By Wendy McElroy –
To government, homeschooling resembles a weed that spreads and resists control. To homeschooling parents, it is the flowering of knowledge and values within children who have been abandoned or betrayed by public schools. A great tension exists between the two perspectives. Homeschooling’s continued growth has only heightened it.
The federal government has reacted by attempting to increase its control over homeschooling, for example, by pushing for increased regulation of homeschool curricula. But the federal government is hindered by certain factors. For one thing, education is generally the prerogative of individual states. Nevertheless, the federal government can often impose its will by threatening to withhold federal funds from states that do not comply with its measures.
But homeschooling parents cannot be threatened by a withdrawal of money they don’t receive. As it is, they are paying double. They pay taxes to support public schools from which they draw no benefit and they pay again in homeschooling money and in terms of lost opportunities such as the full-time employment of both parents. The “profit” they receive is a solid education for their children. What they want from the government is to be left alone.
The federal government is also hindered by not being able to play the “it’s for the children” card that justifies so many intrusive policies. Homeschooled children routinely display better development than public school students.
A 2012 article in Education News called the “consistently high placement of homeschooled kids on standardized assessment exams … one of the most celebrated benefits of homeschooling.” Education News compared the quality of homeschooling to that of public schooling. “Those who are independently educated typically score between the 65th and 89th percentile on such exams, while those attending traditional schools average on the 50th percentile. Furthermore, the achievement gaps, long plaguing school systems … aren’t present in the homeschooling environment. There’s no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels, or race/ethnicity.” Studies also indicate that homeschooled children are better socialized with both peers and adults.
It appears the federal government has failed to yank the “weed” of homeschooling. Why does the Obama administration continue to try?
1. Homeschooling is an acute embarrassment to public schools, which do not educate and are rife with abuse. News stories abound of students who are illiterate and who are being abused by teachers or by the police who arrest them for trivial offenses such as burping in class. (See “A List of 19 Children Recently Arrested (July 2013) For Trivial Things.”)
2. Public schools are desperate for funding. The federal government especially wants to pay the expensive union salaries, pensions, and other benefits enjoyed by teachers because unions are one of the administration’s political bases. Since tax dollars are allocated largely according to class attendance, the goal is to force as many children as possible into public schools.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of homeschooled children in 2007 “was about 1.5 million, an increase from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003.” Homeschooling is currently growing by an estimated 7 percent a year. Each homeschooled child represents a loss of funds to public schools and a threat to teachers’ pensions.
3. The homeschooled child is also an embarrassment to the public schools in economic terms. As Education News explained, “The average expenditure for the education of a homeschooled child, per year, is $500 to $600, compared to an average expenditure of $10,000 per child, per year, for public school students.” Of course, that doesn’t take into account the wages a parent most forego to homeschool a child, but at least that opportunity cost is borne only by the parent.
4. The federal government wants to weaken political critics. Parents who homeschool usually do so because of religious reasons (38.4 percent), because they can do a better overall job (48.9 percent), or due to objections to the content (21.1 percent) or to the academic quality (25.6 percent) of public schools. They are “dissatisfied customers” who weaken the government’s legitimacy and credibility. Those who choose homeschooling for religious or ideological reasons present an even larger problem because they are likely to dislike other government programs and positions. A clamp-down on homeschooling weakens the influence of critics, preventing them from producing future opponents.
5. Access to children allows the government to inculcate its values. Public schools teach politically correct attitudes; for example, the diversity of race must be embraced but a diversity of ideas should be rejected. Public schools have become venues for social experiments such as the so-called healthy lunch programs championed by Michele Obama even though children often throw them away, preferring to be hungry. Public schools are also experimenting with using students as advocates for government policies. For example, America’s second-largest school district, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), has accepted almost $1 million for a pilot program to train students how to convince their families to enroll in Obamacare.