Should states regulate homeschoolers more closely? Would that help prevent rare instances of neglect—or establish a dangerous precedent of government interference?
An article in the Sept. 6 issue of WORLD explores the question of abuse among homeschooling families. Although available evidence suggests abuse and neglect are less common than average among homeschoolers, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education has proposed tightening homeschool laws.
Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman, two former homeschool students, founded CRHE in December. Together with Rachel Lazerus, a CHRE staff member, they wrote a set of homeschool policy recommendations for lawmakers, intended to “protect homeschooled children and youth from falling through the cracks if their parents or guardians are unable or unwilling to responsibly educate them.”
“I’m not against homeschooling,” Doney told me. “I think it’s a legitimate education option. I just think it needs to be used responsibly, and there need to be protections there if it’s not used responsibly.”
Darren Jones, a staff attorney at the Home School Legal Defense Association, said his organization believes “the best way to encourage and support families that homeschool is to just let them homeschool without significant government regulation.”
Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, said no studies have shown improved homeschool test scores in states with more regulation. Although he knows of no research documenting the abuse rate among homeschoolers, he questions whether increasing regulation would significantly decrease abuse cases: “The ugly, horrible truth is people—parents or friends or neighbors—who want to do evil things to children find out ways to do it.” Public and private school students are just as vulnerable.
WORLD favors reasonable laws allowing government to fulfill its legitimate role of punishing the evildoer in cases of criminal mistreatment (Romans 13:1-4). But we recognize the danger of laws that may give government employees a foot in the door to dictate educational or childrearing standards in the home, usurping parental authority at a time when Christian values are increasingly unpopular.
With those principles in mind, we asked Jones to respond on behalf of the HSLDA to the policy recommendations proposed by CRHE. Below is a point-by-point comparison of the two organizations’ policies on several select issues. For more policy details, see the websites of the HSLDA and the CRHE.
Coalition for Responsible Home Education: “We recommend requiring parents to provide annual notification of their intent to homeschool. This notice should include at a minimum children’s names, ages, and grade levels, as well as the names of the parents and family’s address.”
Home School Legal Defense Association: “HSLDA is pro-homeschool freedom; we believe that parents as the natural God-given teachers should be allowed to homeschool their children. Most states already require notification, but many don’t, and HSLDA advocates to keep it that way.”
CRHE: “We recommend that the parent providing primary instruction be required to have at least a high school diploma or GED.”
HSLDA: “Most parents in the United States have a high school diploma (85 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau). HSLDA has yet to see research indicating that children of homeschool parents who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent score lower on standardized tests than children of graduates. In fact, the only research of which we are aware shows that they score similarly.”
CRHE: “We recommend requiring parents to provide instruction (or facilitate learning) in the same range of subjects (e.g. English, math, science, history, etc.) taught in public schools in the state in which they live. Parents should not be required to use the same textbooks or methods as public schools. Because homeschooling allows for positive flexibility and child-led learning, we oppose requiring students to be at grade level in each subject.”
HSLDA: “[We recommend the] same ‘range’ of subjects, yes, but not exactly what is taught in public school. HSLDA has consistently opposed the state setting what must be taught in each subject. But CRHE’s proposal is already the case is almost every state—even in states like New Jersey or Texas that don’t require notification, there’s almost always a list of subjects that must be taught, or a requirement that ‘equivalent’ instruction has to be given.”
CRHE: “Parents should be required to maintain academic records for each child they homeschool. Parents should be required to submit copies of each child’s birth certificate, immunization records, and annual assessment to be kept on file by either the local school district or state department of education or, when applicable, an umbrella school.”
HSLDA: “We have always recommended to our members that they keep good academic records for their own legal protection, no matter what state they live in. We would strongly oppose requiring parents to submit sensitive information such as birth certificates and immunization records to the government.”
CRHE: “Students’ academic progress should be evaluated and reported annually. Parents should be allowed to choose between a number of different assessment mechanisms, including standardized tests and portfolio reviews. Failure to make adequate academic progress should result in intervention.”
HSLDA: “We oppose submission of annual evaluations for homeschool students, as do a majority of states in the United States. However, for states that do require assessments, we agree with CRHE that the assessments should ‘take into account the flexible and innovative nature of homeschooling,’ and we agree that parents should have a choice of options.”
Protections for at-risk children
CRHE: “We recommend barring from homeschooling parents convicted of child abuse, sexual offenses, or other crimes that would disqualify them from employment as a school teacher. We also recommend creating a process for flagging at-risk children, such as those in families with a troubling history of child protective services involvement, for intervention or additional monitoring. Finally, we recommend that the annual assessment requirement be conducted by mandatory reporters such as certified teachers; these individuals should be trained in how to recognize signs of abuse and how to report suspicions of maltreatment.”
HSLDA: “We oppose this blanket sledgehammer approach in favor of a more individualized response. As an example, I worked with a family a few years ago where the mother had been convicted of child abuse. The juvenile court had the child attend public school for a year, then allowed the mother to begin homeschooling under court supervision for two more years. When it was obvious that the previous issues had been dealt with, the court closed the case.”
Public school services
CRHE: “We recommend allowing homeschooled students to enroll part time in their local public schools and to participate in extracurriculars, including sports. Public schools should have cooperative policies for awarding credit and assisting with the transition for homeschooled students who want to transfer in.”
HSLDA: “Traditionally, HSLDA has been neutral on this issue. We have members who are passionately in favor of more access and members who are completely opposed. However, if a state does allow access, we will advocate on behalf of our members if they are discriminated against.”
CRHE: “Public school districts should receive funds for services provided to homeschooled students. State funding should be made available to fund oversight of homeschooling.”
HSLDA: “We would be in favor of public school districts receiving funds for services provided to homeschool students. We would be opposed to school districts getting extra funding just to further regulate homeschooling.”