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Many states loose on homeschooling regulations
By Richard O. Jones and Denise Wilson, Staff Writers
Updated 12:15 PM Friday, March 23, 2012
With ever-tougher academic standards coming from both state and federal legislatures, schools are under unprecedented, increasing pressure to perform well on a variety of measures, including mandatory testing and more rigorous teacher evaluations.
But much of the pressure that trickles down to the students can be avoided when parents adopt a do-it-yourself approach to education.
To many, homeschooling is an effective way for families to educate their children, to others it is a loosely regulated world of education.
Since 1989, Ohio has given parents the option to home school their children without interference — or assistance — from the public school system. The Ohio Administrative Code outlines the rules of home education “to safeguard the primary right of parents to provide the education for their child(ren).”
Charles Russo, an education professor at the University of Dayton, called Ohio’s system “loosey-goosey” and said it is a potential end run around compulsory education for some families.
With no federal regulation of home schools, it’s left to the states to decide how much regulation is needed. Stanford University political science and education professor Rob Reich likened it to “the Wild West,” with nearly half the states having either no regulations or low regulations.
All a parent needs to do is register with the local public school district in which they live, providing them with a curriculum that meets a specified course of study, a list of textbooks and an “assurance” that they will provide a minimum of 900 hours of instruction a year.
Parents must also provide documentation that the home teacher, usually a parent, has a high school diploma, an equivalent certificate or a standard test score that demonstrates high school equivalence. Lacking that, the home teacher would have to work under the direction of someone with a bachelor’s degree “until the child’s or children’s test results demonstrate reasonable proficiency.”
Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Oregon, said research shows home schoolers on average perform better on standardized tests than public school students.
But Reich disputes such claims, saying they are often tiny samples of home schooling students: “There is simply no existing study that gets a genuinely representative sample of all homeschoolers and that is in part because we don’t even know who is being home-schooled because regulations are so minimal.”
An estimated 22,000 children in Ohio are home-schooled, though Ohio Department of Education spokesman Patrick Gallaway acknowledged the estimate is derived from individual district reports.
At the end of the year, parents must submit a standardized, nationally-normed achievement test administered by a certified teacher or other authorized person, or a written narrative review or “alternative academic assessment.”
Beyond that, school districts have no authority to advise or interfere with the child’s education.
Individual districts are responsible for keeping tabs on parents who teach children at home, but the state administrative code specifies no penalties for districts that don’t comply.
“They don’t have to give us a reason (for homeschooling), but a lot of them do,” said Tim Carr, the Hamilton City School District’s director of student services. “Religion is the biggest reason they give, but sometimes we get people who are just disgruntled at the school system or if the child is missing a lot of school because of illness.”
The Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Virginia that provides legal services for its 80,000 member families, ranks each state according to their degree of regulations.
Ten states — including Michigan and Indiana — have no requirement for parents to register their home-schooled students.
“It’s as if they have gone off the grid entirely,” Reich said.
States that have attempted to tighten regulations have met with strong resistance from the well-organized home-school movement.
Russo said if a parent reports a problem, the Home School Legal Defense Association is likely to have a lawyer there the next day.
“Home-schooling advocates are very aggressive, and the Legal Defense Association is an in-your-face group that will be there in a heartbeat,” he said.
Michael Donnelly, one of the association’s 10 attorneys, said, “We just work wherever we can, whenever necessary, when opportunities present themselves to advocate in favor of reduced regulation because we don’t think it’s necessary. In fact in many respects we think it’s counterproductive. (Parents) are spending time jumping through hoops instead of spending time educating their kids.”
For Hamilton mother of five Peggy Bradshaw, it’s partly a matter of religion, but she said she homeschools her children because she enjoys it and it allows her to manage the family lifestyle better.
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“We’re not morning people, so we mostly work in the afternoon,” she said. “We have a little more freedom to do things without missing out on school work.
“Some days are more rigid than others, but we do school work every day.”
“The process basically in statue is really a right of families to homeschool,” said Lori Thesken, assistant superintendent for human resources at the Butler County Educational Service Center, which manages home school paperwork for the county’s local school districts. “If they choose to homeschool, they are required to notify us. They don’t request, they don’t submit an application, they notify us of their intent to homeschool.”
The only time a district has the authority to interfere is if the assessment at the end of the year fails to show any progress.
“Then we may be able to say this isn’t looking so good,” Thesken said. “I would say rarely has that occurred. We’ll hold this, until we get that assessment, and they can then be excused from compulsory education for the next year.”
“The school district has no responsibility for these families. Sometimes they’ll call and say, ‘I’m homeschooling can you send me the curriculum. No, we don’t have curriculum. Can I borrow textbooks? No, that is your responsibility. Most families take that responsibility very seriously. They either hire teachers, they share teachers amongst themselves and they will purchase a curriculum.”
Thesken said they know the students that are trying to fall between the cracks. “And there isn’t anything we can do about it.”
Because the students are excused from compulsory attendance, they are not counted in a district’s report to the state, and therefore the district does not get that child’s portion of state funding. But neither do the parents.
When homeschool students graduate, they do not get a high school diploma from the home district.
“They have to create their own diploma,” Carr said. “If they want a certificate, they can print one out from a computer program or whatever, but if they’re not in our curriculum, they can’t get a Hamilton City School District diploma.”
Maren Rausch, of West Chester Twp., has been homeschooling her two biological children, Kailey, a 14-year-old freshman, Justin, a 12-year-old sixth-grader and her two adopted children Elijah, a seven-year-old first-grader and Arilyan, a 5-year-old preschool student since 2002. Her kids have never been to school or attended Lakota.
She said she chose to homeschool her kids to teach them what she believes (Evangelical Christian) in without competition and to make sure they succeed.
“I have a better child teacher ratio than any classroom can afford. I’m 1 to 4, and there’s not a single public or private school with better ratios than that,” Rausch said.
Hamilton mother Peggy Bradshaw has been homeschooling her five children for 17 years. She graduated one and one decided not to finish. She now has a high school sophomore, an 11-year-old and a 10-year-old.
Bradshaw believes that a well-rounded education is “not just something you do at school.”
“If you want to instill a love of learning in your child, whatever they want to learn, they’ll learn,” she said. “We’ve always talked a lot with our kids about current issues and other subjects, so even if we’re not formally doing school, we have classroom-like discussions.”
Cherilu DuVal, who lives outside Trenton, along with her husband, Dave, started the Beth Yada Home School Group in 1988-89. The amilies are from Fairfield, Lebanon, Middletown, Monroe, Oxford, Springboro and Trenton. Beth Yada means house of learning.
She said 57 family member parent-run group, which today homeschools between 90 to 100 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 and features 46 Christian co-op families — started out in Franklin and then moved to Middletown where it currently meets at the Breiel Boulevard First Church of God on North.
“When I started homeschooling 23 years ago there wasn’t much information out there. It was hard to find curriculum. It was hard to find people who were homeschooling so people needed a lot of information about how to do it and they needed fellowship. As time has gone along with the internet there’s a lot of information and a lot of curriculum.”
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