Saturday, March 08, 2008

California judge overreaches with ruling to criminalize homeschooling

Recently a ruling came down in California which could criminalize home schooling in that state.

Parents of the approximately 200,000 home-schooled children in California are reeling from the possibility that they may have to shutter their classrooms — and go back to school themselves — if they want to continue teaching their own kids. On Feb. 28, Judge H. Walter Croskey of the Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled that children ages six to 18 may be taught only by credentialed teachers in public or private schools — or at home by Mom and Dad, but only if they have a teaching degree. Citing state law that goes back to the early 1950s, Croskey declared that "California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children." Furthermore, the judge wrote, if instructors teach without credentials they will be subject to criminal action.

I believe that this ruling is absurd. There are many reasons why parents home school their children. And in nearly all cases, the children are schooled with far more diligence, care and personal attention than they get in a crowded classroom, with twenty or more kids competing for the attention of a single teacher (even though I believe that most public school teachers do an excellent job, especially for the poor pay they get.)

There is a view held by some opponents that homeschooling parents are all a bunch of relgious fanatics intent on indoctrinating their children and teaching them creationism. I'm not disputing, for that matter, that there are some who fit that description, but that is not who most homeschool parents are. I've known many of them, and very few if any strike me as fanatics.

I know, because my wife and I homeschooled our eldest daughter twice, for a year each time. And the reason was the same-- she wasn't getting the education she needed elsewhere. When she was in the first grade, we moved from Los Lunas to Belen, New Mexico. She was at the top of her class in the new school. But then it turned out that one reason why was because she was using the same textbook that she'd used in kindergarten at another school the year before. We didn't want her to be a year behind already by first grade, so we took her out and schooled her at home. Then when she was in fifth grade, we moved to Corpus Christi, Texas. In Texas they have these ISD's (Independent School Districts) where the idea is that the taxes raised in each district pretty much stay in the district. Well, we were living in the West Oso ISD (lots of apartments, low property values) and the budget of the school there was practically nothing. Some of the books were twenty years out of date (in fact someone told me that the entire budget for the high school was not much more than what the high school two districts down, Calallen, spent just on its football program alone.) So again, we homeschooled our daughter (and even hired a woman with an English degree to supplement some of what we were teaching her with some reading and writing.) Often, homeschooling parents have networks with each other so they can participate in group activities (and it was more than once I was asked to work with some high school aged kid on his or her math.)

In both cases, we were considered qualifiedby the states or school districts involved to teach because I have a master's degree in Mathematics (including a full slate of undergraduate classes, as well as a bachelor's degree in Chemistry.) My wife at the time did not have a degree but she has always been skilled in computers. The idea that either of us would have to go get a teaching degree is ridiculous (as well as the fact that on both of these occasions such a requirement would have been self-defeating since it takes a couple of years at least to get one and in each case we home-schooled for a year because of local conditions-- and we had to make that decision and prepare for it quickly.)

I've also known parents of special needs children who homeschooled because their local school districts would not or could not provide the specific help that they needed. One of my daughters' classmates has been homeschooled on and off because she has Krohn's disease and attending public school would be more difficult and at times embarrassing for her than it would be for other children (though she has also attended during times when her condition is under control.)

Now, there have occasionally been other, more sinister reasons why some parents may claim to be home-schooling, as was the case in the situation that led to this ruling:

The debacle originated with a suit over child abuse. One of the eight children of Philip and Mary Long, a Los Angeles couple, had filed a complaint of abuse and neglect with the L.A. Department of Children and Family Services. The agency determined that the Long children were being home schooled, taught by their uncredentialed mother while officially enrolled in independent study at Sunland Christian School. The DCFS then turned to the courts to mandate that the children attend public school so that teachers might spot evidence of abuse (a charge the parents deny). A juvenile court, however, determined that the Longs had a constitutional right to home school their children. The DCFS appealed and the case landed in Croskey's appellate court.

Clearly no child should be abused or not be educated (which is a form of abuse.) However it is ridiculous to prevent all homeschooling parents (there are 200,000 in California alone) from doing the best they can for their kids because of a handful of child abusers who are trying to use it to hide their crimes. Instead, why not require (as many states now do) that homeschooled kids get checked on once or twice a year so that their progress can be assessed and looked at for any signs of potential abuse, which can if necessary be followed up on with a home visit. And if a case of child abuse is discovered then the guilty parties should be prosecuted. But it seems to me that criminalizing homeschool is the wrong way to handle what is ultimately a much more narrow problem dealing with enforcement of existing law (child abuse is a felony no matter what the circumstances.)


Anonymous said...

I'm always glad to get your thoughts on things like this because you do your research and sometimes even have a personal story to back it up.

Thanks for the post, Eli! :-)

Zach said...

I think the key here is that, if it's required for kids to be in school until a certain age, how should it be a loophole for a parent to say their child is home schooled. There are correspondence schools which over set curriculums, though.

I have known "homeschooled" kids who got to college and didn't have the basic knowledge other people did, because it's hard for parents to say "You HAVE to learn this, even if it's not fun," or "You HAVE to spend 6 hours a day listening to me, and another 2 doing your homework."

I think that states should make a standard curriculum available to parents who choose to home school.

I think the children should then have to take standardized tests regularly to ensure that they're at the same level as their peers.

Also, I think that home schooled parents should be required to meet some kind of requirements. No offense, but a Master's degree is not the same as a teaching degree. At the same time, though, I don't think a DEGREE is needed to learn the basics of teaching. I think a certification course on the fundamentals of learning, as well as hands on experience, would be adequate.