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Leandro Huebne/The Town Talk/AP

How Should Government Regulate Homeschooling?

September 17, 2009 05:00 PM
by Denis Cummings
Proposals by the English government to increase regulation of homeschooling have been met by opposition. Governments in Europe and the U.S. have had difficulty finding the right balance that gives parents the freedom to educate their children as they see fit, but also protects children from abuse or neglect.

England Looking to Impose Homeschooling Regulations

Homeschooling advocates in England are prepared to challenge proposed regulations that require homeschooled children to be registered with local officials. The government is also considering regulations that would dictate what subjects parents must teach their children, and require an inspection of homeschools.

The regulations are based on a government report released in June 2009 that found that England has the most liberal laws regarding homeschooling among highly developed countries.

Government officials feel more regulation is necessary because they are unable to track the number of homeschooled children, and they fear that many are being neglected or mistreated. Children who are homeschooled are roughly twice as likely to be abused by their parents, according to Graham Badman, author of the government report.

Leslie Barson, the leader of a protest against the proposals, believes they will infringe on parents’ ability to cater their teaching to their children’s needs. “The beauty of home education is its flexibility,” she told The Times of London. “This would be outlawed by the local authority.”

Homeschooling in the United States

Homeschooling regulations vary widely from state to state. Alaska, for example, has virtually no oversight of homeschooling; parents do not even have to notify the state officials that their children are being homeschooled.

Spike Jorgensen, a school district superintendent in Alaska, told the Anchorage Daily News that there is a “whole group of highly, highly neglected kids” who are being ignored by the state as their parents fail to properly educate them.

Most states have some form of registration for homeschooled children and some requirements for what the child must be taught. Some rescind the right to be homeschooled if a student does not reach a certain score on standardized tests.

For example, New York, which has some of the strictest laws, requires that parents teach a wide range of subjects (including substance abuse and traffic safety) and file quarterly reports to ensure that progress is being made. Furthermore, if the student scores in the bottom third of a standardized test, the state has the right to force the student into public school.

All states allow parents to homeschool their children, but that privilege was nearly taken away last year in California, where parents have been allowed to homeschool their children by filing as a private school and enrolling only their children.

In April 2008, a state appeals court ruled that students could only be taught by those with a credentialed teaching degree, a ruling that would have forced nearly all of the state’s estimated 200,000 homeschooled children into public school.

After national protests by homeschooling advocates, the court reversed its decision in August 2008, though one judge advocated that California adapt “express statutory and regulatory framework for homeschooling.” 

Rachel F. Moran of the University of California, Berkeley, told the Times that regulation was necessary to protect children. “We want parents to have the freedom to homeschool, but we don't want children to become captives in a homeschool that doesn't prepare them for work or civic engagement as a functioning adult,” she said.

Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, argues that regulation has little effect on the quality of a homeschool education. “Home-schoolers are thriving academically because their teacher loves them and has chosen to give them individualized attention, curriculum and instruction. There's no need for the state to excessively regulate home-schoolers,” he writes.

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