Home Education Magazine
July-August 2001 - Articles and Columns
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Don't Let Saying No to Federal Testing Lead to the Federal Government's Involvement in Our Homeschools
Current legislation to require students to take federally-mandated tests is cause for serious concern. However, provisions that exempt homeschoolers from such testing are a serious mistake because they involve the federal government in our homeschools and therefore undermine our freedom. As homeschoolers, we will be in a much stronger position if we maintain our independence of the federal government, which means refusing to accept federal money in the form of vouchers, tax credits, or any other form and opposing legislation that would supposedly exempt homeschoolers from testing or other requirements.
This column will explore problems with federal testing, how we homeschoolers can avoid it by refusing federal money and other benefits, why we need to oppose provisions that would exempt homeschoolers from federal tests, and what we can do.
Problems with Federal Testing
Here is a quick overview and reminder of problems with federal testing of students, including homeschoolers:
* Standardized tests are biased and unfair. They do not measure what a person knows; they only measure how a person performed on a test on a given day. They are unfair to minorities, women, and anyone whose values, beliefs, and experiences differ from those of the test makers. They do not measure or give test takers credit for physical skills, mechanical ability, creativity, integrity, etc. Creative thinkers and people who know a lot about a subject often have more difficulty because they see the complexities of supposedly simple questions.
* Tests dictate curriculum and how subjects are covered. To prepare students, schools need to teach what is on the tests. This means that federal testing will lead to federal control of the curriculum in schools throughout the country. Obviously, federal testing of homeschoolers would force homeschools to become more like the conventional schools many of us have chosen to avoid by homeschooling.
* Federal testing erodes local control of education and the role of local school boards, communities, and individual states in education. It moves the U. S. toward federal control of education, something that obviously is not consistent with freedom of education.
* Testing required by either state governments or the federal government shifts the government's role in education. Compulsory attendance laws require attendance, but they do not require education. This distinction is crucial. If the government were to require compulsory education, we would lose our freedom of education and learning and even our freedom of thought.
* The bipartisan support for and lack of opposition to federal testing indicate that the general public either supports testing or does not care enough to oppose it. It is unsettling, to say the least, to observe the readiness with which people are sitting by while the federal government ties a noose around the neck of America's schools.
Obviously, federal testing raises serious problems and should be opposed.
Preventing Federal Testing of Homeschoolers
Federal testing legislation is being considered by the U. S. Congress as of this writing. Since homeschoolers are a small minority, it is very difficult for us to stop or even significantly slow it. However, we can have an impact in preventing homeschoolers from being required to take federal tests. Preventing Federal Testing of Homeschoolers By Opposing Legislation to Give Homeschoolers Federal Money or Other Benefits
The federal government often uses the money it grants as a way of gaining control and authority over people, institutions, and state laws. For example, the authority to determine what the age at which a person may legally drink belongs to individual states, not to the federal government. However, the federal government requires any state that receives federal highway funds to comply with the federally mandated drinking age. Therefore, if homeschoolers begin accepting federal money in the form of tax credits, vouchers, etc. and/or benefits, the federal government will have a basis for regulating homeschoolers. It is especially important that we not give the government such an opening now, when public opinion supports or at least does not oppose the idea that the federal government should regulate schools.
The argument is often made that the government has a responsibility to the taxpayers to hold accountable the people and institutions it gives money to. Taxpayers would be upset if the government gave a road contractor funds to repair a highway and then did not follow up to make sure the contractor did a responsible job. In a similar vein, arguments are being presented in the U. S. Congress that the federal government needs to test kids in schools that are receiving federal funding to be sure taxpayers are getting their money's worth.
It's also commonly understood and accepted that when a person or an institution gives money to another person or institution, the giver has increased power and control over the receiver. This principle works even on a personal level. Imagine that friends are starting a small business. You wish them well and maybe offer advice, opinions, and maybe occasionally help with something like painting. But suppose your friends ask you to loan them a significant amount of money. As soon as you've made the loan, you feel more responsible for giving sound advice that they will follow and more justified in being involved in their business, since you need to protect your investment and get your money back.
A corollary to these ideas is that we need to be very careful from whom we take money. When we accept money, we are giving the people or institutions who are supplying the money a certain measure of control over us.
If homeschoolers want to get back some of the tax dollars they pay for schools their children do not attend, it is much better for them to work for an increase in the deduction allowed for dependents or for tax money that is given to families without being tied to educational expenses or other such criteria.
Therefore, when we accept money from either our state or the federal government, we open the door for increased regulation of our homeschools. As long as we refuse such money, and when necessary are successful in defeating legislation that would give us such money, we can continue to point out that the federal government does not have authority to require homeschoolers to take tests because they haven't been given such authority by the U. S. Constitution, by federal statutes, or by court decisions, and there is no precedent.
Preventing Federal Testing of Homeschoolers By Opposing Exemptions for Homeschools
At first glance, it might seem like a good idea for a provision exempting homeschoolers from the tests to be included in federal testing legislation. However, if homeschoolers are not accepting federal money or other benefits, the federal government does not have the authority or the means to regulate homeschools, so an exemption is unnecessary. Even more important, an exemption would actually backfire and undermine the strength we now have to oppose federally-mandated testing of homeschoolers. This is because such legislative exemptions involve the federal government in our homeschools and lead to federal regulation of homeschools in several ways:
* Exemptions can lead to federal regulations concerning homeschools now or in the future. (Regulations are written by bureaucrats to further define and clarify laws so they can be more easily implemented, administered, and enforced.) Bureaucrats could easily claim that federal regulations need to be written so it's clear exactly which families are homeschoolers and are therefore exempt from federal testing. In other words, the federal government would define homeschooling, determine who is really homeschooling and who is not, and decide what we have to do in order to be legally considered homeschoolers. This would give the federal government tremendous power and control over homeschooling. Even if the government devised a relatively acceptable definition of homeschooling right now, it would have the power to change that definition any time in the future.
* Exempting homeschools implies that the federal government has jurisdiction over homeschools.
A provision that exempts homeschools from federal testing clearly implies that the federal government has, or could reasonably be assumed to have, some jurisdiction over homeschools. Otherwise, why would this exemption be included in the bill? Federal testing legislation would not exempt adults teaching themselves to cook or sew from federal testing, for example, because common sense and tradition make it clear that the bill does not apply to them.
As homeschoolers we will be in a much better position if we stick with our constitutional protections and continue to assert that we do not need an exemption because it is clear that the federal government does not have authority over schools that do not accept federal funding. This reminds opponents of homeschooling, neutral parties, and homeschoolers of the freedoms that are ours if we simply claim them. However, these freedoms will cease to be ours if we let them be eroded by inaccurate assumptions about federal jurisdiction over homeschools and by unnecessary and damaging exemptions.
Also, a provision exempting homeschools would set a dangerous precedent. It could then be assumed and argued that any future education bills which do not specifically exempt homeschools do in fact apply to us. Each time an exemption is made, it costs us more freedom and increases government control of homeschooling. In addition, any time an exemption or list of exemptions is made, it is assumed that anything related to the topic at hand that is not included on the list was considered as a possible exemption and then rejected. Thus, freedoms are better maintained if unnecessary exemptions are not made.
It is important to understand and remember that federal laws can be changed relatively easily. There is no guarantee that a law exempting homeschoolers from federal testing would last for long, especially given the current climate of opinion in which many people favor or at least do not oppose federal regulation of schools. If we allow the federal government to become involved in our homeschools now by accepting a federal testing exemption for homeschoolers, we will have sacrificed our independence of the federal government and will have a much harder time convincing people that homeschoolers should not have to take federal tests.
Problems Caused by the Actions of a National Homeschooling Organization
Unfortunately, a national homeschool organization is acting in opposition to both these principles. First, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is consistently working to get tax credits and other benefits for homeschoolers, despite the fact that this will increase government involvement in our homeschools and undermine our homeschooling freedoms. (For example, in order for homeschoolers to collect tax credits, the government would have to determine that homeschoolers' expenses were legitimate. This could lead to our needing to prove that we are complying with federal and state laws defining homeschools, that we are using an acceptable curriculum, and that we are using computers for which we claim tax credits for educational purposes only and not also for family finances or a home business or other purposes. It could also lead to IRS audits of our tax returns. In addition, religious-based curriculums, software, and other materials might not be eligible for tax credits.) Second, HSLDA has worked to have an exemption for homeschoolers included in the federal testing legislation currently before the U. S. Congress.
What We Can Do
* We can remember that the surest and most long-lasting ways to protect our homeschooling freedoms are to be aware that our freedoms rest on our rights as parents and to maintain our independence of both state and federal governments. We can do this by opposing legislation that would provide government money and other benefits to homeschoolers and by opposing special provisions or exemptions for homeschoolers.
* We can share this information with others.
* By the time you read this, federal testing legislation may have already passed, including provisions that exempt homeschoolers from the tests. If so, it is even more important that we understand the problems raised by such exemptions. We can be alert for new federal regulations that result from the legislation and work to prevent the introduction of similar exemptions in the future.
As homeschoolers who want to avoid unnecessary regulation by the federal government as well as state governments, we need to prevent the government from becoming involved in our homeschools. This includes opposing federal legislation that offers homeschoolers money or other benefits that open the door for federal regulation of homeschooling and legislation concerning homeschoolers, including provisions that exempt homeschoolers from federal testing.
(c) 2001 Larry and Susan Kaseman
July-August 2001 Issue
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