Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why I'm Now A Fan of Homeschool Oversight


Homeschool Oversight:

I used to be against it. 

And now I live in a state that doesn't have any, and I'm kinda for it. I sorta find it a bit disconcerting that no one knows or cares that we are homeschooling. Obviously we are still educating our kids and doing all the same things we were doing when we lived in a higher regulation state, but it feels a bit "off" that we can just NOT send our kids to school and no one really cares. 

Why I Changed My Mind?

I pretty much used to be to be against it just because all the older, more experienced homeschoolers I knew were against it. Everyone was all don't give them (the school department) any more information than necessary, only provide the bare minimum required by law and NOTHING MORE. We were sternly warned against the dangers of providing too much information, that our homeschooling rights would slowly be taken away and the state would start demanding more and more.  

I also used to naively think that all parents had the best interest of their kids in mind. I used to think that because all the homeschoolers I knew were good parents and worked hard to make sure the needs of their kids were met that all homeschooling parents did that.  I used to naively think that those homeschoolers who super, super, super shelter/isolate their kids were just a myth.  I thought that because I didn't know anyone otherwise. 

Until one day it occurred to me that I obviously wouldn't know any homeschoolers who super, super, super shelter/isolate their kids, because those people would probably want to shelter their kids from me.  

It occurred to me that I probably don't know kids who are educationally neglected because those kids probably aren't taken on field trips and to to homeschool group activities and classes and all the other places where you meet other homeschoolers.  

The sad fact is some parents do use homeschooling to cover up abuse or neglect. Sadly there are families out there who think girls don't need any education other than what it takes to be a wife and mother. And, even more sadly, this is probably way more common than we would like to think.

And there are parents out there who just aren't equipped to provide their children with the education they deserve.  Maybe they themselves have learning disabilities or didn't graduate from high school or don't have the resources or other ability to make sure their children get the social and educational opportunities they need.  

Or maybe their child(ren) have undiagnosed learning disabilities and aren't getting the help they need. Not to say that kids with learning disabilities or special needs can't be homeschooled.  In fact, that might be the best thing for them. However, having students yearly evaluated by a teacher may help parents identify when further testing or help may be needed.

The more years I spend homeschooling and the longer I do it, the more I realize what a HUGE responsibility it is. HUGE.  After all in school, a student has a different teacher every year.  So, if Mrs. Smith isn't the best math teacher and can't explain math...well next year they may get Mrs. Jones who is a fabulous math teacher.  And, if Mrs. Smith doesn't pick up that maybe little Timmy has dyslexia...well Mrs. Jones may pick up on it next year.

But, if I'm homeschooling it's all up to me. It's up to me to teach my kids what they need to learn, or find someone else to teach them. It's up to me to recognize any potential learning issues and takes steps to help them. It's up to me to provide my kids with social opportunities and sports opportunities and art and music opportunities. 

And, all of that can certainly be done while homeschooling...and done very well.  But that doesn't mean everyone is doing it, just like not every school teacher does their job well, but the difference with a school teacher is that you get a different one every year.

In homeschooling circles you tend to hear about the success stories, while homeschool failures are hidden.  You can easily find studies showing that homeschooled studies do as good as or better than public schooled students in things such as standardized tests or the PSAT or SAT or ACT.  But, what is hidden is that not all homeschoolers take standardized tests.  And not all homeschoolers take the PSAT and SAT or ACT and not all homeschoolers are encouraged or allowed to attend college or other higher education. Therefore the results can be a bit biased in favor of homeschooling in that the sample is somewhat self-selected in favor of success. 

Ultimately what I think it comes down to, is that if homeschooling is done WELL, it can be an AWESOME experience, but if it is done poorly or neglectfully, it can be devastating for children.  

Why Oversight Should be Provided by Local or State Educational Officials.

The state has a vested interest in making sure its citizens are educated.  That is a GOOD thing. All children deserve an education (as much as resources allow).  And hopefully the better children are educated, the less likely they are to end up being a drain on society.  Obviously this is not fool-proof. 

Oversight needs to happen in COOPERATION with local homeschool organizations and local education authorities. That is CRUCIAL.  The authorities NEED to respect a parent's right to homeschool But, homeschoolers also need to be open to some oversight and realize that is is okay (maybe even good) that the state has a vested interested in ensuring that their children get a proper education.

What type of oversight am I talking about?


Not a lot, mind you.  Basically nothing more than what any responsible homeschooling parent would do anyway.

I generally think oversight should consist of. 

-Reporting to the local school district
-A yearly evaluation process with option to choose between standardized testing or an evaluation from a certified teacher.
-Yearly health physicals and screenings (vision screening, hearing screening, etc.) performed by the family's regular doctor..whether that is an M.D, a D.O, a homeopath, whatever.  But some sort of medical professional. 

Any evaluation process MUST respect various educational philosophies and recognize that learning looks different in different families.  The point is to ensure that learning (of all major subjects) IS taking place...not to say that a certain learning method or educational curriculum MUST be used. Various educational philosophies NEED to be respected.

Benefits of Oversight:

I think some homeschool oversight can help parents identify if there are any issues or difficulties their child may have that need to be addressed.

And, even on a more basic level, testing requirements ensure that a child KNOWS how to take a standardized test. 

Homeschooling is WONDERFUL, but there can be some deficiencies if a parent isn't careful.  As a homeschooling parent, I always keep my eye out towards any homeschool criticism.  Two that have come up (and seem legitimate concerns) are 

1) homeschooled kids may not know how to take a standardized test...how to fill in the bubbles, how to watch their time, etc.  This is important when they are taking the PSAT or SAT.
2) homeschooled kids entering college for the first time may not be good with deadlines and may tend to see them as being more "guidelines" 

Knowing these things is important, so I can take steps to make sure my kids DO know how to take a standardized test and DO know how to follow deadlines.

And this is where I think testing and evaluations can come in.  Ideally an evaluator would talk to a parent about all these things. 

The reason for the yearly physical screening is to help identify vision or other problems.  When I was in school I remember having yearly vision testing and in middle school, scoliosis screenings done.  All those things should be done at a yearly check-up, just to make sure nothing is missed. 

And, in the sad case of children that are abused or neglected, having contact with a mandated reporter, may help them.   


Parental Qualifications:

In doing research on this, I've also come across the idea of parenting qualification.  The first time I came across this was when I homeschooled in Virgina. Virginia requires that parents prove a high school diploma/G.E.D or higher to homeschool.  I think this is a good thing.  And, in further research, I have learned that the state of Pennsylvania prohibits parents who would not pass a criminal background check to work in a school from homeschooling.  Generally I think this is a good rule, although I'm not sure how it could be enforced.

The Bottom Line: Homeschooling can be a wonderful, wonderful experience. And many children thrive in the homeschooled environment.  But, it is also a huge responsibility and a huge amount of work.  I think it only makes sense to have some sort of requirements or oversight in place, to help parents AND children and help insure that every one's needs are being met. I think that is in the best interest of parents, children and society as a whole. Just as it is wrong and incorrect to say that homeschoolers can't be socialized or get a good education, it is just as wrong and incorrect to say that homeschooling is always a wonderful, positive experience where everything is all rainbows and unicorns all the time.

what do you think about homeschool oversight?  What are the requirements in your state?  Do you agree with them. 

Disclaimer: This post was NOT inspired by anyone I know. All the homeschoolers I know, I generally DO think are doing a wonderful job. 

Note: I really like this website. The Coalition for Responsible Homeschooling. Interestingly enough, it is written and the movement is pioneered by homeschool alumni, which I find very telling.  I think it offers a very balanced view.  It is definitely not anti-homeschooling, but it is also not all "rah, rah, homeschooling is the best.thing.ever" I think it offers a realistic view of some of the challenges and difficulties involved in homeschooling along with the benefits.  

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8 comments:

  1. This is interesting and I agree with you. In NC, we have to register with the state and prove the teachers are high school graduates. We also have to administer a standardized test every year starting at age 7. But that's pretty much it. Both of my kids are in speech therapy with the school system and I do totally see how something like that could easily slip through the cracks. And when I worked as a prek teacher during college, we occasionally had a new student who was clearly developmentally delayed and the parents had no idea because they spent so little time around other children who were "normal.". But in general, I think homeschooling is great for all types of children and maybe even especially for the kids who are not "normal." I get that some homeschooling parents are probably abusive/neglectful but my last year teaching a full quarter of my class had been physically (mostly sexually) abused, and none of those parents would've gone to the trouble of registering a homeschool with the state or had high school diplomas to fax in.. I also doubt that they would even know where to find the information. So yes, a little oversight (even just paperwork) definitely does weed out some people.

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    1. That's so sad about your class having so much abuse in it...but I guess that is pretty much the general statistic.

      And, I definitely agree that homeschooling can be great for kids with special needs. My oldest was homeschooled but got speech and OT throught he school for grades PK-1. It defintiely was a bit help to her and I still credit the OT as being the reason that out of all my kids, she has the best handwriting (because she had an OT working with her 1:1 for so many years). My younger kids don't have great handwriting (neither do I, mine is atrocious) I think partly because I never put the effort into teaching them.

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  2. While I think it's true that the state has a right to ensure that children are educated, the reason veteran homeschoolers oppose oversight by local schools is that that is a system that could so easily be abused. I think that abuse is much more likely than the parent who keeps their child from all social interaction. You would give one teacher the authority to say whether or not a homeschool is legit? What would be the appeals process?

    I also don't think it's accurate to say that if there's no oversight, "nobody cares" what you do. In TX we have no oversight but there are laws homeschoolers have to follow, such as using a bona fide curriculum and teaching 5 core subjects.

    The state doesn't check in on parents to make sure they are not abusing their children; they rely on family and neighbors to report signs of neglect. I think the state can rely on the same for parents following educational laws.

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    1. Actually, I think the state generally relies on contact with mandated reporters (teachers and doctors, mostly) to report signs of abuse/neglect. So, I think the concern is that if homeschooled children are so isolated that they never have any contact with a mandated reporter the abuse or neglect can do undetected.

      I agree that the system could be abused, which is why I think there needs to be state laws and quidelines and it's not just up to one individual in the school department. For example, in the states with her regulation that I've homeschooled in (VA and FL) you had to notify the school dept and send in a yearly evalatuation (done by a certified teacher) or test scores (showing the child didn't score lower than x percentage (something like 15% or lower) on more than so many areas (I can't remember exactly what it was). If the child didn't show progress or did score too low then the were given a year to show progress bring up the scores or something before anyone intervened. It really was rather fair. And finding a teacher to do the evaluation was easy. Most evaluators were homeschooled parents who had kept their certfication up to date so they could do evaluations as a side business. So, it wasn't a big deal and I did find it helpful.

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  3. I wonder if you'll find at doctor's appointments that they actually look for red flags for both abuse and for your child's progress. Michigan has no rules whatsoever, but they absolutely grill Sadie at her doctor's appointments on everything we're doing in school and grill me on why we're homeschooling (when I point out that the schools around us are in the lowest fifth percentile in the state and have a fifty percent drop out rate they seem satisfied). And they sent her for additional testing which included math and reading tests... so while some states have technically no oversight, you might find atyearly physicals that they do manage to slip in wellness checks both on what they're learning and for red flags of abuse.

    Oddly enough even though there is no oversight here, I still keep records of just about everything we do "just in case" (of what I'm not sure, but I tend to be paranoid about proving that we're really doing everything we should be doing!).

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    1. Wow, I don't think I've ever had any doctor grill us on homeschooling and certainly my kids have never been sent for any reading evaulations or anything like that. And, we've moved a few times, so since beginning homeschooling with my oldest, we've had 4 different pediatricians and no one has ever said anything other than "ok" when I said we homeschool. Maybe they might have asked the kids what their favorite subject is, but it certainly wasn't "grilling:, more like just small talk. Granted, I tend to seek out doctors that have a reputation for being more friendly towards "alternative practices" so maybe that was it (ie. in Fl we had a homebirth so I asked around and found a pediatrician that was okay with homebirth).

      I mean I think all doctors look for unusual bruises or other "red flags" but I've never had anyone really ask us much about homeschooling.

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  4. Good points. I've seen at least two cases of severe educational neglect of kids who are "homeschooled." But then there are plenty of cases of kids who go through public school and barely learn how to write.

    I was homeschooled K-12. My mom took a very anti-regulation standpoint, although she cooperated with the bare minimum. But then she was one of the super-competent moms and we all got great educations. . . . I think the anti-regulation mindset is a holdover from when some states absolutely forbade homeschooling completely. The old guard homeschoolers got used to having their backs up against a wall and always being on the defensive.

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    1. I didn't know you were homeschooled K-12. That's neat. I think it's so interesting now that the first generation of homeschoolers is reaching adulthood, so we can really see how those kids do.

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