Investigation into the Social Issues in Homeschooling

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The term "Homeschooling" is not new to education, although it has taken many forms throughout history. The first case of homeschooling can be cited back to Alexander the Great being taught 'at home' by Aristotle more than 2,500 years ago. It was not until late in the 19th century that the United States began passing legislation convincing parents to send their children to public schools and, up until this time, most children were home-schooled out of necessity. Educator John Holt in the middle to late 19th century founded the modern homeschool movement, believing children were naturally curious and eager to learn. The industrial revolution catapulted the rise of modern schooling. Strong support for modern schools came from individuals such as Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron, John D. Rockefeller, the duke of oil and Henry Ford, the master of the assembly line. Since then, the job of teaching children to be good citizens with morals which will one day benefit the global economy was that of the public schools and the teachers they employ. This notion however is being left behind by the homeschooling movement. "Homeschooling is a type of education which typically occurs in the home with the child's parent or guardian serving as the primary educator" (Peterson, 2010, p.19). This notion that parents can teach their children at home has been around for quite some time. The United States Supreme Court and all states do recognize the right of all parents to educate their children at home. That has not always been the case. The reasons for homeschooling however are changing. During the Colonial Age in America, many African Americans were driven to secure and secretive accommodations for their learning. Women who at the time did not have much rights as well as men of a lower class could not receive any admittance to colleges found programs through the home. It wasn't until the 1970's that parents were keeping their children at home by choice rather than by necessity. They believed they could teach them instead of sending them to the public schools. "Homeschooling had become a means for women who believed they should stay at home to nevertheless put their educational experience and talents to good use" (Gaither, 2009, p.335). In the 1990's, 85 to 90 percent of all homeschooled children were educated at home due to religious reasons. Today with an estimated 2 million homeschooled children, the reasons for homeschooling are as varied as the students themselves. "Religious reasons are still at the highest percent, with positive social environment, academic excellence, specific needs, and flexibility right below that for the reasons to homeschool their children" (Spring, 2010, p.170).

Homeschooling has become a worldwide choice of education for many. But one social issue of concern is that there are many who question if it really works: do children reach their full academic and social potential when they are taught at home compared to schools with certified teachers? This issue has been debated by many, resulting with new laws and standards for all 50 states. In this paper, I will discuss:

Differing opinions of homeschooling that are held by parents, educators, and the public.

Diversity through the homeschooling learning environments.

Bureaucracy of homeschooling exclusion from Interscholastic Athletics and laws that affect it.

The law, regulations and the educational outcomes of homeschooling children in regards to the Florida State Code of Ethics.

Differing Perspectives

There are many different opinions when it comes to the question of the purpose of education. Most agree that we must help children reach their full potential, whether they are taught at home or at a structured school. Who is the most qualified to teach them? When it comes to Homeschooling, there are many different opinions.

First is the issue of qualification. Do parents who teach there children at home need to have the same qualifications as the teachers in public schools? To answer this question, one must look to the state in which the child is to be homeschooled. Some states do require certain teaching qualifications, such as Virgina, while other states have little to no requirements, such as Idaho. In the state of Florida, a parent does not have to have any special qualifications to teach their child at home. Many educators believe that a teacher who is "highly qualified" in their field can better educate a child. This statement can be supported by the many classes and educational requirements certified teachers have had on the subject of teaching. Not only have they had studies in content and instruction, but also in the Psychology and Sociology of the child. On the other hand, a parent homeschooling their child argues they have many resources at their disposal and more time to spend on their child's individual needs. For example, Gaither (2009) states that "Parents with children who have special needs of all sorts, from autism to peanut allergies are finding home-based education a more convenient and comfortable approach for their child's needs" (p.342). The homeschool educator has everything at their fingertips from, resources to support groups through the internet. This technology has helped catapult the homeschooling studies. The child can work where they are comfortable and are not restricted to certain academics.

Society has been inconsistent over this subject through the years. In the 1970's they believed that homeschooling was only done by hippies and during the 80's by Christians Fundamentalists. By the 90's, homeschooling was looked at differently by society and the reason's for homeschooling were now more varied. Since then society's perception has been changing to being more open and receptive to the homeschool perspective.

Another major issue is accountability. Due to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, students that attend public schools are required to take standardized tests to show the students progress each year. These high-stakes tests mean "that here are important consequences for students and educators resulting from test performance" (Spring, 2010, p.183). They are in school everyday and accountability is easily justified and recognizable. Both student and educator are held to high expectations and held accountable for their actions. The society feels this is a satisfactory way to hold all equally accountable. Many parents believe that these high-stakes tests are too much for their child to endure and have opted to teach them at home, without the pressures of testing.

The accountability of a homeschooled child is significantly different. A homeschooled child in grades K, 1, and 2 in the state of Florida is only required to have a portfolio evaluation by a Florida certified teacher at the end of each school year to show that they are progressing at their grade level. The parent must then file a copy with the local school superintendent annually. In Florida, there are five options for end of the year evaluations for grades 3 and up:

They can be portfolio evaluated each year, take any nationally normed student achievement test administered by a certified teacher, take a state student assessment test used by their school district, be evaluated by a Florida licensed psychologist, or be evaluated with any other valid measurement tool as mutually agreed upon.

(Home School Legal Defense Association, 2010).

The district school superintendent reviews and determines if the results show the student's educational progress at a level appropriate with their ability. Educators argue that there is no way to ensure that the student is meeting their full potential if the regulations in their state are low. For example: how can a parent who may be uneducated teach their child as well as a highly qualified teacher who has gone to college for over four years for the specific purpose of teaching? For this reason, many states are looking into passing higher regulations for homeschooling. Time will tell what will develop.

Finally, some in society perceive that homeschooled children do not fit into society or succeed in college. Public educators argue that a child needs to have social interactions with other children besides their siblings. Spending every waking hour with their family, a child may never learn important social strategies needed in life. Parents argue that "social development is not dependent on whether we are accepted by others, but on how much we learn to accept ourselves, which then enables us to reach out to others in friendship"(Rivero, L. 2008, p. 62).

Through my research, I have found that children who are homeschooled do quite well. In fact: "Homeschoolers are winning spelling and geography bees, scoring off the charts on statewide tests, and gaining access to elite colleges" (Peterson, P. 2009). When looking back at the purpose of Education, three purposes arise: we as a society want our students to be good citizens; good people with high morals, and develop their particular talents. Both educator and parent still believe they are the best qualified for that job. Homeschooling as a result has become more familiar and less controversial to the public. Milton Gaither states in his research that: "Public schools have opened up satellite campuses that offer free enrichment courses to homeschoolers. Others are welcoming homeschooled students into the classroom through dual enrollment programs (Gaither, 2009). Due to the increasing number of children being homeschooled, many people in our society are taking a second look at this instruction in a new light.

Diversity/Learning Environments

One of the main topics of debate in homeschooling involves the issue of social diversity through the learning environment. Reflecting back on the purpose of schooling, one of the main elements of the public classroom was the social interaction of the students. "Public schools were to create community spirit" (Spring, 2010, p.171). Socialization is a term used to prepare children for the real world, learning to interact and deal with people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. Two questions that arise are "Can students who are homeschooled get the socialization they need? and Who do their parents want them learning their life skills from?" Homeschool advocators claim that the student that learns from home can get the same or more social diversity than the student in a public school. They state that these students are exposed to everything from, homeschool co-ops, support groups, clubs, and field trips to organized sports, stating that the homeschooled student may have more flexibility for social opportunities than the public school student does. In the journal article HomeSchooling Goes Mainstream, author Milton Gaither discusses the flexibility home school students have. "Homeschool support groups can serve as remarkably diverse social networks" (Gaither, 2009, p. 14). He not only discusses elementary aged students but middle and high school aged students as well. "Homeschooling for older children is a high-growth market, and there has been an explosion in innovative programs for them" (Gaither, 2009, p. 15).

A support group may consist of student tutoring or special classes such as dance, or music. Community clubs come in many varieties from theatre to 4-H, boy scouts to swimming. By joining a group such as the Florida Parent-Educator's Association, benefits such as field trips and clubs are included in the monthly dues. Those who favor the public education system argue that children need to interact with other children. Spring states in his book that: "Common-school reformers believed that all children should attend public school, where they would learn to get along with others and learn a common morality and culture" (Spring, 2010). In a public school setting, the student is faced with many opportunities to interact with a multitude of different people with diverse backgrounds. The question of "who" should students be learning their life skills from is therefore left unresolved. AnothAnother dispute that is under review is: What type of citizen does the homeschooler become? Many studies have been done on homeschooled students to answer that question. Dr. Larry Shyers observed children in free play and group interaction activities. "Conventionally schooled children had significantly more problem behaviors than did the home educated" (National Home Education Research Institute (2000) (Shyers, 1992). The Home School Legal Defense Association commissioned a research survey in 2003 of adults who were educated at home. This survey was done by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute. This study involved over 7,300 adults who had been homeschooled in their school years. Out of this number, 5,000 of them had been taught at home in the last seven years. Here are some of the results from that study:

Over 74% of home-educated adults ages 18-24 have taken college-level courses, compared to 46% of the general United States population.

Homeschool graduates are active and involved in their communities.

71% participate in an ongoing community service activity, compared to 37% of U.S. adults of similar ages.

76% of homeschool graduates surveyed between the ages of 18-24 voted within the last five years, compared to only 29% of the relevant U.S. population." (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2010).

This research does have the statistics that back up the learning environment of the homeschooled student is indeed socially diversified. My research shows that the more studies that are being done the more the statistics are backing them up. Fi llFinally, as the growing number of homeschooled children increases, so do the reasons behind it. "Religion ranks the highest, then a safe school environment, followed by instruction quality, special needs and/or health problems, for reason listed why parents choose to homeschool their children" (Gaither, 2009, p. 12). Many of the issues discussed are still unresolved due to differences in learning methods. Some unresolved questions are: Will these children that are homeschooled and sheltered, be prepared for the real world? When it is time to go off to college or work, will they be are to function in society? Part of the study done by Dr. Brian Ray asked graduates of homeschooling what their thoughts were on the subject. "In the opinion of homeschool graduates, homeschooling has not hindered them in their careers or education. 82% said they would homeschool their own children" (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2010).

Bureaucracy

Throughout the history of education, Bureaucracy has always been involved. Political and legal issues have assisted students and educators alike. Many laws have been drawn up to enforce these rights. A conventional example of bureaucracy in the public school setting would consist of many levels of administration that would require many signature approvals to make any decision, no matter how minor it may seem. "Many court cases involve the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution" (Spring, 2010, p. 249). Homeschooler educators find protection of their Constitutional rights under the First Amendment's free exercise clause and/or the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSDLA) is an advocacy organization that was created to help families that want to homeschool their children fight for their rights legally. "The HSLDA has remained vigilant in its work to prevent federal or state governmental organizations from interfering with home schools' autonomy" (Patterson, J. 2007). The Supreme Court of the United States of America states that: "all states recognize the right of the parents to homeschool their children". Many legal issues still hinder homeschool students. One such legal issue is the exclusion from Interscholastic Athletics during the high school years. mmmOut of the fifty states only eighteen have laws in place to force public schools to give access to homeschoolers to participate in activities such as sports and music. Florida is one state that has a law in place. Florida Statutes§ 1006.15, also called the "Craig Dickinson Act", states that: "An individual home education student is eligible to participate at the public school to which the student would be assigned according to district school board attendance area policies" (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2010). Although the students have the right to participate, there are certain conditions that have to be met. Most importantly is the academic homeschool requirements stated in statute §1002.41(1) (C). This requires students to show annual evaluation status of their grades, and maintaining a grade point average above 2.0, thus fulfilling their academic requirements between the student and their school district. Homeschool students are held to the same standards of acceptance, behavior and performance as other students participating in extracurricular activities. Extracurricular being defined as: "any school-authorized or education- related activity occurring during or outside the regular instructional school day" (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2010). This all must be done before each season for which they are intending to participate. In addition to state and district requirements, the state of Florida also has organizations such as Florida High School Sports Athletics Association, Inc. that regulate the interscholastic extracurricular activities in their public schools. They too have requirements that need to be met. This expert is taken directly from the Florida 2009-10 FHSAA Handbook:

9.2.1.1 Definition of "Attend School."

A student attends school if he/she is present in a school classroom on a regular basis or is legally registered as a home education student. Interscholastic athletic programs encompass all activities relating to competitive sport contests involving individual students or teams of students. Such activities include, are not limited to, tryouts, off season conditioning, summer workouts, preseason conditioning, in-season practice and contests.

9.2.2.1 Home Education Student.

A legally registered home education student may participate at one of the following:

(a) The public school the student normally would attend; or

(b) A public school the student could choose to attend according to controlled open enrollment provisions; or

(c) A private school that will accept the student for participation; or

(d) A home education cooperative to which the student belongs. (formerly11.1.3)

On the other side of this legal debate, the states that do not have laws governing this right, many lawsuits and bills have made their way to court. Of the cases that have been brought to court, most rulings have been " that a school district's refusal to allow access to classes part time does not violate the student's constitutional rights to due process of law, equal protection under law, or free exercise of religion" (Roberts, 2009). In addition they state that interscholastic extracurricular activities in public schools are a privilege not a right. In the state of Virginia, the Virginia High School League (VHSL) governs the laws that the school district follow. It states that anyone who wants to participate in interscholastic extracurricular activities must be currently enrolled in five classes in the public school and have successfully passed five classes the previous semester. In Alabama, there is a bill that has been named the Tim Tebow Act. It was written in 2006 and was revised in 2009. In 2010 the Senate calls it #58. Existing provisions prevent a child instructed at home by either a private tutor or under the laws relating to church schools to participate in extracurricular activities offered by public schools. This bill as enacted would be cited as the "Tim Tebow Act." As used in this bill, the term"extracurricular" would mean any school authorized activity including athletics, athletic teams, and band occurring during or outside the regular instructional school day. This bill would allow a student being taught at home by either a private tutor or under church school law to participate in athletics, athletic teams, and band (timtebowbill.com, 2010). This bill is still waiting to be passed. States with public schools that do not allow homeschooled students to participate in interscholastic extracurricular activities express their concerns by "citing limited resources, fair competition, and control over the school activities" (Roberts, J. 2009), as reasonable basis for their decision for the exclusion of students. Although there are many cases that have been refused, there has been great strides in Bureaucracy in local and state agencies that effect the legal rights of homeschooled students and there exclusion from Interscholastic Athletics. Spring sums up this nicely, "The content of learning in public school is determined by a political process. But local politics of education is only one part of the process" (Spring, 2010, p.172). Some of these laws empower the students and their parents and their rights, while other laws empower the society, public institution and the educators they employ. Who is acting in the best interest of the students is still unresolved.

Ethics

The public school and its teachers have strived over the years to produce students that have good moral character. The profession also requires that teachers uphold this same good moral and ethical character. In the state of Florida, the Board of Education has established a set of guidelines that educators are expected to follow. The Code of Ethics are in place to protect the students as well as the teachers and the education profession itself.

The Florida Code of Ethics covers the teachers' responsibilities first to the student. Some examples are: To be non-discriminative, to always protect the student from harm, to maintain the legal rights of each and every student, and to "not unreasonably restrain a student from independent action in pursuit of learning" (COE, 2008). In a public school, if the teacher does not adhere to these guidelines they can be let go. But what of the homeschool educator, who or what enforces such regulations? Depending on the state in which they live, educational regulations are very different.

A study was done by two doctors, Dr. Kima Payne Stewart & Dr. Richard A. Neeley. They conducted "three different investigations using the 2000 U.S. Census and individual state records and data, to determine the accountability of homeschool students with different state regulations" (Stewart & Neeley, 2005). This study looked for 4 components in the states requirements for homeschooling. They included instructor, curriculum, assessment and state requirements. In addition, research shows that out of the fifty states the results dramatically vary. Out of the 50 not many had regulations in place. In fact "only seven states were found to have high regulations involving curriculum and assessment; whereas thirteen were found to have weak regulations. Another thirteen were on the lower end of the scale of moderate regulations. The state of Florida is in the middle, with a rating of low, among the other seventeen states in that category" (Stewart & Neeley, 2005).

I have previous stated in this paper, the options the Florida homeschooler can pick from to meet their yearly regulations. One such option is taking the state assessment test. The next question would naturally be how well these homeschool students perform on these tests. To answer this question an exploratory study was done to discover the outcomes of homeschooled students academically. Homeschooled students who did elect to take a state standardized test (ACT) had significantly higher scores. Citing Michael Cogan results: "Homeschooled students (26.5) reported higher ACT-composite score when compared to the overall cohort (25.0)" (Cogan, 2010). In addition these homeschooled students in this study had an overall higher GPA, and the rates of graduation were higher than the traditionally-educated students in this study. Many parents believe that there are many misconceptions related to homeschooling, and being undereducated is one of them.

Many parents are opting out of the public schools and the pressures that come with it to homeschool their children. I have discussed the Code of Ethics obligations to the students, but what about to the public? Does the homeschool educator adhere to these guidelines? When a parent chooses to homeschool their child, their obligation is to their child, not to the public. According to Spring (2010), "A survey done by the Home School Legal Defense sited the highest rated reasons why parents decide to homeschool their children, the top three were: Religious convictions 49%, positive social environment 15%, Academic excellence 14%" (p.170). The homeschool educator does not need to worry about accepting bribes or types of personal gain, nor the views of the public when educating their child; therefore the second part of Code of Ethics does not really apply.

Finally, what is the obligation to the profession of education by the homeschooler educator? In the states that require homeschool educators to meet high qualifications the third part of Code of Ethics would apply. Misrepresentation or false statements would be considered a violation, for example in the state of Pennsylvania where the requirements for homeschooling are very high. This is taken from the homeschooling laws of Pennsylvania. According to the Home School Legal Defense (2010),

Standardized Tests: Students enrolled in a home education program (Option I) must be tested with a nationally normed standardized test approved by the PA Department of Education or the Statewide tests administered to public school students in grades 3, 5, and 8. The results in mathematics and reading/language arts or the results of the Statewide tests must be submitted with the annual portfolio. Tests shall not be administered by the child's parent or guardian (PA-4).

As stated before, The Code of Ethics are in place to protect the students as well as the teachers and the education profession itself. The homeschooling educator has the flexibility of aligning to all, some or even none of these principals. From the research I have gathered, most homeschool educators follow some sort of Ethics guidelines. As far as unresolved issues are concerned, social issues are still at the top of the list.

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