- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

In the last election, unions spent $450 million to elect candidates who favor their agenda. They have succeeded beyond the dreams of avarice. The federal government is now virtually the empire of Big Labor.

Especially gleeful are the teachers’ unions, who helped elect a president explicitly and vociferously opposed to vouchers. Even as America’s students have dropped to their lowest level on standardized tests compared to students internationally, and even as drop-out rates soar past the 50 percent mark in most of the largest urban school districts, President-elect Barack Obama has shown contempt for school choice-even as he exercised school choice in enrolling his own children in the most expensive and exclusive private prep school in Washington, D.C.

But there is a ray of hope for those who favor freedom of choice in education: home schooling. A report just out in Education Next (by Milton Gaither) shows that in the face of the continuing failure of the public school system and the roadblocks to freedom erected by the public school special interest groups, parents are increasingly home schooling their children. From 1999 to 2003, the number of children being home-schooled jumped by 29 percent (from 850,000 to 1.1 million). It is currently estimated that there are nearly 2 million home-schooled children, with some researchers putting the current figure as high as 2.5 million.

Especially striking is the growth of home schooling among African American households. The U.S. Department of Education reported 103,000 black children were being home-schooled in 2003. Several organizations are now fanning that growth, especially the National African American Homeschoolers Alliance, founded in 2003 by Jennifer James. Other ethnic and religious groups have also begun to home school in greater numbers, including Native Americans, Hawaiian Natives, Orthodox Jews, Catholics and Muslims.

A major change is the motivation for home schooling. Whereas the motive for home schooling was in the past primarily religious, more recently-according to the exhaustive 2001 National Household Education Survey-over 70 percent of home school parents have a non-religious primary motivation for pulling their kids out of public schools. Most of these reasons are contrary to the stereotype of home schooling parents as being religious fundamentalists.

For instance, parents of children with learning disabilities are finding that their children are best taught at home, in some case with the help of specially trained tutors. Again, parents with athletically gifted children in sports such as gymnastics and motocross find that the time saved by intensively educating their children directly (thus cutting out the time spent in commuting and non-instructional activities) allows their kids to excel.

Yet another new category of home schooling parents are the “creative class” parents, who hire tutors to put the children on a very accelerated, non-standard learning track so that those children have a competitive edge when it comes time to apply for college. These parents have seen home-schooled children win spelling bees and other awards (such as when home-schooled Cheyenne Kimball won NBC’s America’s Most Talented Kid at age 12). They have seen how top colleges are now seeking out home-schooled kids, and have noticed that home-schooled children out-score traditionally schooled ones on the ACT. Home-schooled children have an average ACT composite score of 22.4, compared to the national average of 21.1.

Aiding this growth has been the development of “cyber-charters,” charter schools that allow children at home to learn on-line, under the supervision of their parents.

No doubt the public school monopoly will continue to use its force (fueled by millions of dollars in union dues) to keep its stranglehold on American education. We can anticipate major efforts to stop home schooling in its tracks. Here in California, Justice H. Walter Croskey ruled last year that home schooling was illegal unless the parents had teaching credentials (as if that were any indication of teaching competence!) The ruling was reversed, but it is just a matter of time before another move is made. However, the millions of home school parents are getting well organized, and have proven capable of defending their rights.

Gary Jason is a contributing editor of Liberty.

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