“Eleven percent.” That is the percentage of Kansas school-age students who have been taught outside the public school setting. The former Kansas Education Commissioner was always ready to point out that percentage has held consistent for many years.
The actual state of home schooling is rarely understood in any depth. But a doctoral dissertation on “Homeschooling in Kansas” by Patricia Ann Lee-Bishop in Teaching and Leadership at the University of Kansas describes our recent situation.
Kansas is one of 31 states that require home schools to register as private schools. This is the most freedom allotted to homeschools. Some states demand that a curriculum be taught, and some require that homeschooled students pass standard state assessments. Kansas merely keeps tabs on who is being homeschooled, for truancy reasons, and pretty much leaves them free to manage on their own.
The Kansas Department of Education registers schools, not students. Most of the 9700 nonaccredited private Kansas schools are home schools serving a few children in their own homes. In Kansas, non-accredited schools are not required to hire licensed teachers. Nor are they required to administer state assessments. And they receive no special assistance from the state department of education on curriculum or assessment.
In an 1983 ruling, “...the Kansas Supreme Court stated that home schooling is technically illegal in Kansas because it does not meet compulsory education requirements.” However, Lee-Bishop points out that both local courts and state officials recognize parents can operate a private school in their home. Kansas practice expects home school teachers to be competent instructors and classtime to be substantially equivalent to that in public schools.
Nationwide, nearly three-fourths of home school students are of an age to be in grades 1-5. Most home schooled students re-enter the public schools by ninth grade. Many parents believe that they can deliver their child’s education at the elementary level, but find it difficult to teach the higher secondary level math, science and other specialized classes.
The constant “eleven percent” figure is for all Kansas students who are not attending public schools. Many people have the impression that homeschooling is on the rise. That can be true. Many, but not all, home school families have a conservative church affiliation. This tends to draw students away from private religious schools more than from public schools. Nationwide, the percent of children going to private and parochial schools has fallen slightly as homeschools have slightly grown—and the eleven percent level remains roughly the same.
Moderate and liberal folks sometimes claim that homeschooled children are shortchanged academically and socially. However, many homeschools “network,” share resources and expertise, and use modern media to share improved curricular materials. Graduates of homeschooling perform well and occasionally excel in university work.
But some home school parents are not religiously motivated. They have gifted children and they home school because they find public schools do not challenge their student enough.
The political contention is funding. The “Establishment Clause” clearly prevents public schools from delivering religious education. We all pay state taxes, the majority of which goes to support public schooling. But a parent who wishes to send their child to a private school or home school, must pay for it themselves. Despite NCLB, education is a state’s right. Experiments are continuously being made in various states to use taxes to underwrite non-public education.
Many worry that if public funding is drained away for highly motivated students in private and home schools, public schools will be left with lesser motivated students and less funding. And under the tyranny of No Child Left Behind, there has been even more motivation for some parents to abandon public schooling.
Nevertheless, regardless of which side of the argument you are on, the level of students avoiding public schooling remains....eleven percent.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.