

Media stories generally emphasize conflict, even when they need to distort the facts to do so. Let's face it: a story that said, "Homeschoolers don't want to play on public school teams and public schools don't want them to, either" would not be much of a story. When Time recently decided to run a story on homeschoolers' participation in public school sports, reporter John Cloud talked with several homeschoolers, including Larry Kaseman. Kaseman gave him evidence that most homeschoolers do not support homeschoolers' participation in public school sports and offered to give him the names of people he could call for more information. However, Cloud wrote an article titled "Outside, Wanting In," published in Time, December 27, 1999. It focused on one Michigan father who is working to get his children to play public school sports. Instead of at least reporting that most homeschoolers do not support this idea, Cloud cited opposition from people involved in public schools. Concerning homeschoolers, he made two points:

* "The kids want it [participation in public school sports] too. 'That issue is really the bane of the home-school movement,' says Isabel Lyman, who is writing a book on home schooling for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. 'The teen years are the highest years of attrition for homeschoolers, in part because teens want to play sports.'"

On January 13, 2000, Kaseman asked Lyman on what basis she made such a claim. She made a general comment about research on homeschooling. She offered to send us information to support her claim. Although Kaseman sent her information that calls her claim into question, we have not received any evidence from her.

There is clear evidence that contradicts Lyman's statement. For example, in Wisconsin beginning in 1995, there have been more homeschoolers in grades 9, 10, and 11 than there are in grades 1, 2, and 3, and the disparity has increased each year. In addition, it is up to the person making such statements to be able to support them.

* Cloud went on to say: "But the home-school movement is itself divided over the issue, which is one reason home-school-friendly states such as Michigan haven't passed similar laws. Michael Farris, who cofounded the Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983, says he believes 'rank-and-file' home-school parents are split fifty-fifty on whether their kids should play on public teams."

Fortunately, HSLDA does not support homeschoolers' participation in public school sports. However, with so many homeschoolers opposed, it is misleading to say the split is "fifty-fifty."

The article offers further evidence that playing school sports would undermine homeschooling freedoms. Cloud wrote that the lawyer behind the father in Michigan is "willing to compromise. 'We would follow some reasonable regulations,' he says, such as a rule that home schoolers pass exams to be eligible."

In addition to spreading inaccurate information, articles such as this make it more difficult for us to convince legislators and others that most homeschoolers do not want laws and/or regulations changed so homeschoolers can play public school sports because that will lead to increased regulation of homeschooling. It is very important that homeschoolers not cite this article without also explaining the errors it contains. Otherwise, the incorrect misinformation in the Time article will spread and cause more problems. We should not accept and pass on or report about such articles in an uncritical fashion because this gives them more power, power that undermines our freedoms.

What We Can Do

* We can let our legislators know that most homeschoolers do not want legislation that would allow homeschoolers to play on school teams so they are less likely to introduce or cosponsor such bills.

* We can be alert for proposals in our state that would allow homeschoolers to play public school sports and oppose them. If we are not alert, such bills can be passed while we are either unaware of them or feel that they don't or won't impact us.

* We can discuss this issue with others and encourage them to explore alternatives rather than trying to make it possible for homeschoolers to play public school sports. Then at least some of the groundwork will have been done in the event that legislation is introduced.

* We can keep ourselves informed so we are not misled by articles like the one in Time. The mainstream media often cannot be relied on for information about homeschooling. We can write letters to the editor when we see incorrect information or exaggerated stories like the one in Time.

Conclusion

Changing state laws or regulations to allow homeschoolers to play public school sports would undermine the homeschooling freedoms of all of us. Therefore, it is important that we inform ourselves and others of the risks involved and remember that, despite the publicity that a few families may receive, most homeschoolers do not support the participation of homeschoolers in public school sports, especially once they realize why and how it would lead to increased state regulation of all homeschoolers. We also need to be alert so that legislation allowing homeschoolers to play public school sports does not quietly pass with little notice.

2000, Larry and Susan Kaseman

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