In June, the Toledo News Chronicle posted Iowa Representative Steve Fisher’s legislative wrap-up. It was good news for Iowa homeschoolers.
Private schools are given the option of obtaining accreditation from agencies other than the Iowa Department of Education. Homeschool families are given the ability to teach under “private instruction” meaning they don’t have to submit burdensome paperwork to the local school district; the option of allowing a homeschool parent to teach a subject to up to four unrelated children which allows families to share subject matter experts; and home school parents will be able to teach their children drivers education. These changes for Homeschool families are being billed as a “new era of freedom”. Iowa has come a long way from the environment of a few years ago when home school families had to hide from the law or even move out of state in order to enjoy the freedom of homeschooling. Of all the bills passed in this session, I am the most proud of the freedom that the 85th General Assembly returned to Homeschool families.
The Sioux City Journal‘s Mike Wiser reports on the “status of homeschooling in Iowa” with a three-part series plus. The first article didn’t start out well dishing out innuendo on a homeschooled teenager’s education. (Justification for her family business participation was explained further in the article.)
New laws relax oversight of home-schoolers New rules get mixed reaction from advocates, critics
The sickly sweet smell of cocoa and cooked sugar hangs in the air at Kalona Chocolates, also known as 15-year-old Whitney Hershberger’s math class.
At the moment, her teachers are in the backroom pouring a thick caramel and pecan mix into cooking pans as the bespectacled teen smiles from behind a cash register at a customer who walks in the front door.
Whitney is a home-school student in what now is a state with some of the most lax home-school laws in the country.
For home-school advocates, rollbacks on home-school regulation in Gov. Terry Branstad’s 2013 education reform bill were a resounding victory that made Iowa a model for the nation. For those skeptical of the absence of government oversight of home-school curriculum, testing and teacher qualifications, the rollback smacked of hypocrisy, especially because the public education system is entering into a new era of accountability.
Homeschoolers had reporting overload with the public school system, even as Iowa private schools. Hypocrisy seemed to be the theme some years ago, when Iowa’s old homeschool regulations were passed. This word – lax – is always bothersome pertaining to freeing homeschool laws. Homeschooling parents are careful in nurturing and oversight of their children’s lives.
Definition of Lax: not sufficiently strict, severe, or careful.
synonyms: slack, slipshod, negligent, remiss, careless, heedless, unmindful, slapdash, offhand, casual
The Journal points out the choice that still counts homeschoolers in the public school system:
She also takes more traditional coursework at home and through the local school district’s Home School Assistance Program. It’s that connection with the school district that, if she continues to keep it, will keep Whitney counted in state records because using district facilities requires parents to file a Form A.
Below is a quote from the Quad City Times regarding the Mid-Prairie School District area’s overall child population made up of 27.6% homeschoolers. (This QCT article is a reprint of the second of the Sioux City Journal three part series):
….in at least one respect, Mid-Prairie is an outlier.
In a state where on average 2.3 percent of any school districts’ population is homeschooled, Mid-Prairie’s 27.6 percent homeschool population is 12 times the state average and more than one in four students.
Besides the “robust” homeschool assistance program in the school, the rural area is also in the middle of Amish and Mennonite communities.
Wiser reported this in the Journal regarding the homeschool assistance program:
Districts in Iowa can choose to operate a homeschool assistance program but are under no requirement to do so. Districts that do get roughly a third of per pupil state aid for each student who uses the program. Offerings vary between school district programs, but most have at least one district-assigned supervising teacher running the program.
A national lobbying organization located in Virginia commented on the new law:
“We watched what was happening in Iowa very closely,” said Scott Woodruff, senior legal counsel for the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association [HSLDA], a 30-year-old organization that serves as a legal advocate for home-school families.
“Iowa was once one of the worst states in terms of home-school rights; it’s now, thanks to (the education reform bill), one of the models for the rest of the country,” he said.
It’s good that Mr. Woodruff has seen some light and supports homeschooling freedoms for Iowans. Homeschoolers - Lynn and Sarah Leslie – wrote an incredible history on Iowa and national education reform in 1990. Many states’ homeschooling advocates can recognize the current pattern of political ins and outs, as depicted in this incredible history. Unfortunately, besides monied public school interests, HSLDA’s compromises have caused significant problems for homeschoolers.
Homeschooling Under Fire The Iowa Homeschooling Crisis of 1989-90
Throughout the legislative session IHEA leaders had attended many of the weekly meetings at our home. Despite our disagreements, we did not ever exclude anyone, especially since we were all in agreement about defeating S.F. 149. In the waning weeks of the 1990 legislative session, IHEA leaders introduced “compromise” language in a final attempt to pass a homeschool bill. Some still believed that their hopes rested on making homeschooling “legal” in Iowa. IHEA lobbyist, Ed Dickerson, told us that the compromise language had been written by HSLDA. It offered minimal protection for a very small percentage of homeschoolers. The rest of us would be less fortunate. Thankfully, this last-ditch attempt went nowhere. No “homeschool” bill passed.
The Sioux City Journal‘s first article notes the vice president of knowledge management and dissemination at the Education Commission for the States‘ thoughts on homeschool legislation. One has to wonder if the “few bills that do make it, however, are ones that end up helping homeschoolers”, even though New Hampshire regulations have been loosened up recently. What is truly exasperating for many homeschooling advocates is the constant lookout for bills that cause harm to homeschooling families. The Edu-Industry Complex parties don’t make that legislation screening job easy.
Mike Wiser also summarized the most recent reforms in the following Sioux City Journal article released yesterday. An important point is Iowa’s Speaker of the House, Kraig Paulsen, has a homeschooled family. He (and others) were resolute.
How Iowa education reform changed homeschool standards
The two amendments McGee, one of three Department of Education lobbyists working on the bill, asked about dealt with homeschoolers in Iowa.
The Branstad administration had misgivings about the amendments, emails obtained through an open records request show, but by May, the governor was firmly on board. So were the major education groups — if begrudgingly — as were the Democrats who control the state Senate. The change was thanks to the willingness of key House Republicans to scuttle the education bill if homeschool reform was not part of the education reform package.
It’s noted homeschooled children only make up 2.2% of the Iowa population and homeschoolers are extremely active watching and knowing education bills and laws. We tend to annoy many because of the continuous assertions home education works. Our claims generally stem from defense mechanisms, reacting to powerful entities trying to destroy our freedoms to learn.
The shenanigans with the Bachmann presidential campaign in Iowa and the rabid pursuit gaining homeschoolers’ email addresses and other contact information is also pointed out in the article. More here on that: Iowa – Bachmann Lawsuit Settles
Continuing from Wiser’s last piece, Kathy Christie is quoted again describing homeschoolers:
“They are a very vocal, very voting part of the education debate,” said Kathy Christie, vice president, Knowledge Management & Dissemination at Education Commission of the States, who follows education policy across the country.
“I don’t think it’s just religious conservatives like it once was,” Christie said. “It’s folks who think they can do better with their kids than the schools can do with their kids. Obviously, it’s a huge commitment, so they are very sensitive to being able to do that.”
Quoted from the article, an Iowa Department of Education official gets it wrong about the “private instruction” initiative:
“This is an educationally problematic policy change. It goes beyond the rights of the parents to homeschool their children to saying those parents have no obligation to demonstrate academic growth of those children,”
The assumption is the parents are incapable of monitoring academic growth of their own children. The very same people who nurtured and love those same children are the ones with their best interests at heart. Every parent sighing with the busywork brought home by their publicly schooled children can appreciate this direct homeschooling route. (Apologies that Mr. Wise put me in defensive mode again.)
“This is a substantial redefinition of homeschooling that moves far beyond the rights of parents to educate their own children,” Wise wrote. “This removes any meaningful role of state government in guaranteeing the education of the children of the state.”
This freedom of education without meaningful state (or federal) government roles works well in many states for many families, including Iowa’s neighbors to the east and south.
Mr. Wiser’s summary of the education reform passage seems to highlight that more school money talks, so the opposition to the homeschool initiatives balked.
The Globe Gazette reports Iowa homeschoolers are happy.
North Iowans say new home-schooling rules give them more By Ashley Miller
A rural family who operates a dairy farm and sells baked goods and chemical-free produce through North Iowa Berries and More has not reported its home-schooling plans this year.
“We can now focus on teaching our kids and not worry about what everyone else is thinking,” said Becky Huang, who has 19 years of experience home schooling her eight children.
With the help of her husband, Jesse, a former design engineer, the two now have more time to plan curriculum for their four youngest, ages 6, 8, 11 and 15.
The abundance of public school administrative staff will have to go without now. Sorry - Hal Minear, Mason City’s assistant superintendent of administrative services.From the Globe Gazette:
Now, only half of home-school families who are not dual-enrolled have chosen to notify the district.
“It’s certainly an individual family decision, and we respect that,” Minear said. “But the educator in me would trust that they would want to get the best for their kids by having them dual-enrolled or having a licensed teacher work with them.”
Success for Iowa homeschoolers.
You might also want to see an Iowan’s enlightened commentary on the series.