By Teresa Mull
U.S. Education Secretary John King revealed in September he’s concerned homeschool students aren’t getting the “rapid instructional experience” they would get in a traditional public school setting. King’s implication appears to be homeschool parents aren’t competent enough to educate their children or to decide which learning environment suits the unique needs of their kids. This offensive statement reflects the anti-choice mentality of the education establishment, which threatens to destroy the high-quality educational experiences of students across the country.
King did acknowledge some homeschoolers exhibit “very tremendous academic success,” but he also made clear his belief traditional schools offer something parents can’t offer at home. “The school experience includes building relationships with peers, teachers, and mentors,” which is “difficult to achieve in homeschooling,” said King, according to a report by Politico.
As uncomfortable as it might make him, King should let parents be the judge of whether these elements of the school experience are missing from their homeschool environment. If they are, states and the Department of Education should let parents determine how to resolve these problems and decide whether they are “problems” at all.
Regardless of what you think about homeschooling, one thing is absolutely certain: King is 100 percent wrong to suggest traditional schools are the only place students can be socialized. Homeschool parents have successfully built all sorts of associations that allow their children to participate in recreational activities with other homeschoolers, including sports leagues. The growing homeschool cooperative movement also offers a community of support, whereby parents and students can come to together to share resources, learn, grow, and socialize together.
Even if a homeschooling parent lives in an area with few other homeschoolers, it’s not surprising he or she would rather seek a wholesome learning environment for his or her children than send them to a local public school, which may have serious problems such as bullying and corruptive curricula, both of which are rampant in today’s U.S. schools.
King says homeschool students might succeed if their parents are “very intentional” about educating their children. But how can homeschooling parents not be “very intentional” when they have already decided to withdraw their kids from free public schools and to sacrifice time, energy, and money to educate their children themselves?
As far as not getting the “rapid” instructional experience they would otherwise get, a recent study released by the John Hopkins Institute for Education Policy shows public school instruction is anything but “rapid.” According to the study’s authors, “The current K–12 education system essentially ignores the learning needs of a huge percentage of its students.”
In complete contradiction to King’s claims, recent research shows homeschool students score higher than the national average on the SAT. Similarly, the National Home Education Research Institute reports, “The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests. A 2015 study found Black homeschool students to be scoring 23 to 42 percentile points above Black public school students.”
The reason homeschoolers have been so successful is because parents are able to customize their children’s learning experiences. For instance, homeschool parents can spend more time on subject areas their kids are struggling with while breezing through lessons their children master quickly. It’s simply not possible to replicate this level of focus and efficiency in traditional schools.
Homeschooling success stories abound. From Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles to former NFL quarterback (and now minor league baseball player) Tim Tebow, homeschoolers everywhere are disproving the stereotype homeschoolers are all awkward religious freaks who are doomed to a life of social isolation.
King should learn the truth about homeschooling, the innovative ideas that have emerged from it, and its explosive growth by talking to just some of the thousands of African-American families now turning to homeschooling (at higher rates than any other demographic in the country). King should also visit any number of homeschool co-ops, such as the Luther Academic Barn, a homeschool cooperative in central Oklahoma whose enrollment has jumped by more than 50 percent in its first year of operation.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I don’t suspect King to change his position on homeschooling or to fairly investigate what should be obvious to the sitting U.S. secretary of education: The only “limited options” homeschoolers experience come in the form of limits imposed on them by federal and state regulations.
Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.