- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

How many parents would say that as their teenager gets older and shows more and more maturity, that is the time to begin clamping down and placing more restrictions on him? It does not make sense. Most parents would be glad to allow their teenager more freedom if he is demonstrating he can be trusted to be responsible.

The same principle should be applied to home-schoolers. The success of home-schooling demonstrates that parents can be trusted to educate their children, which should lead to more freedom, not less. Since the re-emergence of home-schooling in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, home-schooling has grown to an estimated 2 million children. Home-schoolers represent about 4 percent of the school-age population.

Home-schooling has proved that it produces students who excel in academics and are socially well-adjusted. Home-schoolers consistently score 20 to 30 percentile points above the national average on standardized achievement tests. Also, the latest study from the National Home Education Research Institute, titled “Homeschooling Grows Up,” shows that home-schooled graduates are more involved in their communities than the average public school student.

As home-schoolers have proved themselves over the past 20 years, the level of government regulation has declined across the 50 states. Only a handful of states, including Pennsylvania and New York, place burdensome regulations on home-schoolers. In those states, home-schoolers are seeking greater freedom through legislation, which until now has been defeated. Though it has taken much time and effort, the overwhelming majority of state legislatures have made the decision to trust parents to educate their own children.

Some critics, however, still maintain that a home education is inadequate, justifying new regulation. They face a difficult challenge because the state’s legitimate interest in an education program already has been laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Wisconsin v. Yoder. The court ruled that the acceptable results of an education program are literacy and self-sufficiency. In other words, the student should be able to read, write and support himself without recourse to the state after he has completed his education. Home-schooling more than meets that standard, and critics have been unable to demonstrate otherwise.

Literacy and self-sufficiency also are goals of the public school system. Parents send their children to public school expecting them at the minimum to reach this standard by the time they graduate. Public schools are funded by taxpayers and therefore are subject to regulation by the given state. Because home-schooling is not taxpayer funded, the state has a legitimate interest only in the result, not the process of education. Home-schoolers have proved over time that the results are outstanding.

Unfortunately, some governments still don’t get it. For example, in Puerto Rico, legislation has been introduced recently to bring home-schools under the supervision of the public school system. Home-schooling parents would be subject to extensive regulation, including the requirement to answer intrusive questions and provide personal information about the family to the government. This action shows a lack of trust of home-schoolers and a failure to recognize the outstanding academic achievements of home-schooled children.

Home-schoolers have earned the right to be free, and as more non-home-schoolers recognize that home-schoolers are both academically excellent and socially well-adjusted, the case will be stronger. Nevertheless, home-schoolers are realistic and recognize that most policy-makers will never fully trust parents to educate their own children. The battle to maintain home-school freedom will not end soon and, unfortunately, may never end.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600; or send e-mail to [email protected]

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