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California court gives home schoolers a beating

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Wide White: California court gives home schoolers a beating

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

California court gives home schoolers a beating

This should infuriate you.
Home-schoolers reel from California court blow

Oakland, Calif. - A court ruling that California parents "do not have a constitutional right" to home-school their children has touched off anger and bewilderment throughout America's home-schooling community and prompted a denunciation from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

For a movement that has gained greater accommodation in recent years, a state appellate court decision last month is a setback that, if not overturned on appeal, could force some 166,000 home-schooled students in California to enroll in conventional schools. It may also prod California and other states with vague or nonexistent laws on home schooling to be more specific about what is allowed and what is required of home-schoolers.

California's education statutes, for instance, do not mention "home schooling," but officials have allowed the practice for decades. The appellate court, however, found that the state's laws have not been changed to allow home schooling since a case back in 1953 erected a major roadblock to the practice.

Governor Schwarzenegger said Friday he would go to the legislature if the ruling is not overturned.

"I could see this [ruling] being a real strong impetus for home-schoolers in California to get the legislature to change their laws.... Or I could see it being perhaps the beginning of other states wanting to look more closely both at their laws and current enforcement," says Kimberly Yuracko, a professor at Northwestern University's Law School in Chicago.

The number of students nationwide who are home-schooled is not known because 10 states are so hands-off they require no reporting at all, nor do parents always comply with reporting requirements. Estimates range from 1.1 million to 2.5 million home-schooled students, and the numbers are rising.

About half the states require more than simple notification from parents or guardians, such as testing, curriculum approval, or home visits. But such rules are dwindling – either explicitly or by lax enforcement, say experts. Home-school advocates worry the California case could bring more regulation or enforcement, or both.

"The overwhelming trend [among states] has been, home schooling works, OK, we'll release the reins a little bit," says Darren Jones, an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). "California is a bellwether. Other states might look at this [case] and say this is something we might want to consider."

The case grew out of a home-schooled child's complaint of physical and emotional mistreatment by a parent. A lower court refused to remove the child to a school outside the home, arguing that parents had a right to home-school. The three appellate judges rejected this reasoning unanimously.

California law stipulates two main exemptions to compulsory public school: enrollment in a full-time private school or instruction from a credentialed tutor. Some home-schoolers enroll their children in independent study programs at private or public charter schools that allow students to work mostly from home. Officials have also allowed parents to declare their home a private school, a process requiring once-a-year filing of a short form.

In this case, the parents had enrolled their children in a private school under an arrangement that kept the kids at home except to take year-end tests. School officials said they visited the home about four times a year.

Writing for the appellate court, Justice H. Walter Croskey derided this arrangement as a "ruse" and also rejected the notion of home private schools by citing a 1953 California case.

"That case is older than dirt," says J. Michael Smith, head of the HSLDA. Subsequent California laws have tacitly acknowledged home private schools, as do 11 other states – three of which have fended off legal challenges on the issue, he says.

The bottom line for him is that California has no laws specifically mentioning home schooling and has in practice treated it as a form of private schooling.

"If you are not prohibited from doing something and you can fit it within a statute, that makes you a legal operator. We've operated this way for 20 some odd years," says Mr. Smith.

Many lawmakers – and home-schooling advocates – would prefer to keep home schooling out of the education code.

"If this goes to the [state] supreme court and it upholds it, this opens up this big Pandora's box. The state is going to have to define family rights, and to define to what extent [lawmakers] have to regulate," says Luis Huerta, a professor at the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University in New York.

The prospect of Sacramento sorting out family rights won't warm many homeschoolers' hearts.

"Many of those people believe – usually based on a philosophical worldview, and often Christian – that the state has no authority over their children's education and upbringing," says Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a nonprofit group in Oregon.

Already, California home-schoolers are suggesting resistance would be widespread to any sort of enforcement by local school districts.

"We'd have to open Alcatraz [state prision] to hold all of us," says Loren Mavromati, a homeschooler and spokesperson for the California Homeschool Network. "Even if we all rolled over and complied and enrolled in public schools – how? They are laying off teachers during this budget crisis left and right."

As the movement has grown, its autonomy has become worrisome to some. Concerns center mostly on the need for state accountability in ensuring that children are educated to a certain standard. But, as in the California case, the potential for child abuse is also becoming an issue.

In a January report on a mother's murder of her four children in the District of Columbia, The New York Times framed the case around the isolation of homeschooled kids and the limited opportunity for checking on their well-being. Cases in New Jersey and North Carolina have produced similar coverage.

"If I were a state legislator, I would be worried about having legislation overseeing home schooling that is not being enforced at all, and the potential for bad child-abuse cases happening and the state being sued for, in part, not taking care of its obligations," says Ms. Yuracko.

Lawmakers in California and elsewhere are already tightening oversight of charter school arrangements with home-schoolers. In some states, charters have sprung up to service only home-schoolers, offering parents a free computer, DSL hookup, or textbooks. The schools can then collect public per-pupil funding while paying little for instruction or oversight.

California has enacted reforms to limit the per-pupil funding to up to 60 percent for some nonclassroom-based setups. The reforms have stopped the profiteering, says a spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association.

Not everyone agrees. "Even at 60 percent, it's still a cash cow for districts. You literally get a warehouse, put five or 10 teachers in there, and enroll 1,000 students. Do the math," says Dr. Huerta.
My dad sent this story to me a few days ago and I neglected to post it then. I came across it again today and had to share it.

I home schooled and may do the same with my kids. If I do and my state decides to play hardball, I'm willing to move to another state. This is about a LOT more than where our kids go to school. It's about the government's role in our families' lives.

California judges are overstepping their bounds. Let's just hope the state legislature goes to bat to defend parents' rights.


Blogger Keithslady declared,

It is highly unlikely that "the state legislature [will go] to bat to defend parents' rights". Parents will have to work in unison to ensure that their rights are protected. You can bet we're watching this closely, and are thanking God that the parents of WPA have worked so effectively to protect our rights in WI.

3/11/2008 10:42 PM  
Blogger Keelie declared,

Parents rights? Do parents have the right to abuse their children?!
I don't think it's right that they ban the whole thing - but I do think there need to be standards enforced! You and I may have home schooled properly, but there are parents out there who keep their kids home for illegitimate reasons and don't educate them properly, if at all. Wisconsin has some standards; Michigan has none.

3/12/2008 5:04 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Yes, parents' rights. Of course parents don't have the right to abuse their kids, but this court ruling goes WAY beyond abuse. It mandates that every parent who teaches their kid be certified by the state. I was an education major for 2 1/2 years and can tell you that it's a TON of work to get certified and requires a 4-year degree in education as well as ongoing education to maintain that certification. It's asinine to assume that home schooling parents should do this.

I don't know what the parents in this court case did that may or may not have amounted to abuse, and it's possible there was wrongdoing in that sense. However, this ruling goes way, way beyond that. It's not the state's job to enforce its "standards." That is the parent's job. I have no desire to live in a socialist state that tells me what I must teach and how I must teach it and what credentials I must have to teach it.

3/12/2008 6:37 PM  
Blogger Keelie declared,

So if you sent your child to public school, you wouldn't care whether or not the teacher had gone to school and done ALL the work required to become a certified teacher as well as ALL the work required to keep up that certification? Not every parent out there homeschooling is your mom. I don't feel like I have the necessary credentials to teach my children properly.

3/13/2008 9:18 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

I have a feeling we're going to have to agree to disagree, but I think your question deserves a response :)

No, I wouldn't care about the teacher's credentials. I know that runs against the grain, but I don't put much faith in government-established standards. In my opinion based on my experiences in the education program in Wisconsin, teacher education and certification is often more about passing tests and completing steps than it is about being a good teacher. No, it's not all about that and yes, I'm a little jaded. But the fact is there are many, many kids in our public school system who are failing. Credentials aren't helping them.

Do I think every kid should home school? Absolutely not! Do I think every parent is capable of home schooling? ABSOLUTELY NOT!! I'm not trying to apply a universal rule to everyone. But that's just the point. California judges are saying that a universal rule must be applied to everyone - that every home schooling parent should go through the same credentials that public school teachers go through. Never mind that the government has decided that a secular view of a whole host of issues is what must be taught and never mind that many parents - right or wrong - are morally opposed to that.

I don't think the government can or should ever be our moral compass and I don't believe it's their job to ensure that my kids are meeting standards that they've created.

If you still have any thoughts on it, please share them! I like the discussion :)

(Oh, and as far as your comment about not feeling like you have the credentials to teach your children properly, I think Jamie often feels the same way, which is why we aren't committed to one or the other. We're going to have kids and if she feels like she can and should do it, we will, but if not, we won't. I still maintain, though, that it's not the government's job to decide whether or not Jamie is qualified to teach our kids.)

3/13/2008 9:58 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Ouch, I just realized how long that response was...sorry, I should have edited it first!

3/13/2008 9:58 AM  
Blogger Keithslady declared,

First of all, child abuse is never a right for a parent, or anyone. Children are protected by law from abuse and all states have a comprehensive system for addressing abuse. However, education is a separate issue so the two should not be lumped together. (I was an abused child who was not homeschooled and I had friends sexually abused by our sixth grade public school teacher. Both were abuse issues, not educational issues. Very different.) The right I refer to is the right to educate your child as you see fit.

As far as regulating homeschooling goes, there are myriads of factual studies that prove that homeschooling works, unrestricted. When the WI DPI did their own study about 12 years ago (to pave the way to increased legislation) the results were so incredibly supportive of homeschooling and the students so obviously advanced compared to their public schooled peers that the DPI quietly filed the research and tried to keep it quiet. Hense, no additional legislative mandates. Overwhelmingly, the parents who choose to homeschool do so to their own disadvantage, it's difficult, time consuming, and expensive. There's little concern that sloppy, lazy non-educators are going to jump on that band wagon. Schools are actually making that option more tempting, though, as they offer virtual charter schools that pay parents thousands of dollars for materials (including computers, music lessons, etc) to enroll their kids--a HUGE mistake that only asks for trouble, I think.

Secondly, and I believe most importantly, we live in a free country. Up to now, education, while mandatory, is not restricted to certain principles and perspectives. States, local governements, and yes-parents- are FREE to choose how to educate their children. The law simply requires that free education be available and that all children be educated. What is taught, and how it is taught, still falls in the realm of freedom.

If you have goals for your child that you cannot meet yourself, then you have the right to choose the best option for him. The state does not have the right to make that choice for you. In the long run, your child also has the choice to pursue their own avenue of education when they reach adulthood. That would fall under "the pursuit of happiness".

The ability to homeschool successfully is not directly related to a parent's abilities. I know highly successful adults who are dismal home educators and one of the most successful families I know of (two of their children received full college scholarships at ages 16 and 17) had relatively nonacademic parents with only a high school degree.

Finally, many people homeschool because there are things they feel are more important than pure academics that they wish to instill in their children. In California, if you are bound by their credentials you are also bound to teach that homosexual unions are no different than heterosexual unions and that is just one instance of where many parents are wanting to get AWAY from mandated "credentials".

Mandated government educational standards reminds me of the position this nation took on educating native Americans, taking them from their homes and families so that they would be educated "according to the appopriate standards". The same happened to the Aboriginals in Australia. Those parents had the right to educate their children according to tribal custom, just as parents today have the right to educate their children according to their own customs. Government does not have the authority to determine which custom, culture, or curriculum is required.

3/13/2008 12:09 PM  
Blogger Keithslady declared,

Another thought--if the issue were the abuse, how would certifaction prevent it?

3/13/2008 1:13 PM  
Blogger Keelie declared,

I've only read Joey's comment - time is short:). But you've made some valid points.
Just today at lunch, my coworkers were talking about how much the government interferes with our personal lives. I agree.
And you're right. Tons of kids are failing regardless of a teacher's credentials. I won't even get into why they might be failing.
Not everyone home schools for valid reasons though, and it just seems there should be some kind of check in system, to avoid such cases as abuse, that might otherwise be caught in school.

3/17/2008 4:25 PM  

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