Should home schooling be regulated more?
by David Martin
Tune in to Sheila MacVicar’s report Tuesday at 9 p.m. and midnight ET and watch the rest of America Tonight’s education series "Getting Schooled" every night this week.
Rosanna Ward is a passionate advocate for home schooling. She devotes hours a day in her Tulsa, Okla. home teaching her 8-year-old son Joel.
"You can tweak your curriculum and your teaching style more to the way your child learns," she explained. "For me, it's an awesome and fulfilling thing to be there when my children are learning."
Ward has some experience. She home-schooled her two daughters Ginny and Hannah, and was even home-schooled herself as a child, a rare enough event that it earned her a picture in the local paper.
Back in 1980, when it was largely seen as a faith-based fringe movement, home schooling was illegal in 30 states. By 1993, it was recognized as a parent's right across the country. And today, Ward's son is among the nearly 1.8 million home-schooled American children, according to the Department of Education. That's more than double what it was two decades ago, and matches the number of children enrolled in public charter schools. Uniting religious conservatives, progressive "unschoolers" and parents simply fed-up with their local public school, home schooling has become a mainstream educational option, with the reasons for why parents choose it, and the resources, support groups and curriculum available to help them, growing every day.
Despite its explosive growth, home schooling is still a remarkably deregulated enterprise. Half of all states require parents to simply register their intent to home school, and 11 states have no regulations at all. It’s hard to do a comprehensive count of home-schooled students, when in many places, they don’t have to notify anyone that they exist.
Though many home schooling families and advocacy groups, including Ward, credit the lack of regulation with providing more flexibility and space for creativity, some critics charge it can leave children vulnerable to educational neglect, and even abuse, with few ways of finding help.
Falling by the wayside
Doney soon realized that she didn't want to wind up like her parents, and wanted to go to school.
In line with their conservative Christian faith, Heather Doney said her parents wanted to keep her and her younger siblings away from the local public school and its wordly influences. But as their family grew to 10 kids in all, Doney said her mother and father spent less and less time at their New Orleans home educating them.
“It got really bad. It got to where I was doing a lot of the cooking and the cleaning and the babysitting, and education just fell by the wayside,” Doney said.
By the time she was 12, Doney was the only one of her siblings, including her 10-year-old sister, who could read.
“There was a little neighborhood boy that I liked and he found out I couldn’t do multiplication and division, and he said, ‘Ha, ha. You’re going to spend your life flipping burgers,’ and I went inside crying,” Doney remembers. “And it suddenly hit me that I was either going to have a life like my mother or I was going to spend my life flipping burgers. He was exactly right.”
That revelation prompted Doney to make a desperate plea for help. She hid behind the couch and called her grandparents, who intervened.
Doney and her siblings went to public school the following year. She worked hard, and did well. She went on to college and then graduate school, where she researched home schooling. Doney realized that her situation was far from unique.
“Some of the most powerful stories I get are: ‘I thought I was alone…. I thought I was the problem. That I was responsible for all these things that happened to me,” said Doney. “I’ve been ashamed and I’ve been hiding all these deficits that I have in my education.’”
The experience prompted Doney, now 30, to start the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), an organization of formerly home-schooled kids that is pushing for more oversight of the practice.
A patchwork of regulations