May 3, 2001

Response to Home School Article in the St. Joseph News-Press

David R. Bradley, Editor
St. Joseph News-Press
Letters to the Editor
P.O. Box 29
St. Joseph, MO 64502-0029

Via Facsimile: (816) 271-8692

Re: Response to "Lawmaker Wants to Tighten Liberal Home Schooling Rules," by Colleen Dorsey, St. Joseph News-Press

Dear Mr. Bradley:

Colleen Dorsey's article, "Lawmaker Wants to Tighten Liberal Home Schooling Rules," contains numerous unfortunate factual errors that could have been avoided with a little research.

She says, "Other states, like Michigan, require a parent to be a certified teacher." In fact, no state in the entire nation requires a home school parent to be a certified teacher. Michigan had such a statute, but it was ruled unconstitutional eight years ago (People v. DeJonge, 501 NW 2d 127, Mich. 1993).

Dorsey states, "But the state apparently has no authority to enforce these guidelines [home school statutes]." There is a very clear enforcement mechanism for the home school statutes (see Revised Statutes of Missouri §167.031.5). I ought to know. I have personally represented families accused of noncompliance.

She says, "Lawmakers in West Virginia are currently considering a bill that would require home schooling parents to have four more years of education than the children they teach." This is incorrect. West Virginia law already requires four years more education (West Virginia Code §18-8-1.B(b)(2)). No other state has such a harsh requirement. The West Virginia legislature passed a bill this year waiving the four-year rule for the coming two school years (House Bill 2595).

Dorsey states, "Kansas takes a similar hands-off stance on homeschooling regulation . . . ." Fact: Kansas does not require home school families to provide any particular number of hours of instruction or to teach any particular subjects. Missouri law requires that 1,000 hours of instruction be offered and requires that reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies and science be taught.

She writes, "Some states, like New York, dictate home schooling families follow a state-approved curriculum that includes specific subjects . . . ." This is incorrect. New York does not require that home school families follow a "state-approved curriculum." New York law requires that certain subjects be taught just as Missouri does. See New York Education Law §3204.

New York does, in fact, have much more burdensome regulations for home school families than Missouri. Why, then, do Missouri home schooled students outperform New York home schooled students? In the 1997-1998 school year, ACT scores for Missouri home schooled youngsters averaged 23.2. New York home schooled children averaged only 22.6. Nor was this a fluke. The following year, I998-1999, ACT scores for Missouri home schooled children averaged 23.7. New York home schooled children averaged only 22.8. The nationwide average for both years was 21.0.

And by the way, in Kansas-where there are no required hours of instruction or courses- home schooled children averaged 23.5 on the 1997-1998 ACT, beating Missouri's 23.2.

The lesson is clear: we can pile on the regulations higher and deeper, but it does not help children. Lawmakers who push for stricter regulation must be doing it for some reason other than the benefit of the children.

Sincerely yours,

Scott A. Woodruff, Esq.

Below is the text of the article by Colleen Dorsey.

Lawmaker wants to tighten liberal home-schooling rules


Legally, to home school your child in the state of Missouri requires little more than the inclination.

There are no credentials mandated for the parent-turned-teacher. No approved curriculum to guide a child's course of study. No standardized tests to monitor that child's progress or assess what grade level he or she is working at.

The law does set required hours of instruction to comply with the state's compulsory attendance law, and it says a parent must maintain records to support this, in addition to copies of a student's academic work.

But the state apparently has no authority to enforce these guidelines. In fact, no agency within the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education exists to direct or monitor homeschooling done in the privacy of a family residence.

And it's specifically this kind of laissez faire policy that appeals to home-schooling families. "Missouri's standard is pretty liberal," said Mark Van Zandt, general counsel for the state education agency.

State Rep. Bill Skaggs, D-Kansas City, who in 1999 sponsored a bill to more closely regulate homeschooling, said he's aware of some families that actually move to the state to take adavantage of Missouri's "permissive standards."

Kansas takes a similar hands-off stance on homeschooling regulation (see sidebar on page -). But other states, like Michigan, require a parent be a certified teacher. And some states, like New York, dictate homeschooling families follow a state-approved curriculum that includes specific subjects and file regular reports with a local school superintendent.

Some critics say Missouri's current homeschooling statutes can put children at the risk of getting shortchanged a complete education.

The state education department acknowledges loopholes in the law. "Unfortunately, that is correct. There are cracks for children to fall through," said Jim Morris, director of public information for the State Department of Education.

He regularly takes phone calls from ex-spouses, in-laws, grandparents and neighbors, all expressing concern that children are not receiving a proper education from their parents at home.

But the state's hands are tied to investigate potentially negligent situations.

"Unless local officials have evidence a family is being negligent, claiming to home school and doing little or nothing, there is little enforcement," Mr. Morris said.

For one thing, the compulsory attendance policy requiring parents carry out a minimum school day of three hours a day, or 1,000 hours a school year in the home, is "essentially on the honor system," Mr. Morris said.

As the number of homeschooling families increases across the nation, so has pressure on legislators for increased regulation.

Lawmakers in West Virginia are currently considering a bill that would require homeschooling parents to have four more years of education than the children they teach.

And the National Education Association this year adopted a resolution calling for more rigorous regulation of homeschooling.

"Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used," the resolution states.

In Missouri, legal wrangling so far has focused on whether the state should mandate standardized testing of home-schooled students.

Rep. Skaggs introduced a bill in 1999 that would have required home-schoolers to take the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test. The state's homeschooling community lobbied vigorously and quickly to shoot the bill down.

"There is a lot of room for abuse because all you have to do is say you'll be home schooling your child and you can have a sixth grade education," Rep. Skaggs said. "I just want to make them more accountable, to measure what's really going on in these homes. There are a lot of ignorant parents out there."

He plans to reintroduce the bill in the state's 2002 legislative session.

"It's always going to be difficult to require regulation," Mr. Van Zandt said, "because many people think once the state steps in and begins to regulate, there would be no end to it. It's this year we have to take the MAP, next year it's going to be (state-imposed) curriculum."

Others maintain that parents have a constitutional right to educate their children at home with little or no regulation.

"Our position is that it's the parents' responsibility to provide education, not the state's and the state doesn't have any business violating that," said Deana Haines, a spokesperson for Families for Home Education, a statewide homeschooling support group. "I'm sure there are people who fall through the gaps, but in 99 percent of cases, parents have the best interests at heart and carry them out."

Missouri Western State College Education Department Chairman Richard Porr also believes the rights of homeschoolers should be upheld. "I think they are aware of the possibility of regulation, so they're doing a good job of regulating themselves."

Portions 2001, The News-Press, St. Joseph, Missouri Reprinted with permission.

 Other Resources

Scott A. Woodruff, Esq., Fact Check, St. Joseph News-Press, May 5, 2001

Colleen Dorsey, Lawmaker wants to tighten liberal home-schooling rules, St. Joseph News-Press, April 29, 2001