Thursday, March 6, 2008

Home Schooling and the Law

So California is requiring that all homeschooling parents have teaching credentials.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, there are a lot of crazy whackjobs who homeschool their children so the kids don't have to learn about evolution or condoms. On the other, public schools can really suck, and homeschooled kids whose parents were actually trying to help the kid are going to get penalized.

Clearly there should be regulations for homeschooling. You can't just let people homeschool kids any way they want, because kids aren't able to make their own informed decisions and therefore should not be at the mercy of their parents' every whim. But teaching credentials? Nah. What I think they should have is the following:


1. If a parent wants to homeschool, they should have to register with the state, or their kid should be considered to be playing hooky. That's pretty standard.

2. The parent can't have a history of physical or emotional abuse of the child, or any other kids. Also think that's pretty standard.

3. The parent should have a high school diploma, or a GED. I know, seems like a no brainer, but apparently a very small percentage of home school parents in the US never finished high school. That's probably a good sign that they aren't qualified to teach their kids.

4. Once a year, the kid should be tested against the standards for kids in his or her year. They do better or equal to other kids their age, they can continue homeschooling. I think this is also common. These tests should also include more than just reading and writing-- if it's required learning at school, and it's not gym/art/music etc, it should be required at home. So cover English, math, and history, but also science, health (even sex ed), and basic computer studies, which are neccessary to survive in the modern world.

5. When the kid reaches middle school material (ie stuff they could theoretically have forgotten since they were in school, as opposed to your basic reading and writing and times tables), the parents should have to get a special Parent Teaching Certification. I'm not talking about holding them to the levels of normal teachers. I'm talking about giving them a test that covers the material they want to teach to the kid. They pass the test, they can teach that material. If they don't, community college classes or back to school. That way you won't get people who are unqualified teaching their kids, but it's also not like they have to know Calculus and have a master's degree to teach middle-school algebra.

6. If the kid is mentally disabled (beyond a learning disability or ADHD, I mean really disabled), the parent should have some kind of degree in working with people with disabilities. Those kids need pretty specialized education, and allowing them to be homeschooled, especially since there's no real way to measure their progress like with most kids, is asking for the system to be abused. Similarly, if the kid is blind, the parent should be able to read and create (write?) Braille and if the kid is deaf, the parent should be fluent in sign language. Now, of course, sometimes you get people who are just too disabled to ever really learn anything. If that truly is the case, like they'll never pass a toddler's mental level, then I understand not making them go into a SPED program that basically will babysit them all day. That would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. But someone with, say, Down's Syndrome can benefit a great deal from a teacher who actually understands how to work with them, rather than an unqualified parent.


And that would be it. Check on the kid once a year (every six months if you want to be paranoid) to make sure something's sticking, make sure their parent is actually remotely qualified to teach the stuff and not some hick who plans to plop their kid in front of the TV all day, and keep track of who's getting homeschooled. That's all you really need. Do it right, and your homeschool kids won't be able to get a worse education than the public school ones, and it'll probably be better. And hey, to address the social aspect, let homeschool kids join sports teams and clubs at the local high school if they want and offer lots of community programs.

But making parents have the same credentials as teachers seems a bit silly. An education course (usually part of the requirement) makes sense if you need to learn how to effectively teach many different children the same thing all at once and maximize learning. For a parent who teaches one or two kids at once, and always the same kids, it's easy to learn what teaching style the kid needs. What's more, effective teaching strategies for 25 kids are going to be very ineffective for 2 kids. This just serves to make it very challenging for parents to homeschool without addressing the real problems with homeschooling, ie, that it can be abused without anyone knowing, and that no one was enforcing the old rules.

Also, maybe, just maybe, California should try to fix the problems in the public school system before wasting time trying to micromanage home schoolers, who on average are more successful than public-school graduates?

Just saying.

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