- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

I was surprised to read that the National Education Association passed a resolution at its recent Los Angeles convention to exclude home-schoolers from participation in extracurricular activities in public schools. The article I read went on to say that the NEA opposes parents home schooling their children unless they are state-licensed teachers and use a state-approved curriculum.

Naturally, I found this quite unbelievable. Considering the high scores posted by home-schoolers on nationwide tests, the stellar achievements of home-schoolers on nationwide academic competitions, and the accomplishments of home-schoolers in college and the work force, I would have assumed that those interested in improving the educational results for our children would be intrigued, at the very least, by what home-schoolers are doing to get such wonderful results.

The NEA Web site certainly offers strong evidence for the importance of parents in education. One page, “What the Research Says,” highlights a study from the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project that found, “… parent involvement improves student achievement.”

A second study, from the San Diego County Education Department, found that neither income nor social status are accurate predictors of student academic achievement, but rather, having a home environment that encourages learning, and having parents who express high expectations for the child and who become involved in their children’s education.

A third study, by the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, found that “no matter what their income or background,” students with involved parents are more likely to succeed in school, in every category.

Praise for parents as educators? Not quite. An article on the Web site by Dave Arnold derides parents who choose to educate their children at home: “Home Schools Run by Well-Meaning Amateurs.”

Interestingly, Mr. Arnold offers not one statistic, not one research study, not one single indicator of academic progress of students in home school or public school situations as basis for his opinion. Instead, he compares education to mechanical tasks: home repair, auto repair, designing a space station. He implies that parents don’t have the skills, knowledge or tools necessary to educate their children: “You would think they might leave this — the shaping of their children’s minds, careers and futures — to trained professionals … who have worked steadily at their profession for 10, 20, 30 years! Teachers!”

Mr. Arnold, head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois, continues: “It’s obvious to me that these organizations are in it for the money … in the hope of profiting at the hands of well-meaning but gullible parents,” he writes of home school Web sites. On socialization, he offers this assessment: “Without allowing their children to mingle, trade ideas and thoughts with others, these parents are creating social misfits.”

Juxtaposed within the context of the NEA Web site, the commentary is quite fascinating. The NEA offers its 2.7 million members “protection for your career; help with collective bargaining, top-notch lobbying for funding; help with insurance, investment opportunities, credit cards, building community support.”

The NEA’s June 2005 report “Rankings and Estimates” does not even deal with student achievement, but rather teacher salary levels ($47,750 average), percentages of public school income from states (48 percent) and federal (8 percent), and amounts spent per student ($8,554 annually).

Every topic on the NEA Web site, from increasing the schoolwide performance on tests to dealing with problem students, is linked to a perceived need for more funding.

But parents who choose to educate their children at home, investing their time and intelligence in the same work teachers are paid for — without compensation, without demands of public funding and without complaint — such parents are the target of censure and derision by this organization.

If the NEA is so overwhelmed with its task of educating 48 million children, you would think it would be grateful to the parents who are willing to educate their own 2 million, and who are getting better results.

The issue of denying access to extracurricular activities is ironic in that the NEA is celebrating the anniversary of the end of racial segregation, yet is proposing separate but unequal access to publicly funded facilities based on academic choice. A lesson in tolerance? Hardly.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.

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