Last week, I wrote about why I object to the Choices in Education Act as it is currently written. Commenter Katie asked,
“Would homeschoolers be required to use the vouchers? Or could they just opt out altogether and not accept any money whatsoever to offset their costs of education . . . ?”
It’s a good question. Why not just reject the money?
First, the law requires a reporting sytem that does not currently exist. Eleven states do not require any reporting at all. Homeschoolers who have worked to maintain their freedom from any state control will have this taken away in one stroke. The relationships they have built with their state legislatures and with their state homeschooling groups will not matter. Their state education agencies’ hands will be tied by federal law.
And no state currently has to report information to the federal government about homeschoolers. The US Department of Education is hungry for data on students. The system they are putting in place is wide reaching, including the basic demographic information you would expect on any government form as well as things like political affiliation, problems at home and affective and behavioral components that may be gathered by teachers or directly through the sensors in computer-based learning programs.
While this certainly would not immediately affect homeschoolers whether or not they took the voucher money, it is the kind of information the DOE wants on every student in America. Every step the federal government takes into our homeschools will inevitably lead toward including our data into their data mining schemes as well.
Second, what will be done with this data? Why does the government even need it? The information currently being collected is being analyzed to develop a predictive model of which students will and will not succeed in an educational setting.
“One goal is to provide consumers with user-friendly information that will help them select education and employment programs that best suit their needs. Another key goal–and the focus of this brief–is to make available timely information that can be used to help program providers and education and workforce systems overall improve their performance.” ~Using Data to Promote Continuous Improvement of Workforce Programs (p. 1)
Meaning this data will be shared with schools, government and private employers. It will shape education goals and potentially be used to “track” students according to their tested ability toward different fields, possibly determining at a young age whether or not a student will be put on a course of study that includes college or immediate placement in the workplace. America is supposed to be the land of opportunity and education is one of the keys to that opportunity. Now we may be closing doors to students based on data collected through their school years, giving them few, if any, second chances. I am envisioning an America where we no longer ask children what they want to be when they grow up but instead ask them what their testing says they are going to be.
Does not taking the money protect us from this? Possibly. At least in the short term. But this law puts the system in place for reporting data on homeschoolers to the federal government. And their desire for information is almost limitless.
Third, we already have a strong push toward a federalized education system, with national standards and a national curriculum. We already have a system moving toward computer based learning, with tools to measure the affective domain and which includes behavioral and psychological measures as part of the standards. This push toward national standards has already affected private schools, thanks to the pressure from state governments and the funding structures already in place, never mind the potential of vouchers bringing even more money into the current system. Families are already feeling the need to leave even private, religious institutions in favor of homeschooling in order to escape the Common Core mandates they feel are distracting to the spiritual, emotional and academic growth of their children due to the undo focus on testing and performance.
The current administration may or may not view vouchers as a “back door” approach to bringing homeschoolers in line with national standards. But whatever policies are put into place now will be used (and abused) by future administrations to further direct education from the federal level. A significant number of homeschoolers likely will be drawn into the system, weakening our current organizations. But once the system is set up with a national exit exam as the only gateway to college and career, that test will affect teaching in every learning environment whether or not we directly signed on for it or not.
Finally, education should be a state issue. Period. Federal money should not be used, whether given to the states or directly to the parents, to influence the behavior of state agencies or parents. Even in the form of “choice,” it is simply outside the role of our federal government to force these programs on the states. Local school boards and state legislatures are more aware of the needs of their communities and more responsive to parental demands than the federal government. And it is the parent, not the state, that has the right to direct the education of their minor children.
If the sole purpose of this law were to give parents more resources to direct their child’s education, why not simply expand the Child Tax Credit? Or simply lower taxes? Let parents decide if their child is in greater need of a new school or new shoes or a family vacation. Because an increase in income in any good family will ultimately benefit the children in some way.
The argument that “it’s my money” does have some sway. But the natural conclusion is that the government shouldn’t be taking it in the first place.