Restrictive homeschool law proposed in New Jersey

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

Proposed is A 3123 (pdf), a bill to require registration and oversight of home education programs.  From the summary sent out by the New Jersey Homeschool Association:

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

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.

Economic benefits of homeschooling

Monday at 1PM Central I will be interviewing Dan Lips of the Heritage Foundation about the economic benefits of homeschooling and tax credits for homeschoolers for Home School Talk.  If you are unable to listen to the live broadcast, the show will be available at the same link shortly after the show finishes.

Lips is a senior policy analyst over there and focuses on federal and state education issues, so I am quite excited to have him on the show.  I am looking forward to asking him a little more about his recent article regarding the economic benefits of homeschooling as well as tax credits for homeschoolers.  From his article, he seems to advocate expanding the Coverdell, and tax credits at the state level.

If you have any questions you would like me to add, please email me.

Homeschooled kids heading towards criminality

What will become of us as a society when we forsake our children?  Tens of thousands of children who have been forgotten and abandoned by the system?  Or, as the heading of the article warns (unless otherwise noted, all blockquotes come from this article):

Children we abandon at our peril

As the new school year begins, there are totally unwatched kids heading towards criminality

First, a little drama to hook you into the story:

Across Britain, children are half-gleeful and half-groaning as they finally head back to school. But amidst the bustle of the school-run, there are tens of thousands of forgotten children who aren’t going anywhere. 

How shocking!

They are being denied an education – and set up to fail for life.

Ok, you probably know where this is going.  But I have to break up the suspense somehow.  Sometimes it is a little easier to see through the emotion to the reasoning (or lack thereof) when you look at sentences in isolation.  Note that the author hasn’t really said anything yet that serves any purpose other than building up suspense as he works toward uncovering the shock of who these tens of thousands of forgotten children are.

The children left outside the school gates fall into four quite different groups – and each one is a scandal.

A scandal, I tell you!  And scandalous group number one would be those unregulated homeschoolers.  Sorry, the Untaught Ones.  Because if no one is looking over your shoulder, who knows what you are teaching.  This seems to be a running theme in homeschool criticism.  Little is said about anything anyone actually knows to be happening in homeschools.  It is enough that someone, somewhere might take it into their heads to say they are homeschooling and then go off for a Mimosa or two with their friends while their children languish in ignorance.

The Untaught One: the “home schooled.” Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to send your kids to school in Britain. If you decide to keep you child indoors and uneducated, you don’t have to inform the local authority – and nobody will come looking. As a result, we have no idea how many children are kept at home. Nobody is counting. But the current estimate is 50,000.

But author Johann Hari goes a step beyond the accusations most critics come up with.  He leaves behind the “while most homeschool families are conscientious” introduction and reveals the seedy truth behind the Untaught Ones who have been forgotten by the system, denied an education and left to a destiny of criminality.  I can picture the roaming gangs of homeschooled thugs now.

Of course, some of these kids are well-taught – but there is disturbing evidence they are a minority.

And I absolutely love his evidence.  Breathtakingly scientific.

When the investigative journalist Rob Blackhurst journeyed into the world of British home-schooling, he discovered 12-year-old children who had not been taught to read.

How many?  Two?  Three?  A thousand?  And what was the sample size?  And what group was being surveyed?  (Ah…Hari seems to lack some basic research skills…but more on that at the end.)

This is Britain.  And perhaps their stats are a little better than ours, although people there seemed to be concerned as well.  But not all of these Americans were homeschooled:

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 42 million adult Americans can’t read; 50 million can recognize so few printed words they are limited to a 4th or 5th grade reading level; one out of every four teenagers drops out of high school, and of those who graduate, one out of every four has the equivalent or less of an eighth grade education. National Right to Read Foundation

But back to the article.  And our first compelling statistic.

The most detailed survey of British parents teaching their kids at home found that 50 per cent don’t believe in teaching literacy to eight-year-olds.

There you have it.  It doesn’t matter if they all (except maybe the parents of those 12 year olds mentioned a moment ago) start a rigorous literacy program at nine.  It doesn’t matter that literacy actually seems to be declining among school children in Britain.  If your homeschooler isn’t subjected to a battery of tests starting in the early grades, they are doomed to failure.  And don’t forget that life of crime hanging over us from the subheading.

This leaves Britain with a weirdly divided school system. The majority of kids are constantly cooking on the SAT-grill, endlessly tested and Ofsted-ed – while this minority are totally unwatched.

Weird, indeed.  Interesting to me is the fact that these ostentatious homeschool parents go beyond not bothering to teach their children to read by age eight, but they actually don’t believe in teaching literacy to an eight year old.  Meaning they have some philosophy behind what they are doing.  And this raises more questions for me.  Like, where would I fit into this statistic if the same question were asked of me?  I believe in beginning formal reading instruction when the child is ready, and not before.  For most children, that is between the ages of four and eight, but it is highly variable.  And that isn’t even coming from John Holt or Dorothy and Raymond Moore.  It is coming from my early literacy training for my education degree from KU, the university which developed one of the most highly ranked approaches to teaching reading in the nation.

Our schools are full of developmentally inappropriate practices which do not follow what you learn while earning your degree.  Rigorous testing beginning in the early grades being one of them.  A heavy focus on reading starting in kindergarten and now even in pre-kindergarten being another.

More compelling to me would be to follow these same children for the next eight to ten years and find out how they are doing upon graduation and as they enter college or the workforce.  And while I’m certain there will still be some who can’t read, I’d be curious how that measures up against national averages.

This means children can even disappear. Seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, who was found starved to death in her home in Birmingham earlier this year, had been withdrawn from the school system to be “home-schooled”.

Eight weeks after being withdrawn.  And apparently social workers came to the home, no one was home and that was the last time they tried to make contact.  I’m not sure that I believe that every time a family pulls a child from school it should trigger an investigation (although it should certainly raise flags if there were already problems noted), but if the family was bent on starving their children to death, they can “disappear” over summer break, too.  Child abuse is horrific.  And I do believe that as a society, we need to have some measures in place to protect children as best we can.  But children die of abuse in foster care, too, where they are surrounded by specialists (teachers, caseworkers, psychologists) who are trained to spot abuse and report it.  No amount of oversight will prevent all cases, and too much disrupts families unnecessarily.  We cannot suddenly throw out all reason, all liberty, all respect for our Constitution out of fear of what might happen if a child isn’t in constant contact with a mandatory reporter.

For precisely this reason, home-schooling is illegal in Germany.

No, actually, it isn’t the reason.  And what is with the sudden fixation on Germany?  That is two in a row now that I have read which try to use Germany’s laws to rationalize stricter monitoring of homeschooling.  But Germany is primarily concerned with the development of parallel societies as they have stated repeatedly.  All the way up to the European Court of Human Rights.  It isn’t about abuse.

The law here needs to be altered so local authorities regularly interview home-schooled kids. If they aren’t being properly taught, they should be required to enter the normal school system immediately.

And properly taught, I take it, means subjected to a battery of tests starting sometime before they turn eight?  I’ll pass.

And what is of that life of crime we were promised?  Oh yes, we have to go down a little further.  That section isn’t actually about homeschoolers, however.  It is about the Untaught groups two, three and four…the push outs, and the imprisoned and the immigrants wasting away in holding facilities.  Primarily about those causing enough problems in school to get expelled, linger about on the streets, get into trouble and end up in youth detention facilities.

They are the ones headed for the life of crime.

Mr. Hari, when you start interviewing a significant number of homeschooled youth from the other side of the plexiglass wall at the youth detention facility, then we’ll talk.  Until then, the homeschooled youth, as prominent as they are in your article, do not fit under the subheading “…totally unwatched kids heading towards criminality.”  You have to look to the kids who have failed in the system to find them.

Update: Thanks to Greg Smith’s comment, I went off looking for more information about this Rob Blackhurst mentioned in the article.  Via Bishop Hill, A Class Apart.  That kid he found…that one kid he found…he was ten and now has an MA in creative writing.

According to a survey of 297 home-schooling families by Mike Fortune-Wood, 62 per cent never use a timetable, the same percentage never consult the national curriculum, and 50 per cent disagree with the statement that a child should be able to read by the age of eight. Fortune-Wood, who home-educated four children, says: “I know of children who’ve started to pick up books at nine or 10, and there are no indications that they do any worse than others. One of our children didn’t read until he was nine or 10 – and he’s just completed an MA in creative writing.”  FT Weekend Magazine

Something fishy about Hari’s research.

Hat Tip: Goldston Academy for the Insane

Does homeschooling require state regulation?

John Borst, editor of Tomorrow’s Trust, a web-based journal of Catholic education, answers with a resounding yes.

This is in response to an article by Liz McCloskey, a doctoral candidate at the Catholic University of America, who took some time off her doctoral pursuits in order to spend more time with her two boys.  Borst seems to want to warn us that, while McCloskey’s reasons for homeschooling may be noble, most of us aren’t like that.

In my experience with home schooling parents, this is not the typical motivation. Most often a parent has a difference of opinion with the curriculum of either the public or Catholic school. This difference, in many cases, involves a dispute regarding the role of sex education being taught in the school.  Tomorrow’s Trust

In bringing up “experience,” I cannot help but wonder exactly what that “experience” is.  No real bio is offered on the site, and I can’t find any other information about Borst, but if his experience is going to provide the basis for state regulation of all homeschools, I would like to know a little more about him and how he came to know these homeschoolers.

ParentingBesides, I have a better reason for homeschooling which encompasses both McCloskey’s concern for family time, Borst’s acquaintances’ concerns over sex ed and just about every other reason for homeschooling floating around out there:  We want what is best for our children.  In my experience as a homeschooling mother who writes a blog specifically targeted to homeschoolers, reads numerous homeschooling blogs, participates in forum discussions with other homeschoolers, knows homeschoolers in her own community and now serves on the board of a political action committee specifically concerned with home education freedoms, most homeschoolers choose this educational option for a variety of reasons.  Even for me, “religious reasons” is more of a convenient shorthand for an educational philosophy which encompasses the importance of family and the nature of learning as well as moral and spiritual values.  According to Department of Education statistics, concerns regarding safety, drugs and negative peer pressure actually tops the list for reasons to homeschool.  Not sex ed.

Maybe it is different in Canada, but Borst paints with a broad brush which includes all of North America.

Personally, I have no problem in principle with the concept of home schooling; however recent actions in California and Germany bring to the fore issues which we in Canadian and particularly in Ontario blissfully ignore.  Ibid.

And what are these issues brought to the fore?

From California: Specifically, in the 21st Century should parents be required to meet some minimum standard of education themselves before they are permitted to home school their children?

From Germany: Well, from Germany basically that he doesn’t seem to really understand what is going on in Germany.  He writes:

In Germany, the state has stringent requirements which must be met before parents are permitted to home school.  Ibid.

And I would really like to know where he gets that information.  The Neubronners even used the state curriculum under the supervision of a state certified teacher and their application was denied.  The “stringent requirements” are essentially that you must be either a circus worker or a child star.  Even the distance learning course which German missionaries and diplomats use while abroad is not acceptable if you are in Germany.  (You may also listen to my interview with Rina, a homeschooler in Germany who has taken her petition all the way to the European Parliament, who discusses some of these issues as well.)

From Germany, I think we can see the extremes of his philosophy and where fear of that which might happen overtake common sense.

At the same time in this age of radical ideologies, religious fanaticism and the concomitant insecurity which such movements breed it is also legitimate to ask, should parents be permitted to pass on values which promote racism, hated of others, or violent rebellion against the state?  Ibid.

Yes, well, that is one of those arguments that is a little difficult to address.  Let’s take a poll of homeschoolers and see if we in general think people should be passing on racism, hatred and violent rebellion against the state.  I don’t think my neighbors should be dealing drugs, either, but I’m not going to ask the state to do a monthly inspection on all families in order to make sure this isn’t happening.  But somehow, out of fear of an idea, we ask for just this kind of monitoring?  And Jesus Camp as evidence of what American evangelicals believe?  Please.

CatholicHow about Deliver Us From Evil?  Let’s take that as the model for what it means to be a Catholic priest.  Can we really allow an organization like that to continue to exist without stringent oversight from the state?  Homeschools may have limited oversight, thereby technically allowing for bizarre and even harmful teaching to continue without the state’s knowledge, but did you know that the church is not even a mandatory reporter of child abuse in all states?  The list requiring the report from ministers and priests has been steadily growing since the recent priest sex scandals, but how much more important is it for the state to require reporting of known crimes than for it to oversee people out of fear that they might teach something hateful?

And why is it those Catholics have their own schools, anyway?  What is it about the American values inculcated through our public school system they so wholly reject?  Maybe it was because Protestants so wholly controlled the system that they felt their religious and ethnic identities were in danger.  But their attempts at reform within the public school met with little success.  And maybe, just maybe, the whole push toward compulsory attendance laws in the late 19th century had less to do with concerns about illiteracy than it did with Protestants worried about the “Catholic problem.”

Suspicious lot, those Catholics, rejecting fundamental American values and going so far as resisting our education laws founded on the very noble goals of literacy, numeracy and social cohesion to go off and found their own schools. Who knows what they are teaching…and what they are doing…to children?  And it isn’t as if their conflict with the state ends there.

There are however, reasons for vigilance by the state to ensure that the education provided in such a setting is not counterproductive to the general welfare of society as a whole.  Ibid.

In the late 1800s, Catholicism was seen as counterproductive to the general welfare of society as a whole.  And the state acted with great vigilance.  Maybe Catholic education has more in common with homeschoolers than some may like to admit.

The problem is, vigilance by the state in securing any particular ideology is counterproductive to the general welfare of society.  Will there occasionally be a homeschooler who abuses this freedom?  Certainly.  Just as there have been priests who have taken liberties with children while in their positions of trust and just as there have been teachers in public schools who have done the same.  And just as my neighbors could be dealing drugs for all anyone knows.  But how much power are we willing to grant the state in order to monitor the possibility of wrongdoing?

In a free society, it is the citizen who is vigilant in overseeing the state, not the state in overseeing the individual.

State Board of Ed woes

September 22, the State Board of Education will be conducting its final interviews to replace Doug Christensen as Commissioner of Education.  I personally liked Christensen.  I don’t know what his stance was on home education, but he fought valiantly for Nebraska’s STARS system and resisted education chairman Ron Raikes’ bill to require a single, statewide assessment.  He even had to stand up to the US Department of Education.

“We just told the Department of Education that if they were really trying to [serve] all kids and close the proficiency gap that high-stakes testing isn’t the way to do it,” says Doug Christensen, state commissioner of education. “We told them we would show them that we had a better way.”  How Nebraska Leaves No Child Behind

Maybe I never knew his stance on home education because he was too busy fighting the powers that be in order to effectively serve Nebraska’s public school children to worry much about us home educators.

Brian Gong, executive director of the National Center for Improvement of Educational Assessment, said Christensen has been influential in the national testing debate for years.

“Doug Christensen and his staff have been leaders in the nation in saying the form of the assessment and the form of the accountability should be as local as possible,” Gong said. “That obviously has been a minority voice, but one I think that people have really appreciated and have been thinking a lot about.”  Omaha World Herald

And that is really the crux of why I was sad to see him go.  Ted Kennedy, of all people, praised our unique system which successfully incorporated the accountability measures of No Child Left Behind and Nebraska’s historic commitment to local control.  Certainly the system was not perfect, but it was far better than the direction Raikes is leading us.

In the end, Raikes won and Christensen resigned.  We have four finalists, and I’m not sure I’m happy with any of the choices.

  • Roger Breed, superintendent of Elkhorn Public Schools
  • Virginia Moon, superintendent of Ralston Public Schools
  • Dan Hoesing, shared superintendent of Laurel-Concord, Coleridge, Newcastle and Wynot public school districts
  • Larry Ramaekers, superintendent of Aurora Public Schools

On a purely gut level, I’m leaning toward Virginal Moon.  But I’m not sure that her resistance to Omaha public schools taking over smaller school districts as Omaha expands necessarily speaks to her broader educational or governing philosophy.

I doubt any of the candidates will be quite what I would like them to be.  Maybe I’m unfairly biased, but the finalists were chosen by the State Board of Education.

Actually, I think Ramaekers will probably get the position.  He sounds like a Commissioner of Education.

And like Meyer [the President of the State Board of Education], he also said the new education commissioner must work to rebuild relationships with members of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

“I think that in the past, the Department of Education has not been as active of a player in that as maybe it should be,” Ramaekers said of assessment and state aid. “I want to make sure the Department of Education is at the table.”  Grand Island Independent

Someone to “heal” the “damage” done by Christensen.  At least that is how I read it.  Someone who isn’t quite so much a leader, but is ready to let that whole “standardized-tests-are-not-legitimate-measures” thing go.

Once that is out of the way, they’ll have a little more time to turn their attention to those homeschoolers.  After all, how do we really know what they are learning if they don’t take The Test?