Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust?

Up here in the Northeast, Connecticut is surrounded by states that rigorously regulate home education: New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and (a bit further away) Pennsylvania. New Jersey is actually one of our allies, so to speak, having a similar statute under which their families homeschool.* That is (possibly), until this week. A New Jersey assemblywoman and her fellow assemblyman introduced Assembly Bill No. 3123, an act that requires the registration and oversight of home education programs. To say that this bill may dramatically alter the homeschooling landscape in New Jersey is an understatement. What remains to be seen is if Connecticut will follow suit. Let’s hope not!

So what is New Jersey proposing?

1. That parents register their children in a homeschool program. Such registration will be accomplished via a notarized letter that includes:

- evidence that required subjects will be offered
- an outline of education objectives by subject
- evidence of immunization
- evidence of age-appropriate health/medical care
- certification that the education supervisor, all adults living in the home, and any person having legal custody of the children have not been convicted of specific criminal offenses within the preceding five years.

2. That each student shall receive 180 days of instruction per year in the subject areas determined by the education supervisor.

3. That guidelines for home education programs will be developed by the Commissioner of Education.

4. That parents may request use of public school textbooks, curriculum, etc.

5. That homeschooled students may have access to public school extracurricular activities provided the students meet all participation/tryout criteria and comply with all policies, rules, and regulations of the organizations governing the activities.

6. That the education supervisor will maintain a portfolio of work for each student enrolled in a homeschool program, including:

- a list of reading materials, samples of writing, worksheets, etc.
- standardized test results for students in grades three, five, and eight
- an annual written evaluation of student progress as determined by a qualified evaluator.

7. That a portfolio of student work will be submitted to the local school district annually by the education supervisor. If the superintendent of the local school district suspects that education is not occurring, he may request an early portfolio review. In such cases, the supervisor of the homeschool program has thirty days to respond. If the supervisor fails to comply, the home education program will be declared unsatisfactory and the children will be placed in a public or private school.

8. That the superintendent of the local school district has the authority to declare a home education program unsatisfactory. Upon such declaration, the supervisor of the program must be notified in writing. He has twenty days to respond by submitting additional portfolio documentation.

9. That in the case of a request for additional portfolio documentation, the home education program will declared unsatisfactory if the education supervisor fails to submit additional information. If the program is declared unsatisfactory, the children will be placed in a public or private school. If additional documentation is submitted, the superintendent will review it. If the home education program is still considered unsatisfactory, the local school board will hold a hearing on the matter and issue a determination. If the school board finds the program lacking as well, the children will be placed in a public or private school.

My biggest problem with this legislative proposal? It removes the parent as the “education supervisor.” I am not exactly sure who the New Jersey assemblyfolk plan to put in this position, but it isn’t the parent. Observe in section six:
b. for students in grade levels three, five, and eight, the results of nationally normed standardized achievement test in reading/language arts and mathematics administered by the supervisor…The test administrator shall not be the student’s parent or guardian.

c. an annual written evaluation of the student’s educational progress as determined by a qualified evaluator…The evaluator shall not be the supervisor or his spouse or the student’s parent or guardian.
If homeschooling isn’t done by the parent, then is it truly homeschooling? The nature of home education isn’t merely that it occurs in a location outside the brick and mortar walls of a public or private educational institution. The nature of home education is that it nurtures and strengthens the bonds of family relationships through the process of teaching and learning. Through the close mentor relationship that is established between parent and child, excellence is achieved. Taking the parent out of the picture by assigning, for example, some public school official to the position of “education supervisor” succeeds in transforming the homeschool into nothing more than a public school satellite program. I can’t think of a better way to quash the innovation that is so badly needed in education today. Can you?

* Every parent, guardian or other person having custody and control of a child between six and 16 shall cause such child regularly to attend the public schools of the district or a day school in which there is given instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools for children of similar grades and attainments or to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school.

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