The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unimaginable disarray in government education systems all over the world. This crisis has also prompted unprecedented growth in homeschooling, a trend that has some governments reacting negatively.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to severely restrict homeschooling is one of the most troubling of these reactions. His legislation would require parents to obtain approval to homeschool and increase government intrusion into family life.
In the United Kingdom, a parliamentary committee continues to investigate regulatory proposals, while the national government has offered to support local education authorities who are involved in court action relating to homeschooling.
Even in the United States, several top state-education officials have expressed grave concern over the number of children who have joined the homeschooling movement. In Michigan the state superintendent called for more restrictions on homeschooling families so that “we can know” how many children are being homeschooled.
This pushback against homeschooling comes while officials are still struggling to cope with truly immense disruptions in education.
According to estimates by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which tracks these figures, 1.4 billion children were shut out of schools in April of 2020, and currently hundreds of millions remain out of their former school-based learning environments.
Schools have scrambled to field hybrid, remote, and distance-learning solutions, but the resulting chaos has pushed many parents to try homeschooling for the first time.
In France, it is estimated that 60,000 children are homeschooled. Groups that serve this community are cooperating with others as never before in the face of one of the most significant threats to educational freedom in recent memory.
President Macron’s proposed law would require children as young as age 3 to be enrolled in school. His justification for the extreme measures is to prevent Islamist separatism from gaining ground in France.
Opposition to Macron’s proposal has come from both the left and right in France, including leading figures such as former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and mathematician Cédric Villani. In an editorial in the French Newspaper Le Monde, Villani wrote the following: “Homeschooling mustn’t serve as a scapegoat in the fight against separatism.”
The bill is now in the French Senate, where homeschool advocates hope to amend it. If the bill passes in its current form, homeschool groups have vowed to challenge the law in the French Constitutional Court.
UK Homeschooling under Scrutiny
In England, a parliamentary select committee had requested input from the public on the issue of whether and how homeschooling should be regulated. HSLDA submitted a brief to the committee, arguing that the UK’s law, which provides that children should attend school unless “educated otherwise,” is sufficient.
The homeschooling community has also come together in the English city of Portsmouth, where local education officials have been harassing homeschool families for years. These advocates point out that, under English law, there is no requirement that homeschooling families notify the local authorities.
However, Portsmouth officials have been unlawfully demanding records and other information from these families and serving “school attendance notices” if the families refuse to comply. Some homeschooling families have been prosecuted for truancy because of this policy. In response, families in Portsmouth have sued the local council.
In other news from the United Kingdom, a controversial measure that would have imposed significant new restrictions on homeschooling families on the Isle of Man have been abandoned.
States Take Issue
In the United States alone, homeschooling has almost tripled. According to data gathered by the federal government’s US Census Household Pulse Survey, almost six million children were being homeschooled nationwide in February 2021. The last government estimate of homeschooling in the United States as of 2016 tallied just under two million students.
Meanwhile, as home education grows, some public school officials are sounding the alarm and proposing that more regulation be imposed on families.
In Michigan, State Superintendent of Public Schools Michael Rice, for example, recently observed that 50,000 students were missing from public school enrollments.
“We can’t distinguish between children who are being homeschooled at the present time and children who aren’t being educated at all,” Rice told Michigan media. “This gap needs to be addressed with a change in state law.”
In some places, where legislators are looking to increase options available to parents because of the challenges all are facing, some proponents of public education are making outrageous statements.
Susan Johnson, a retired West Virginia teacher, recently published an op-ed comparing private and homeschools to terrorist training camps, claiming, “In some Middle Eastern cultures, private schools called madrassas [sic] have been known to engage in religious and political indoctrination beginning at a very young age, even including combat training with military weapons. These are the people who brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center.”
Johnson’s op-ed complains about the forward momentum of legislation that would increase the number of charter schools or create government-funded accounts directing a portion of state school funding to an individual student’s education.
Johnson reveals that her real concern is not teaching children to be productive and civil members of society, but rather about preserving as much of the public school budget as possible, which in West Virginia already absorbs nearly half of all government expenditures.
“Get ready for cuts in teacher positions, salaries and benefits,” Johnson writes, reciting the talking points of school bureaucrats and teachers’ unions.
HSLDA is serving over 100,000 member families and for nearly 40 years has been the world’s largest homeschooling advocacy organization. Our goal is to preserve the freedom of home education for every family. As you can see, our work is cut out for us. Join or support our work to keep homeschooling free.