The Washington Times
September 3, 2004

Washington Times Op-ed — Deregulation Places Trust In Parents

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Every four years, we elect a president. Education is an issue the candidates must address because it affects so many people. With about 50 million children of compulsory attendance age (generally between the ages of 6 and 16 or 18, depending on the state), this represents a very large percentage of the population that is interested in kindergarten-through-12th-grade education.

At least 85 percent of all school-age children are being educated in public schools. Not only are parents interested in seeing that their children receive quality education, but all citizens have a vested interest in education.

One of the major reasons that education has received so much attention in past elections and in this election is because a significant percentage of our children are receiving less-than-high-quality educations, resulting in functional illiteracy.

This is happening despite the fact that the government is spending more money on education than ever before. When federal and state dollars are combined, public schools are receiving, on average, $9,000 per child annually, according to the Heritage Foundation. Many citizens are beginning to say that more money is not the answer.

As academic performance of public schools continues to spiral down, a segment of the education population has been producing high academic performance - the homeschool movement.

For more than 20 years, homeschooled children who have taken standardized achievement tests have scored 20 to 30 percentile points above the national average. Last month, ACT Inc., which produces the ACT college entrance exam, released figures showing that the average homeschooler scored 22.6, compared with the national average of 20.9.

This is happening without any government support. Homeschool parents have said "no" to government schools, believing that they can do a better job themselves. So far, the results indicate clearly that they can.

Despite this success, some, generally in the public school establishment, still are calling for more regulation of home education. This stems from the skepticism that parents could be successful when they haven't been professionally trained. In other words, they are not certified by the state.

Homeschoolers respond that not one scientific survey supports the need for teacher certification for someone to be able teach children, especially in a tutorial setting. There is no evidence to support the assumption that obtaining a teaching certificate guarantees teaching success.

Virtually all teachers in public schools must be certified. Yet the overall academic results of public schools in America are unsatisfactory by objective standards.

Another reason advanced for more regulation of home educators is their lack of accountability. Those seeking regulation would argue that homeschool programs need to abide by a specific day and hour calendar, submit to curriculum approval, show that teachers have some minimum educational requirement and undergo measurable evaluations on a regular basis.

The Home School Legal Defense Association has resisted these efforts because we know that the success of home education is the ability to individualize education. In other words, the homeschool parent can take an education program and mold it to his or her child. This is in the child's best interest. On the other hand, the child in the classroom must be molded to the education program being offered.

You cannot compare the results of an education received in a tutorial setting with those of classroom learning. This is what is meant by the slogan we hear many times from homeschoolers: "Don't take the classroom into your homeschool program."

This slogan is powerful. It simply means that you have the freedom to explore all kinds of creative ways to teach your child. Governmental attempts to standardize home education will destroy the genius behind home education and will detrimentally affect the academic achievement of home educators.

In addition, home educators can demonstrate that it is not necessary to regulate them. Every state has a different way of addressing homeschooling. Some states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, overly regulate home education. Others, such as Idaho, Texas, Illinois and Indiana, don't even require homeschooling parents to initiate contact with the state.

According to research done by the National Home Education Research Institute with thousands of homeschool students across the nation in both low and high regulation states, there is no appreciable difference in the results of nationally standardized achievement tests between those categories of students.

What this proves is that you can trust homeschooling parents to provide a quality education that meets the individual needs of their children. The next logical step is to deregulate homeschooling in states such as New York and Pennsylvania to save taxpayer dollars spent on bureaucrats' interaction with home educators.

Deregulation continues to be one of our goals at HSLDA. We know you can trust homeschool parents to do an outstanding job of educating their children without the "help" of the government.