Essay: The Need for Deregulation of Homeschooling

Amy Schertz
Michael Cowger
Writing 1216 December 2004

Parents who homeschool their children in the state of Oregon are required to register with the state as homeschoolers, and their children must take standardized tests at the end of third, fifth, eighth, and tenth grades. These standardized tests conflict with the educational philosophies of many homeschooling parents and are an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Oregon should abolish the law requiring homeschooled students to register with the state and take standardized tests. This stance is supported by many homeschooling families and organizations, including the Oregon Home Education Network, and it would result in a better educated populace.

The Oregon State Board of Education does not agree with this stance. It believes that all children need some form of state oversight to succeed academically. It also fears that if standardized testing is not mandatory, then parents who are not attending to their children's education, or are neglecting or abusing their children, will not be caught by the state. The state has a compelling interest to make sure it has an educated populace, and the Board of Education does not believe that possible without mandatory registration and standardized testing of homeschooled students.

Homeschooling families and organizations are the main push behind the abolition of mandatory registration and testing. They claim that mandatory registration and testing is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. They argue that these tests are a needless expense that can't accurately measure the highly individualized education that every homeschooled student receives. Homeschoolers also argue that standardized tests cause many families to inadvertently fall into the patternof what is commonly known as teaching to the test. One of the Board of Education's concerns is that homeschooled students will not receive an adequate education without some form of state oversight. However, children are perfectly capable of academic success without state oversight. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, 23 states do not require homeschoolers to take standardized tests, and 10 of those states do not require homeschoolers to register with the state, either. Closer to home, none of the children enrolled in private schools in Oregon are required to register with the state or take standardized tests. This shows that the state is not worried that Oregonian private school students are not being properly educated.

Another of the Board of Education's concerns is that parents who claim to be homeschooling are actually hiding the fact that they are abusing their children. Child abuse is incredibly horrible. No one can deny that. However, registration and standardized testing of homeschooled students is an ineffective way of catching it. Many cases of abuse go unnoticed by the public schools. These abused children are in an environment where the teacher sees them every day and is required to report suspected abuse. A tester who sees a homeschooled child once every two or three years would be very unlikely to notice any signs of child abuse. A much more effective way of catching child abuse would be to require all children in the state to have annual check-ups at the doctor. If parents are neglecting their children, they would be incredibly unlikely to homeschool them. There is no financial incentive to homeschool one's children. In fact, most homeschooling families are not as well off as they would be if they didn't homeschool. The biggest reason for this is the loss of a second income when one parent stays home to educate the children.

The Board of Education argues that standardized testing is a necessary tool in the battle against illegal drug production. They claim that without registration and testing the state will have no way of catching people who use the guise of homeschooling to keep their children from telling anyone about the methamphetamine labs or marijuana plants hidden in the basement. This argument is without merit. Even if people like this do exist, they are already breaking the law on such a large scale that it is highly unlikely that they will comply with registration, where the maximum penalty for noncompliance is merely "a fine of not more than $100" (Lahrson-Fisher 34). Mandatory registration and testing is an invasion of privacy. Homeschoolers receive no public money. In fact, they save the state classroom space and thousands of dollars every year. Private schools also receive no public money, but they do not have to register their students with the Department of Education, nor do their students have to take standardized tests. All that the homeschoolers are asking for is to have the same status as private schools.

Mandatory registration and testing is an unconstitutional limitation of freedom. The United States Supreme Court, in the case of Pierce v. The Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, has said: "The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."

According to Amy Grant, legal attorney and former President of the Oregon Home Education Network, this ruling gives the right of parents to direct the education of their children the status of what she describes as a "fundamental right." "Fundamental rights," such as the right to freedom of speech and the right to vote are given special protection under constitutional law. The state cannot pass laws that obstruct "fundamental rights" unless it can prove that it has a compelling interest that conflicts with that “fundamental right". Even then, it must use the least restrictive means possible to protect that compelling interest. In this case, the state's compelling interest is making sure that all of its residents are being properly educated. The state has shown that it can protect that interest without registration and testing because it does not require private schools to register or test. Therefore, the state's claim that registration and testing are the least restrictive means necessary is not true.

Standardized testing is a limitation of freedom because it does not allow parents to educate their children in the way that they feel is best. Some parents believe that children who learn mathematical concepts and what's behind the numbers before memorizing equations will have an easier time understanding higher math later on in life. Such children will learn basic equations and computations later than what is considered normal. The third grade test, however, requires them to perform mathematical computations. These children will receive a poor grade on the test and be considered behind, when they are actually taking an alternative path to mathematical understanding.

Another example is children who are being raised bilingual. These children will learn English reading and writing at a slower pace than they would if they were learning only English. They would receive a low grade on a standardized English test. A third example is parents who do not follow the theory of evolution and want their children to learn science based on the theory of creationism. Children who are taught only creationism would not do well on an evolution-based science test. Requiring children to take such a test would infringe on their parent's rights. Now, the state may argue that by failing to teach their children evolution, these parents are failing to educate their children properly. However, if the parents were to send their children to a religious private school where only creationism was taught, they would be acting within their rights as parents. With the law the way it is today, children who are educated in a private school are free to learn according to the educational philosophy of that school, no matter how unconventional that philosophy may be. Children who are educated at home are not.

The state should not waste time and money on monitoring homeschoolers. It should treat homeschoolers and private schoolers equitably. The homeschool regulation laws are unjust, ill-founded, and do not help the homeschooled students. Instead, these laws restrict educational options of homeschoolers and reduce the quality of a homeschooled education.