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Do Homeschoolers Need Teaching Credentials?

When a California appellate court tried to ban homeschooling unless Mom -- or Dad -- was professionally qualified the reaction was fierce, reports Joanne Jacobs.

by
Joanne Jacobs

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March 17, 2008 - 1:45 am

My mother refused to teach me to read when I was in kindergarten, because the school had advised against home teaching: Parents might “do it wrong.” I had to learn from my sister, a first grader.

The natural hostility between trained teachers and do-it-yourself parents — not to mention older sisters — has waned in recent years. More parents are teaching their children at home. More school districts are collecting state funds for helping parents teach at home.

When a California appellate court banned homeschooling — unless Mom has a teaching credential — the reaction showed that homeschooling is here to stay.

California parents have “no constitutional right” to homeschool their children, the 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 28. Parents face truancy prosecution and loss of custody if they don’t provide a credentialed tutor or send their kids to a public or private school that requires daily attendance, wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a sweeping decision.

Yikes! While the head of United Teachers Los Angeles expressed approval, everyone else screamed bloody murder. Homeschoolers’ groups and the parents in the case vowed to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged to pass a law to allow homeschooling, if the ruling isn’t overturned. State Superintendent Jack O’Connell promised no change in the state’s liberal home schooling policies, saying “traditional public schools may not be the best fit for every student.” Newspaper editorials said there oughta be a law and it oughta let parents teach their own kids.

California law doesn’t mention homeschooling. Instead, the state has allowed parents to declare their home is a private school. Under state law, private school teachers must be “capable of teaching,” but don’t need credentials.

In 2002, outgoing Superintendent Delaine Eastin told school districts not to allow home-based schools. Under fierce attack, she then called for a law regulating homeschooling. Nothing happened and the new superintendent, O’Connell, let the issue blow over.

In the intervening years, homeschooling has flourished. Technology makes it much easier for parents to offer an enriched curriculum at home and to share ideas with other homeschooling parents.

School districts, public charter schools and private schools have created programs to help parents with books, computers, curricula, testing and sometimes with science labs, advanced math classes and other classes in subjects in which parents are weak. Some homeschoolers’ form co-ops or enroll in programs that offer sports teams, band, choir, student council, dances, etc.

In this case, Phillip and Mary Long, who object to public school teaching on homosexuality and evolution, enrolled their children in a Christian school that monitors their children’s progress. That was a “ruse,” wrote Croskey. The mother does all the teaching.

But the children’s education isn’t the real issue in the Long case. A runaway teen-age daughter accused the father of physical and emotional abuse. After a long, inconclusive investigation, a court-appointed lawyer for the two children still at home asked that the Longs be ordered to send them to a public or private school so they can be observed for signs of mistreatment. Presumably, the risk of abuse wouldn’t diminish if their mother had a teaching credential.

Nor would a parent, however educated and credentialed, be trusted to inculcate the communal ethic that the court’s decision demands.

“A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare,” Croskey wrote.

Gosh, why not abolish private schools? Some teach only academic subjects instead of “loyalty to the state and the nation.” And they hire uncredentialed teachers!

For that matter, how many public schools could stand court scrutiny on patriotism instruction?

Homeschool advocates don’t want a law, fearing the Democratic-controlled Legislature would regulate and restrict homeschooling. But they also fear they’ll be at the mercy of school districts, which could use truancy prosecutions to force homeschooled students into regular schools or into district-run independent study programs that receive full state funding for every student enrolled.

I don’t think this is likely: The movement will find better parents than the Longs — a mom with a master’s, kids who are spelling bee champs — to persuade DAs they have better things to do with their time.

One way or another, this ruling will not stand. It’s not just that the homeschoolers have lawyers and political savvy, which they do. They also have the support of the majority of parents who want a full range of choices, even if they’d never choose homeschooling for themselves.

Mom needs a credential to teach her kids? Not going to happen.

Joanne Jacobs, who blogs on education at joannejacobs.com, is the author of “Our School,” a book about a charter high school that prepares underachievers for four-year colleges.

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