by Ian Slatter
Director of Media Relations
Only 15 credits away from completing his associate's degree, homeschool graduate Paul Owens, 21, was blindsided by Monroe Community College's decision to revoke his admission to its marketing degree program. MCC's action was based on a directive from New York State Commissioner of Education Richard Mills, which changed longstanding policy and affects any homeschool graduate who seeks admission to New York state colleges. Home School Legal Defense Association has filed suit on behalf of Owens, whose parents have been HSLDA members for more than 10 years.
|SEEKING FAIR TREATMENT: Homeschool graduate Paul Owens was shocked to learn that Monroe Community College had disenrolled him 15 credits shy of graduation.|
Paul grew up in the suburbs of Rochester, New York, where his parents, Glenn and Patti, and siblings, Stephen, 19, and Lydia, 11, still reside. Patti is co-chair of the Northgate chapter of Loving Education at Home (LEAH), the state homeschool organization. Glenn and Patti share the same dreams as most Americans, believing that by working hard and playing by the rules, they can give their children the chance to pursue their own dreams.
To the Owens family, playing by the rules includes complying with New York's extensive homeschooling regulations, intended to ensure that homeschoolers receive an "equivalent" education to that of public school students. New York, recently listed in USA Today as one of the states most restrictive of homeschooling, is infamous for its intrusive regulations. Homeschooling parents must submit a burdensome amount of paperwork each year and subject their children to frequent testing.1,2
Paul graduated from his family's homeschool in 1999 and was admitted to Monroe Community College to pursue a two-year marketing program. Noticing that many small businesses struggle from a lack of effective marketing, Paul wanted to learn strategies to promote his carpentry company and other small businesses. After almost two years of college, Paul decided that he would like to continue his studies, earn a four-year degree, and possibly pursue an MBA. Paul has not received any government funding and is working in order to pay for college. The American Dream seemed within reach for Paul Owens until December 2002, when he received a letter from MCC.
The letter stated that Paul had been "de-matriculated" from MCC. "It was a bolt from the blue," says his mother Patti. "How could the college revoke a degree when my son is maintaining a good GPA and complying with all the regulations? It defied explanation."
According to MCC, the school was simply following Commissioner Mills' latest directive, which he based on a long-dormant board of regents rule that gives him latitude to determine whether a student is qualified to graduate from college. It reads in part,
no earned degree shall be conferred unless the candidate has had a preliminary education of at least a four year high school course, or its equivalent, as determined by the Commissioner. (Emphasis added.)
The commissioner's new policy offers homeschool graduates three options. Under the first two options, a homeschooler may "self-certify" his completion of an equivalent high school course for entrance into New York colleges, but may not matriculate (enroll in a degree program) unless he obtains a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) by either passing a test or completing 24 college-prescribed credits. A third option requires the student to obtain a letter from his local school superintendent confirming that an equivalent education has taken place.
|AN EDUCATION BEING DISCREDITED BY NEW YORK STATE: Patti Owens teaching Paul in 1998 while his sister Lydia looks on. "New York is the only state remaining with a regulation that entirely dismisses the validity of homeschool curriculum," says HSLDA President Mike Smith.|
"HSLDA is disappointed that the Commissioner has 'determined' that homeschool children automatically receive a substandard education," responded HSLDA President Mike Smith. "Mills refuses to acknowledge the well-documented success of homeschooling. Homeschooled children score in the 80th percentile on standardized tests, 30 points above the national average for all students.
"In fact, these solid academic results have persuaded many state governments to loosen burdensome homeschool regulations. New York is the only state remaining with a regulation that entirely dismisses the validity of homeschool curriculum."
Commissioner Mills' policy shows that he doesn't really understand homeschooling. Many homeschoolers choose not to pursue a GED because it carries the stigma of "high-school dropout." But homeschool students are not dropouts-they are intelligent, active members of their communities, who want to be judged on their individual abilities, not on an erroneous classification.
"This [GED requirement] added insult to injury," says Paul. "I worked hard and proved myself at MCC. I don't see how gaining a GED stacks up against successfully passing college courses."
On the other hand, obtaining a letter from the superintendent of the school district certifying that an equivalent education has taken place is often not as simple as it sounds. "Unfortunately, in practice, school superintendents are busy people who have little time or inclination to provide such letters in a timely manner," says HSLDA's Senior Counsel Dewitt Black, who handles New York matters.
"Beginning early in 2003, HSLDA and LEAH sought a resolution with the commissioner, but our efforts have led to little progress. What New York really needs is regulatory reform," says Black.
|EXPANDING HORIZONS: Recognizing the need to promote his carpentry business more effectively led Paul to pursue a marketing degree.|
"This issue is clearly a very low priority for the department of education but it is a high priority for every homeschool student who wishes to be treated as an equal," says HSLDA Litigation Attorney Jim Mason. "New York is the last state with this double standard regarding homeschooling. We have been forced to file suit to ensure that Paul Owens receives the degree he earned on schedule."
According to Mason, homeschoolers hope this lawsuit will persuade the New York educational bureaucracy to allow Paul Owens to receive his degree under the original understanding of his MCC admissions contract. They also hope that the lawsuit will lead to improved regulations, breaking down the barriers for homeschoolers in New York.
America offers freedom and opportunity to those who work hard and play by the rules. Examples of injustice and discrimination exist, but by firmly standing for their rights, Americans can right past wrongs and look forward to a better future. The Lord has blessed HSLDA's partnership with homeschoolers to protect educational freedoms. Together, we look forward to the day when homeschoolers across America can pursue their hopes and dreams on an equal footing with their traditionally schooled counterparts.
>> LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Paul Owens is trying to transfer into the State University of New York at Brockport, a four-year institution, but the school refuses to admit Paul without a recognized high school diploma, a GED, or a letter from a school superintendent. Not only is Paul barred from entering any New York State University degree program, but he is also limited to taking nine credit hours and would receive no college credit for the hours.
1 New York State requires standardized testing in alternate years from 4th through 8th grades and annually in 9th through 12th grades. See http://www.hslda.org/laws/default.asp?State=NY.
2 Research provides no evidence that mandatory testing actually improves the quality of home education: homeschoolers from non-testing states perform no differently than homeschoolers in states that require testing. See http://nche.hslda.org/docs/study/ray1997/12.asp.
About the author
Ian Slatter is the Director of Media Relations for Home School.Legal Defense Association. He previously served as an assistant/writer at the Weekly Standard and as Communications Director for Congressman Mike Pence. Ian and his wife, Alison, live in Alexandria, Virginia.