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November 24, 2004

Response to Akron Beacon Journal Homeschool Series

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

A recent series of seven articles published in the Akron Beacon Journal attempted to cast homeschooling in a negative light by implying that, despite homeschooling's benefits, this form of education has flaws warranting further government regulation.

Although Home School Legal Defense Association is confident that homeschooling's success can withstand intense scrutiny, we are concerned about the potential these articles have to mislead readers who are unfamiliar with the movement.

It's always dangerous to attribute motives to actions, but one has to question why the two authors of these articles would devote seven days in the paper to homeschooling. A good guess is they want to see homeschooling more regulated. Almost all of the stories concluded that there is some good in homeschooling, but there is some bad and government oversight is needed to correct the bad.

For instance, in an article appearing on November 15, 2004, the Beacon Journal claimed that only 0.17 percent of college applicants are homeschoolers and that this compares unfavorably to the 2 percent of the student population that homeschools. What the article's authors failed to take into account is that homeschooling has grown at a rate of 7–15 percent for the past 10 years. This means that most homeschoolers are between 5 and 14 years of age—not even eligible for college! And a study by Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., with over 5,000 homeschool graduates participating, indicates that over 70 percent of homeschool graduates have taken college-level courses—much higher than the national average.

So what's wrong with the Beacon Journal's numbers? There are many reasons why homeschoolers might appear to be underrepresented on college applications. For example, in states that consider homeschools to be private schools (such as California and Texas), the college applications of home educated students reflect that they attended private school. And since many homeschoolers attend community college, they actually bypass college admission tests altogether.

In contrast to the Beacon Journal's insinuation that homeschoolers receive an inferior education, colleges recognize that the one-on-one, self-directed nature of homeschooling perfectly suits students to the college environment. This is borne out by the fact that 75 percent of colleges have either a homeschool admissions policy or a homeschool admissions officer.

In the same article, the Beacon Journal took issue with a statement in which I said, "Home School Legal Defense Association is unaware of any serious critics who still argue that homeschoolers struggle academically." The best refutation of my statement that the Beacon Journal could come up with, after interviewing many homeschool critics, was the claim that the data on homeschool academics is inconclusive. Even Rob Reich, perhaps the highest-profile and most outspoken critic of homeschooling, doesn't venture to say that homeschoolers struggle academically.

HSLDA continues to stand behind the facts. As the homeschool research on our website shows, one-on-one instruction by dedicated parents produces children who outperform their peers academically.

As if challenging homeschoolers' academic achievements were not enough, in a disturbing article appearing on November 17, 2004, the Beacon Journal tried to make the case that homeschoolers should be subject to increased government regulation because they could be child abusers. Referring to the infamous Jackson case, in which four adopted children of an allegedly homeschooling family were severely malnourished, the Beacon Journal failed to mention that the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services had visited the Jackson family an astounding 38 times. In the majority of cases HSLDA is aware of involving violence and abuse in allegedly homeschooling families, government agencies have become involved in the situations despite the fact that the children did not attend public school.

According to the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 903,000 children in America were found to be victims of child maltreatment in 2001. Although we do not have statistics demonstrating how many of these abused children were educated at home, it's safe to assume that the overwhelming majority attended public school, since homeschoolers make up only 2–4 percent of the school population. Unfortunately, school attendance did not protect that overwhelming majority of children from abuse.

In fact, the Child Maltreatment Report of 2002 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that, out of 88,656 cases of confirmed sexual abuse, teachers and daycare providers were responsible for 15,098—almost as many cases as those for which parents were responsible (16,210). There is no legitimate basis for government oversight of homeschool families to prevent child abuse.

On November 19, 2004, the Beacon Journal also felt the need to put a negative twist on homeschoolers' political involvement. It's true that homeschoolers are politically active and regularly contact their elected officials, but the Beacon Journal chose to leave the impression that homeschoolers are "rude" and disrespectful. Regrettably, in any group, when thousands of people make contact with their officials on issues they care deeply about, there may be a few who do not act appropriately. To focus on a few rude homeschoolers and not laud the overwhelming number of homeschoolers respectfully participating in the civics lab of life demonstrates an agenda on the author's part.

After a considerable investment of time and resources, the Akron Beacon Journal has rightly identified homeschooling as a significant educational movement with the potential to challenge the status quo. But the Beacon Journal was forced to use shabby arguments to try to discredit homeschooling. Research simply does not bear out the charge of poor academic achievement. And to blame homeschooling for child abuse is an insult to the huge majority of parents who choose to homeschool because they want the best for their children.

Homeschoolers excel academically, socially, and in ways that bring lasting benefits to families and our nation. The reason for this success can be traced to the individualized nature of home education. If the government were given power to intervene even further in the lives of homeschool families—as the Akron Beacon Journal calls for—then the unique strengths of homeschooling would be lost to standardization. That's not too different from what has happened in the public schools.

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