GRAVES: Home school works well for some studentsRequirements for parents to home school their children are very minimal, the ability of school boards to revoke permission to home school are very limited, and the quality of home school instruction and resulting student achievement are essentially unknown and even unknowable.
By: Joe Graves, Mitchell Superintendent
A week ago last Sunday, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader (I’d call it “the newspaper which must not be named” but fear a lawsuit from J.K. Rowling) did a front-page expose on home schooling in South Dakota. It even featured the mildly sensationalist sub-heading “Leave-us-alone attitude, lax laws hinder attempts at oversight in S.D.”
The article reviewed several facts: requirements for parents to home school their children are very minimal, the ability of school boards to revoke permission to home school are very limited, and the quality of home school instruction and resulting student achievement are essentially unknown and even unknowable. From these facts, the article reaches the implicit but unmistakable conclusion that the South Dakota educational establishment is running far from a tight ship when it comes to home schooling and something must be done. One can almost hear Professor Harold Hill begin the thrumming background chorus, “Trouble, trouble, trouble, right here in South Dakota.”
Interestingly, I agree with the three facts provided above but reach a very different conclusion. It is true that any parent may choose to home school in South Dakota. All they need do is complete a simple form and return it to their local public school annually. It is true that it is all but impossible for schools to revoke home schooling permission because we lack the authority and the funds to investigate allegations of inadequate schooling of children even should concerns be communicated to schools which they almost never are. Schools know that initiating such investigations are fraught with perils including a virtual inability to investigate, standardized assessments (which test student progress) proctored by no one from the school, and the Home School Legal Defense Fund ready to defend its practitioners with zeal greater than the NRA defends gun rights. And it is true that we really don’t know how well home-schooled students are achieving. Yes, they take a standardized test but it includes virtually no test security and so it is impossible to say whether that really reflects the academic success of the students.
Truthfully, what this suggests is not a system in need of fixing but, rather, a system which has it about right.
Education is increasingly (and the difference since the 1960s is really quite dramatic) becoming a competitive marketplace. When I was in elementary school, two options existed: public school and private school. And private schools only existed because private school advocates had defended parental rights to send children to private schools in the courts in the 1920s.
Today, parents can have their children attend the public school in the district in which they live, public school in a district in which they don’t live through open enrollment, private school (accredited or non-accredited), home school, or the various burgeoning “virtual” schools. As I happen to believe that competition is largely a good thing in any field of endeavor and that monopoly leads to high prices and poor performance, I applaud that fact.
Just what would happen if one type of school begins to have regulatory or enforcement power over other types of schools? How well do you suppose it would work if Ford had the authority to enforce regulations on Chrysler?
Even if they could do so in an unbiased and fair manner (which is presuming a great deal, frankly), wouldn’t such enforcement have the net effect of making all schools in the marketplace increasingly alike? Does it really make sense to have a “competitive” marketplace in which all the products are as similar as possible?
The critics will claim, and the point is made in the AL article, that without regulation some students will get a substandard education, that some parents will collude with their misguided progeny to use home school provisions as a way to escape truancy laws, and that some parents frankly aren’t capable or sufficiently diligent to provide their children with a good education at home. All of this is true.
In a free society, we sometimes make decisions which serve us poorly and we and our children bear the brunt of our poor decisions. Yet the net effect of educational competition serves children well, just not in every case. So some educators point to those particular children served poorly by home schools and use their example as a reason to regulate or destroy this competition. In doing so, however, they set up a straw man, suggesting that regulation or replacement of home schooling will put all children back in public schools or accredited private schools where all will be served well.
Unfortunately, that straw man has no clothes (to ineptly mix a metaphor) for these schools fall short of perfect results themselves, an admission even the most vitriolic proponent of accredited schools must concede.
The truth is that home-schooling works well for some students while providing healthy competition for public, private, and virtual schools.
Providing public schools with the authority to encroach on parental decisions about their children’s education will not only fail to enhance the achievement of the average home schooled child, it undermines both the spirit of healthy competition in education and, to me at least, a self-evident freedom of parents.