Yesterday, the Iowa legislature betrayed its obligation to protect the well-being of that state’s homeschooled children. In one fell swoop, the legislature removed every safeguard designed to ensure that they were actually receiving an education. It’s gone now, all of it, every little protection, and there is now nothing left to ensure the needs and interests homeschooled children. Nothing. And that is, of course, how homeschooling advocates wanted it.
Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, who was home-schooled himself and home-schools his own children, sponsored the amendments adding the language to the reform package. He called the language an “independence amendment.”
“Quite frankly, as I’m home-schooling my children, it is my duty and my job to raise them to the best of my ability. It’s not the government’s job to do that,” he said. “So if I’m choosing to independently educate my children, I should not be accountable to the government for how I am choosing to raise my children.”
Yes, you read that right—this homeschooling legislator insists that he “should not be accountable.” Because they’re his kids, dammit, and he should be allowed to do what he likes with them. Require that he actually educate them? Ha. They’re his, dammit. His possessions, his property. The idea that they might be independent entities with their own needs and interests that should be safeguarded is apparently completely foreign to Mr. Windschitl.
How did this happen? Put simply, Republicans attached the removal of homeschoolregulation to a sweeping educational reform bill aimed at improving the state’s public schools. Democrats were stuck—if they voted against the bill on the basis of not wanting to repeal homeschooling regulations, they would be voting against school reform and a bill they believed in. And so, when the school reform bill passed, homeschool regulation disappeared, a sacrificial lamb Republicans demanded as a price for improvements to public education.
Before this turn of events, Iowa law required homeschool parents to turn in a form with their children’s names and ages and a basic outline of their plan of instruction to their local school districts each summer, and then required that they either homeschool under a supervising teacher or participate in annual progress assessments for their children. These assessments could have been a report card from acorrespondence school, a portfolio assessment by a teacher, or standardized testing, for which parents could choose from a variety of achievement tests. For those using the assessment option, the requirement was that they show “adequate progress” each year over the previous year.
I read over the entirety of Iowa’s (now former) homeschooling law, and there’s a lot to like there. I think it reaches a good balance of allowing parents to choose thecurriculum and guide their children’s instruction while still ensuring that children’s need to be educated is being met. But now it is gone. Under the new law (or, rather, lack thereof), homechooling parents need not report to anyone that they are homeschooling, and they need not have their children’s progress assessed, ever. Under the new law, there is no one at all ensuring that homeschooled children are actually being educated.
This hurts the homeschooled children of Iowa in two very concrete ways. First, while most homeschooling parents may value their children’s education and work hard to ensure that they are learning, not all do and not all will. Some homeschooling parents see passing on their religious faith as more important than education anyway, some get overwhelmed by baby after baby and see education fall by the wayside, and some never intend to educate their children at all, instead using homeschooling as a cover for child abuse or in an effort to end truancy prosecutions. These children are the ones who lost when the legislature repealed its homeschooling regulations yesterday.
Second, having some form of requirement or accountability helps many homeschool parents educate their children better than they might otherwise. I grew up in a state with no homeschooling regulations whatsoever. I saw homeschooled children who got very little in the way of education, but whose parents I am confident would have stepped things up if the alternative had been being required to put their children in public school. As Lana of Wide Open Ground, who also grew up homeschooled in a state without homeschool regulations, put it, “I think a tiny bit of support and regulation would have helped our family. First of all, if we had been required to submit a plan, my parents would have made us follow it. It wasn’t that we were trying to do bad. We were out of touch.” Here, once again, is where homeschooled children lost in yesterday’s legislative action.
Who was there speaking on behalf of Iowa’s homeschooled children? Well, there was the attorney for the school boards association.
Gannon, the attorney for the school boards association, said the current home-school reporting and assessment requirements are critical to ensure students are learning what they need to know. She said she’s heard “horror stories” from around the state of home-school students entering the public schools for their final years of high school grossly unprepared for grade-level course work.
“We have had first-hand evidence of these students not getting the appropriate education they need to be getting,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the majority of home-schoolers by any means, but I don’t know how you pick and choose who’s going to do a good job and who’s not.”
The executive director of the state’s teachers union also spoke against the change, though she focused more on the double standard than on the children’s interests:
“It seems to me to be a really odd mix of strong accountability on our public school teachers but much, much less accountability on home-school parents,” she said.
And that, apparently, was it.
It’s about time someone stood up and spoke for the homeschooled child. It’s about time homeschool groups acknowledged that some level of accountability actually stands to benefit their children, rather than just focusing on how annoying the paperwork is. It’s about time the news media noticed what is happening. It’s about time someone cared.
For more on this subject, here are some links I used in preparing this post:
Homeschooling Tripping Up Education Reform
Medford Mom: “I Do Not Think Home Educators Should Be Regulated, Ever”
Iowa Legislature Approves Landmark Home Education Legislation
Here is some information for those who want more detail on what Iowa’s regulations looked like. Click here to read the HSLDA brief on Iowa’s homeschooling laws, which I will quote from below. First, parents had to submit a form (called a CPI, or Competent Private Instruction, form) to their local school district.
TIMING: File the CPI form by August 26. If moving into the state or initiating homeschooling after the school year has begun, submit a form that is at least partially completed within 14 calendar days and a fully completed form within 30 days.
CONTENTS: The form asks for the name and age of the child, the number of days of instruction (must be 148), texts used, the name and address of the instructor, and an “outline of course of study” (meaning subjects covered, lesson plans, and time spent on the areas of study–there is no mandated minimum). It also requires evidence of vaccinations (or medical or religious exemption) for children being home schooled for the first time.
Then homeschooling parents had a choice: They could homeschool under a supervising teacher of their choice, or they could choose the assessment option.
Supervising Teacher Option: If choosing this option, you must file the CPI form but will not need to submit a year-end assessment. However, you will need to cooperate in working with the ST you choose. This will generally involve consulting and advising. The ST must contact the student twice each 45 days of instruction, one of which contact must be face to face. The ST must provide formal and informal assessments and keep a record of contacts and assistance provided.
Standardized Tests: If under the supervising teacher option, none. If under the annual assessment option, assessments are required beginning the year the child is 7 on Sept. 15 (or their first year of homeschooling, if older). This first assessment is considered the “baseline” assessment, and it is not required that progress be shown or any particular result be obtained. It is simply used as a point from which to measure future progress. Beginning with the year the student is age 8 on Sept. 15, an annual assessment must be submitted that shows adequate progress.
What did the assessments under the assessment option look like? Well, there were several options to choose from.
Report card from an accredited school or correspondence school. School must be accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. “Adequate progress” is a passing grade.
Portfolio review. Parents choose a teacher to review student materials and write a brief evaluation. The evaluation—not the portfolio—is submitted to the school system. The evaluation must indicate adequate progress. A teacher with an elementary classroom license can evaluate children in grades 1-6. A teacher with an elementary content license can evaluate grades 1-8. With a secondary content license, a teacher can evaluate grades 5-12. A teacher who no longer has a current classroom or content license, but who has a current substitute license, can evaluate students of the same grade levels as if his classroom or content license were in force.
Standardized test. The test must be administered in a manner consistent with the requirements of the test publisher. The test level that most closely approximates the child’s chronological age must be used. Only the following tests can be used: (1) Terra Nova, the second edition CAT (also called CAT/6), forms C and D, 2000 norms; (2) Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, forms A & B, 2000 norms; (3) Iowa Tests of Educational Development, forms A&B, 2000 norms; (4) Metropolitan Achievement Test, 8thEdition, 2000 norms; (5) Stanford Achievement Test, 10th edition, 2002 norms. The Department of Education may grant individual permission to use other tests. Adequate progress is a score above the 30th percentile in each required test area PLUS either (a) student scoring at grade level or (b) 6 months progress from previously-submitted test.
So there you have it—the basics of Iowa’s former homechooling law.
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