THE PATH NOT TAKEN: Mandatory Registration & Testing

By Barry Peters

      Every year at the legislature some well-meaning souls express an interest in requiring all home educated students to register with the state or their local school districts. They also want to require those students to take Idaho's state achievement test, the ISAT, to "make sure that no one falls through the cracks."
      And every year we adamantly oppose any such suggestion.
      Some have wondered why ICHE, CHOIS, HSLDA, and most home schoolers are so resolutely opposed to mandatory registration and testing. After all, since home educated students excel academically and socially, what is the danger in consenting to such requirements?
      Here are some of the reasons for that resistance.

      At the outset, it is important to understand that there is no data identifying a correlation between government regulation and home schooling test scores. In fact, the studies demonstrate that, whether students reside in states with low, moderate, or high levels of regulation, the test scores are statistically identical. Indeed, in some states with the highest level of home school regulation, a movement is underway to reduce that scrutiny because few, if any, cases of educational neglect have actually been found to exist in the nearly two decades of oversight.
      Spending tax dollars to build another bureaucracy to oversee home education is not only an unnecessary expenditure, it is entirely unfounded empirically. Further, mandatory testing of home educated students is expressly forbidden under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. And states which impose their state assessment test on home schoolers risk losing their federal funding for education.

The Net Too Large & Too Fine:
      At its heart, the proposal to register and test all home educated students suffers from being too large and too fine of a net. If there are students who are being educationally neglected, they are few and far between. And the laws are already in place to prosecute the parents of such students. Our laws rightly support the presumption of innocence of all citizens unless credible evidence to the contrary exists. But if such evidence exists, the parents should be prosecuted.
      Despite the paucity of genuine cases of neglect, opponents of home education propose rounding up all home schoolers for registration and testing. This makes no more sense than putting a cast on the arms of all school children in the state because a few will break their arms in the coming year. Such a proposal would be instantaneously and overwhelmingly rejected as a massive invasion of our citizens' privacy. Yet the opponents of home education see no parallel to their calls for the mandatory and universal registration and testing of home educated children.

Equal Dignity:
      It is also important to keep sight of the fact that home schools in Idaho stand legally on an equal footing with public schools, private schools, and parochial schools. All enjoy equal recognition and all should enjoy similar treatment under the law.
      Requiring home schooled students to register with the state or with their local public schools would reduce home educated students to a second-class status. It would legally make no more sense than requiring public school students to register with a nearby home schooling family. And it would compromise the freedom from regulation that we enjoy.

Never Enough:
      Registration of students by itself does absolutely nothing to assess or ensure the quality of the education being received by those students. If there were parents who claimed to be teaching their children at home, but who were not adequately doing so, demanding that those parents register their children with the state or with the local school district would not provide any basis for discerning or concluding that neglect is occurring.
      In order to ascertain if educational neglect exists, more information is necessary. Much more. The school district would need to verify and evaluate the curriculum used, the manner in which the curriculum was taught, and the number of hours of instruction given per week. The actual registration of the students would merely be the first step toward a massive bureaucratic invasion of the privacy and freedoms enjoyed by families who teach their children at home.
      Home schooling families must always resist any effort that will ultimately result in the ability of the state or the local school district to dictate which curriculum is to be used and how it is to be taught. The state's standards of review could tend to eliminate faith-based curricula and approve only the state-adopted texts that conform to the state standards. Classroom texts, rather than tutorial materials, would prevail. It is precisely the freedom we enjoy, both in the selection of curriculum and the manner of instruction, that has produced the stellar academic results that characterize home education in Idaho.

Testing Has Its Limits:
      Standardized testing is a good thing. It assesses the academic achievement of the student. It alerts the parents or teachers to gaps in the learning of the student that may need to be filled. That is why ICHE spends so many thousands of volunteer hours every year providing the opportunity for home educated students to be tested.
      And those test results for home educated students as a group provide our best evidence of the superiority of our tutorial system of teaching. They have deflected many efforts in the legislature over the years to "crack down on home education."
      But are the individual test results for any given student an accurate indicator of the quality of the education that the child has actually received? No.
      Many families who choose to home educate include both children who naturally excel academically and children with special needs. They each receive instruction of the same quality. In all likelihood, the parents actually spend more time with the challenged student than with the one that excels.
      Now imagine that those children were both required to take the state assessment test. The results would be startlingly different. Same parents. Same quality of education. Dramatically different test scores.
      Those who propose that all home educated students be required to take standardized tests believe that they can verify the competency of the instruction being given by the test scores of the children.
      If presented with evidence that a child scores on the 20th percentile on a standardized test, some legislators will jump to the conclusion that the education received by that child was inadequate. But when they learn that the child has Downs Syndrome and that, in the public school, the same child scored on the 5th percentile, the dynamic shifts dramatically.
      Many legislators have failed to consider this aspect of test scores. Most are so focused on obtaining empirical data upon which a decision can be based that they fail to ensure that the data in question is suitable for such use.
      I am reminded of a home schooled senior who recently qualified as a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, scoring in the top one-half of one percent on the PSAT tests. I congratulated his mother on her son's fine performance. Her response was simple: she had long ago taught her son how to be an independent scholar who researches, reasons, and learns for himself. He did the rest. That lesson will serve him well for his entire life. But the state or her local school district may well have disapproved of her teaching program had they examined her curriculum and hours of formalized instruction.

The Opposition:
      Behind the drive to register and test home educated students lies the agenda of those for whom it takes a village to raise a child. Their prize? Control of the second largest sector in the American economy, the education industry.
      Almost one in every 100 Americans is a member of the largest and most powerful union in the country, the National Education Association (NEA). Currently, 90% of the $373 billion spent in this country on K-12 education is controlled by public schools. The NEA's stated goal? 100% control.
      Home educators are a successful and effective roadblock to that goal. On the other hand, the registration of home schoolers would be the first step in a process that could result in the evaluation and ultimately the integration of those students into the public school "village." That is why we so often find the NEA, the IEA, and their members behind these efforts to register and test.

The Path Not Taken:
      Home education is still the best system for teaching one's children. An overwhelming body of research confirms that it produces the best academic results. It produces the best social skills. It produces accomplished adults.
      Every plan to require home schooled students to register with the state and every proposal to evaluate the education being given with standardized test scores is an attempt to force the square peg of a superior private tutorial system into the round hole of a less successful institutional public school worldview. Why would home educators exchange their precious freedom and success for the shackles of this bureaucratic system? Instead, the public school system should be looking for ways to emulate the far more successful home school paradigm. The path not taken should remain just that, a vacant one.

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