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Topic: The Seduction of Homeschooling Families

The Seduction of Homeschooling Families

Forwarded with permission from Chris Cardiff, homeschooling father of
three, President of the California Homeschool Network, and a director of software
engineering at Netscape Communications Corp.

The Seduction of Homeschooling Families
by Chris Cardiff

Do the public school authorities feel threatened by homeschooling? Judging
by their efforts to lure homeschooling families into dependence on local
school districts, the answer is apparently yes.

For the last several years, homeschooling has been the fastest growing
educational alternative in the country. Estimates of its growth rate
typically range from 15-25% annually. Homeschoolers are notoriously
difficult to count, however, the National Homeschooling Research Institute
believes that currently 1.2 million children homeschool today. While this
constitutes only about 2% of all school age children, it’s more than 20% of
those outside the government educational system. And, with a 20% annual
growth rate, another quarter million children will join the homeschooling
movement this year.

The sheer number of homeschoolers represent a distinct threat to the
hegemony of the government school monopoly. Qualitatively, the academic
success of homeschoolers, measured by standardized test scores and
recruitment by colleges [1], debunk the myth that parents need to hire
credentialed experts to force children to learn.

Homeschooling also refutes the “more money equals better education” mantra
of teacher unions. The average homeschooling family spends approximately 10%
of the per pupil costs associated with government schools [2] in achieving
these academic results. Multiplied by the number of homeschoolers, even
these modest amounts add up to a sizeable market attracting numerous
educational entrepreneurs.

Besides challenging the legitimacy of government schools, homeschoolers also
pose a more direct economic threat. Funding for government schools is based
on attendance, with a national average of almost $6,000 per student [3].
Homeschooled children represent over seven billion dollars out of reach of
local government schools and, at its current growth rate, each year more
than another billion dollars slips away.

Politically, homeschoolers are a force to be reckoned with when their rights
are endangered. The most highly publicized and effective example of their
growing political clout occurred in 1994 when the House of Representatives
inserted language into an educational appropriations bill that would have
required all teachers to be credentialed. Homeschoolers perceived this
provision as a threat to their autonomy and overwhelmed phone and fax lines
to their representatives until the credentialing language was removed by a
424-1 vote.

Homeschooling’s economic and political impact is keenly felt by teacher
unions, educational bureaucrats, ideological indoctrinators and other
beneficiaries of today’s system. What will happen when the growing number of
homeschooling families withdraw their political support for the enormous
taxes required to fund today’s $300 billion government system?

To combat these threats, defenders of the status quo are fighting back with
all the legal, legislative, and economic weapons at their disposal. The most
insidious of these tactics is the systematic undermining and co-opting of
the homeschooling movement by establishing government homeschooling
programs. Government homeschooling programs set seductive lures before
families by providing “free” resources, teachers, extracurricular
activities, facilities, and even cash reimbursement.

When enough families have voluntarily returned to the government system, it
will be a relatively straightforward matter to recapture the rest by
imposing mandatory homeschooling oversight regulations. Will this seduction
succeed in eliminating independent homeschoolers and derailing the growing
free market in education? Economics and the history of private schools
versus government schools provide ample lessons on what to expect.

The Birth of a Free Market in Education

The term “homeschooling” is a bit of a misnomer. To many people, the word
conjures up a vision of mom instructing her kids around the kitchen table -
a myth perpetuated by the media who invariably demand this particular image
to accompany their stories.

The reality is far different. While instruction around the kitchen table
does indeed occur in most homeschooling families, the flexibility and range
of homeschooling encourages an enormous variety of alternative educational
models. These models range from child-led, interest-based learning
(unschooling) to the traditional, classroom model with professional
teachers. They include distance learning, cooperative teaching arrangements
between parents, commercial learning centers, and subject specific tutors.
Many young teenagers routinely take junior college or university courses.
Others participate in the revival of apprenticing.

The homeschooling boom has not gone unnoticed by educational entrepreneurs.
Homeschooling conferences attract huge numbers of vendors catering to the
hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of families attending. Traditional
curriculum vendors have repackaged their wares specifically for the
homeschooling market. Homeschooling magazines and newsletters flourish while
increasing in number. Organizations providing paid support (curriculum
counseling, bureaucratic paperwork assistance, legal support) for
homeschooling families continue to spring up.

Supplementing these numerous commercial ventures and, in most cases,
preceding them, are a multitude of local support groups that arose
spontaneously to help meet the needs of new and existing homeschooling
families. Much of the power of the homeschooling movement comes from these
groups where families gather to meet the social and academic needs of their
children. These voluntary groups create the environment for low-cost/no-cost
academic solutions, such as:
• cooperative teaching, which leverages the existing talents and interests
of parents;
• information sharing between parents about what works and what doesn’t for
different learning styles;
• renting community rooms (or homes) for group activities and classes
• hiring professional teachers by the hour (e.g., our science teacher is
paid $75/hour, which breaks down to $5/child);
• numerous field trips for hands-on learning.

Homeschooling support groups also provide all of the social activities found
in traditional schools. One group, All Ways Learning in San Jose, is typical
of the depth of activities provided by voluntary support groups once a
critical mass of families is involved. The group meets twice weekly, once at
a local park and once in a rented community room. Volunteer families
organize the monthly newsletter, year book, yearly “school” pictures,
monthly “PTA” meetings (aka, “Parents’ Night Out”), holiday parties, dances,
and choir. In addition, a homeschooling sports league in the area sponsors
baseball, basketball, and soccer for several hundred homeschooled children.

Homeschooling, with its varied commercial and volunteer ventures, is a
microcosm of what a true free market in education could look like. Parents
and children working together, mixing and matching, tailoring the
educational style to what works best for their family. Families spending
their educational dollars as they choose, with educational entrepreneurs
creating a wide-ranging marketplace of goods and services. It’s not just mom
and the kids around the kitchen table - it’s a new educational model.

If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Join ’Em

Stakeholders in government schools have a vested interest in strangling this
nascent free market in education. Early efforts to stamp out homeschooling
were fought in the courts and, while homeschoolers have for the most part
been successful in this arena, the threat of legal prosecution is still a
favorite weapon of intimidation wielded against homeschooling families.
However, for the most part, the days when homeschoolers were considered
outlaws are behind us.

Homeschooling victories in the legal system forced opponents to use
different means to control homeschooling. Moving to the legislative arena,
some states imposed mandatory oversight by local school district officials
requiring curriculum approval and quarterly evaluation. Other states imposed
mandatory testing with a child’s failure resulting in a return to a
government school (note, however, the lack of a reciprocal clause forcing
government schooled students who fail the test to be homeschooled).

These coercive attempts to control homeschooling actually pale in
significance compared to the more subtle and dangerous tactic some states
use to recapture homeschooling families - the inauguration of government
homeschooling programs. Once few in number, these programs are now
widespread in states that allow them.

Early programs in California offered homeschoolers a straightforward $1,000
bribe to participate. To collect, homeschoolers merely had to submit
receipts to the district for any educational activities or materials. It was
an economic win-win situation, as the district retained the remaining $3,000
in per pupil funding from the state.

Programs changed over time as the state gradually imposed more restrictions
on homeschoolers. At first, restrictions took the form of decreasing the
amount available for reimbursement and sharply limiting reimbursable items.
At the same time, more curriculum resources and teachers were made
available. Now, instead of having the freedom to spend money from the state
on educational materials and experiences of their own choosing, families are
only reimbursed for the same consumable materials (pencils, crayons) already
offered by the district.

However, despite these restrictions, these programs still provide
significant economic incentives for both homeschoolers and school districts.
For homeschooling families, they get access to a professional teacher, all
the district resources, and extracurricular activities like sports and band
- all of it “free”. With incentives like these, it’s not surprising that
many homeschoolers have rushed back to the same government system they once
fled and, in many cases, are demanding their “rights” to these activities.
This phenomenon is common enough that it’s attracted national media
attention. [4]

For school districts, the advantages are even greater. Districts receive
full pupil funding for only spending an hour a week with a student [5]. This
is an enormous profit margin over full-time students, a virtual cash cow for
districts. Districts respond to this incentive the way any profit-seeking
enterprise would: aggressive recruiting of new customers (even stealing from
other districts) [6], advertising their programs, conducting workshops on
homeschooling [7], and expanding into new markets (e.g., high school
homeschooling programs) [8].

Crowding Out Private Educational Alternatives

The damage done to the independent homeschooling movement extends beyond
offering financial and other resources to families to seduce them into
government programs. The spirit of volunteerism that suffuses homeschooling
support groups and makes possible low-cost cooperative learning
opportunities also is undermined by government competition. Parents who
offer their time and talents voluntarily in support group situations have
been actively recruited by government homeschooling programs with employment
opportunities at $20/hour.

It’s a straightforward economic calculation for most parents to make and
just one more step in the seduction of homeschoolers. The end result is
government programs siphoning the creative leadership of the private
homeschooling sector. Inevitably, there are some who follow their leaders
back into the system.

Homeschooling businesses are also undercut. Private Independent Study
Programs (ISPs) typically provide a range of services to homeschooling
families, including curriculum counseling, specialized testing,
record-keeping, and other educational resources. It is increasingly
difficult for them to compete against equivalent services offered for “free”
by the state.

The burgeoning charter school movement provides one more example of the
state crowding out private educational enterprises. Similar to government
homeschooling programs, new charter schools in California aggressively
recruit homeschoolers using mass marketing tactics: placing ads in
homeschooling publications, cold-calling during the dinner hour, and email
spamming. Motivated by the same low overhead per pupil funding for
homeschoolers, their entrepreneurship is admirable, but their goal of
recapturing homeschooling families for a government funded and chartered
program is not.

The most aggressive charter schools use another traditional business
technique to achieve rapid growth - merger and acquisition. Backed by state
funds , they can afford to make generous buyout offers to private ISPs.
Private ISP owners in California charge between $100-$400 per student.
Charter schools can afford to hire ISP owners as “administrators” and pay
them $1,000 per student, while still retaining 75% of the state funding for
charter school “overhead.” Everybody wins here as the homeschooling families
no longer incur the cost of the private ISP.

Slamming the Door on an Educational Free Market

Having established a viable government alternative to the private sector and
independent homeschooling, the government’s next step is logical - outlaw or
regulate independent homeschooling out of existence. Not only is it logical,
it follows historical precedent.

This is the same pattern used in the 1800s to virtually eliminate the large
private education system that predominated at the time. First, fund it with
compulsory taxes with attendance voluntary. Once private sector competition
is driven largely out of the market, make attendance compulsory as well.[9]
The same process is underway with homeschooling today and is at various
stages in different states. With guaranteed funding from taxpayers, the
government system can afford to spend whatever it takes to undercut private
homeschooling alternatives.

Not coincidentally, the National Education Association (NEA) has already
formulated the game plan for state control of all homeschooling. For the
last several years during their biannual conventions, the NEA has passed
formal homeschooling resolutions demanding that:
• Teachers of home instruction programs should meet state certification
• Authorized state or local permission should be required annually for home
• Home study should be monitored by local school administrative personnel
knowledgeable about excellence in the teaching-learning environment.
• Students should participate in state or locally mandated testing programs
in suitable settings and in other assessments conducted by the school
• Students should have the option of attending public school for part-time
instruction. They should be counted in the average daily membership (ADM)
without proration [in other words, full per-pupil funding with minimal
attendance and overhead]. [10]

With the infrastructure already in place to support homeschooling within the
government system, it would take only a small legislative tweak to make
these programs compulsory. As mentioned earlier, some states have already
implemented some of these regulations - homeschoolers in Pennsylvania and
Hawaii, for example, are subject to annual approval and monitoring by
government school officials.

Other states aren’t waiting for legislative tweaks and are trying to outlaw
independent homeschooling directly. At one time, the California Department
Of Education maintained a benign and even marginally helpful attitude
towards homeschooling. Today, with no legislative changes to the education
codes, the California DOE informs prospective homeschoolers that the only
legal way to homeschool is through their government programs or with a
credentialed teacher. This is misinformation at best, as even a casual
reading of the pertinent education codes demonstrates. [11]

Enforcing these policies is all too easy with our existing truancy laws and
is exacerbated with the new wave of daytime curfew laws. In California,
truancy laws are enforced by Student Attendance Review Boards (SARBs). SARB
proceedings are arbitrary with little resemblance to due process. Recently
armed by the California legislature with the power to subpoena parents, at
least one SARB had parents arrested for failure to appear (they were not
homeschooling parents). [12]

While SARB actions against homeschooling families are still few in
California, the majority of children stopped by police because of daytime
curfew ordinances are predominantly homeschoolers. These ordinances
typically allow police officers to write citations forcing parents to appear
before a court and pay stiff fines for repeated violations. The combination
of SARBs with subpoena powers and daytime curfew ordinances will have the
proverbial “chilling effect” on independent homeschoolers, forcing them
underground or into the government system.

A Clarion Call for Homeschooling Independence

While educational statists will never be able to put the homeschooling genie
back in the bottle, they’ve made great strides in coaxing him to do their
bidding. Many homeschooling activists recognize the dangers and are sounding
a clarion call to resist the seductions of state funded “freebies” and the
inevitable strings attached to them.

Last year’s National Homeschooling Roundtable Conference, titled “Freedom In
Education”, held multiple workshops debating the merits and dangers of
government funded homeschooling programs. Organizations like the California
Homeschool Network have already taken a stand. Their recently issued
Declaration of Homeschool Independence reads in part:

“The Board of Trustees of the California Homeschool Network holds freedom to
be essential to the fulfillment of homeschooling's promise. We therefore
dedicate our resources and services toward the protection and promotion of
homeschooling independent of government support and intervention. This
policy represents a deliberated response to the encroachments on family
independence and the security of homeschooling rights posed by the growth of
government funded and controlled home-based school programs.”

Educational efforts like these are needed to avoid following the same path
of private schooling in the 1800s which ceded 90% of the educational market
to the government. Homeschooling families need to understand that the real
cost of the “free” homeschooling resources provided by the government is,
ultimately and inevitably, their freedom.

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Re: The Seduction of Homeschooling Families

Hear, hear!

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