New Jersey homeschoolers may be facing quite a legislative battle if a recently introduced bill advances beyond committee. Currently, there is no real oversight, no requirements for testing nor even for notification unless the Superintendent requests information. This is all likely because New Jersey does not actually have a “homeschool law,” per se. Instead, homeschools operate under the “equivalent education” clause of the compulsory school attendance law:
Every parent, guardian or other person having custody and control of a child between the ages of six and 16 years shall cause such child regularly to attend the public schools of the district or a day school in which there is given instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools for children of similar grades and attainments or to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school. NJ Rev. Stat. § 18A: 38-25
They propose that parents:
1. Be given a deadline to register with their local school;
2. Turn in an outline of educational objectives by subject;
3. Certify that children have received medical care as “required by law” (!);
4. Certify that no one in the home has been convicted of certain criminal offenses;
5. Follow a curriculum developed by the State Commissioner of Education;
6. Keep a portfolio of student work and a deadline to turn it in for inspection;
7. A 30-lead time on arbitrary inspection of the above;
8. Force their children to submit to standardized tests;
9. Have the child’s work reviewed by a “qualified evaluator”;
10. Have the child “interviewed” by a psychologist, certified teacher or school administrator;
11. 20 days from a bad review to offer more documentation and failing that,
12. To enroll the child into a school.
In return, kids get to play on the school sports team. (via families.com)
Rumor has it this is the result of homeschoolers wishing to play on sports teams through their local public schools. Like Tammy, I’ve heard the little “birdies,” but also cannot find anything but the rumors. This is perhaps more of a question for New Jersey homeschoolers as I have not been able to find anything online, but are homeschoolers there even pushing for this privilege? From what little I could find, New Jersey law does not forbid participation in school sponsored sports, it just leaves it up to the district. But I couldn’t find any references to homeschoolers wishing to change that status.
There has long been concern that homeschoolers participating in school sports might invite further governmental oversight of homeschools. Unfortunately, the arguments I have read focus mainly on a fear of what might happen rather than evidence of what actually has. I am certainly not saying that we should not take those concerns seriously, but from a purely rhetorical standpoint, consider the comparative strengths of the following arguments:
1) 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. Why the Question of Playing Public School Sports Affects All Homeschoolers
2) In 2008, New Jersey homeschoolers pressued their legislature to change the law to allow homeschoolers across the state access to public school sports. This was the result. (Entirely fictitious example, made up by me.)
To me, I sort of shrug my shoulders at the first argument. It is a concern, but without some sort of evidence, it is a weak argument on its own. Apparently, according to The Homeschooling Book of Answers, twenty four states allow homeschoolers to compete in interscholastic sports:
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington state, and Wyoming. Vermont allows homeschoolers to participate in individual sports, like golf and tennis, but not in team sports. Family Education
Looking over this list, there are states which are very restrictive in their homeschool laws, such as North Dakota and Rhode Island. But there are also states which are very liberal in their homeschool laws, such as Alaska, Michigan and Idaho. There doesn’t seem to be a correlation between participation in school sports and increased regulation of homeschools.
There is that little bone thrown to homeschoolers in the proposed legislation about being allowed to participate in school sports, which I presume is what got the birdies started chattering. But it is not uncommon for the author of a bill to throw in a few concessions to make a bill more palatable to the opposition. In fact, here in Nebraska, a senator is required to meet with those most likely to oppose a bill before formally introducing it, and the original bill is frequently modified at that time to make it more likely to pass. And if I were seeking favors from the state, I am not sure that my first choice of representatives to contact would be two Democrats on the Higher Education Committee. Nothing against either of them, I only briefly surveyed their list of sponsored and co-sponsored bills, but I didn’t see anything that jumped out at me as evidence of being overly supportive of educational freedom. I suspect that it was not New Jersey homeschoolers who initiated this bill in any form, including a request to modfy the law to make it possible to compete in school sports.
From what I can see, there is nothing in New Jersey’s recent legislative history that has anything to do with homeschoolers participating in school sports. So where did this bill come from? Unless someone can provide some more detailed information, I am guessing it came from the same place Nebraska’s LB 1141 came from: “concerned” legislators who at some point have realized that homeschools do not have the kind of oversight that public school teachers have. The real “culprit,” if there is one, is a culture increasingly bent on “accountability” without realizing that in all these programs affecting the public schools, the accountability isn’t meant to give the state more knowledge about the teacher, but the parents more knowledge about what the state is doing with their children.