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A View From Home

by Cyndy Rodgers

A new beginning -- 2004 and the future looks bright. This coming year marks a new beginning for our household. We officially have a teenager. Homeschooling a teenager does make one stop and question, "Can I do this?" Only five years left to adulthood, college and the beginning of a profession. I look within my community to other families who are further along. Many of the families of high schoolers have polite, articulate, and bright young people who provide me with the peace of mind that my old age is in good hands.

Still you hope you are giving them what they need. Well, over the Christmas holidays I witnessed an inspirational moment that I wished the whole world could have shared. I attended a concert by the Los Robles Children’s Choir and The Conejo Valley Youth Orchestra. These two groups spotlight the most gifted children in our community. Performing statewide, you must audition to participate.

During this particular concert to a packed house close of a thousand, the two groups debuted an original composition titled "The Gift of the Magi". If you can imagine a choir of 100 singers with a 60-piece orchestra, it was inspirational. But what made it even more powerful to hear was that it was composed by a 15 year-old homeschooled young man. Taking a bow to a standing ovation crowd was composer Lennon Leppert. Yes, it’s my editors, Mary and Michael Leppert’s, son.

I asked the Lepperts if I could include this event in my column because it demonstrates so elegantly why homeschooling works. Mary confessed to me that she felt a sense of relief from years of guilt. She may have neglected him a little while coordinating all those Link Conferences. When I spoke to Lennon and told him of his mother’s hypothesis, he agreed that the time to play was important. He said "I spent hours playing Legos and listening to John Williams."

I realized then that Mary and Michael had given him the time to be quiet and listen to his inner voice. He says the beginnings of this symphonic piece ("Magi") popped in his head while eating dinner. This young man will finish his primary education in a few years and already has in motion the pursuit of his passion. He is an example that makes many young families chose home education. Stories like Lennon’s and those of his peers are why homeschooling is growing.

Nationwide there seems to be more acceptance of a family’s right to home educate. With the start of 2004 underway, the homeschooling horizon looks good. Presently only a few state have legislation efforts that we should be concerned about. The newest concern is in the state of Ohio where Senate Bill 66 is the debate. This legislation, titled the "National Child Alliance Bill", promotes the interests of a national child advocacy organization, the National Children’s Alliance. Many, not only in that state, but those who watch homeschool laws nation-wide, are concerned that state representatives are allowing an outside advocacy group to define state law. SB 66 is presently in committee and will be part of Ohio’s new legislation session.

Other states of concern for 2004 are Illinois, Pennsylvania and my home state of California. In my previous column I detailed California’s A.B. 56, Illinois’ H.B. 3811 and Pennsylvania’s H.B. 1221, all of which expand the age of school attendance. Look for these bills to be up for a vote in the next legislative session.

Homeschooling families in Illinois have additional concerns. They, along with The Christian Home Educator’s Coalition of Illinois and the Illinois Christian Home Educators, are uneasy about the election of a new legislature which appears to be unsympathetic to homeschool freedoms. Keep your eyes and ears open when the 2004 Illinois State legislature begins.

Several state bills designed to assist home-educating families are also scheduled for the new legislation sessions. Homeschoolers in Tennessee (H.B.1982) Texas (S.B. 412) and N.Y. (A.B. 4598) should look for these bills during their respective state’s next session. H.B. 1982 redefines for Tennessee home educators that a "teacher" may include extended family members. In Texas, S.B. 412 allows for participation in public school activities. Finally, New York’s A.B. 4598 reduces the administrative burden for homeschooling families.

On the Federal level, both the House and Senate have drafted legislation that is being promoted as anti-discrimination for homeschoolers. H.R. 2732 (HONDA) HOmeschool Non-Discrimination Act, and its Senate companion S1562 was introduced to the house by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) She along with Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) of the Education and the Workforce Committee say the legislation will clarify several federal laws and ensure equal treatment of homeschool students. The press release from Congresswoman Musgrave states:

"More and more parents are making the choice to educate their children at home. They should be free to make that decision, knowing that the laws will treat their children as equals in qualifying for financial aid and protecting their academic records. This legislation has come at the request of many families across the country who seek the freedom to educate their children as they wish."

The key provisions of the legislation are:

•Clarifies the Higher Education Act to ensure that homeschool students and the institutions that enroll them are eligible for federal financial aid.

•Ensures that homeschool students have access to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts.

•Allows all homeschool students to apply for the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program.

•Strengthens protection of homeschool student records under the Family Educational Records and Privacy Act.

•Amends child-labor laws in recognition that older homeschool children may work during traditional school hours, as their school day does not necessarily follow the usual schedule.

•Clarifies that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not require parents to complete burdensome paperwork or undergo an evaluation when they decline special education services.

If this all sounds good there are some who say "Wait!" Home education advocates throughout the nation are assembling petitions protesting this legislation. Their argument is: "The bill will impose regulation over homeschoolers where no regulations exists. The U.S. Constitution, under the Tenth Amendment, clearly states that any powers not specifically delegated to the federal government within the Constitution are reserved to the States and to the people. The Constitution does not specifically delegate the power to regulate education in any aspect to the federal government. Any power to regulate education is reserved to the States and to the people."

The Home School Legal Defense Association supports the legislation, stating: "There are currently several areas of federal law that unfairly impact home education. Congress must pass the HOme school Non-Discrimination Act (HONDA) to remedy this unfair treatment. Much of these problems arise because Congress has overlooked homeschoolers while drafting legislation. The number of homeschool students has grown from just a handful in the 80’s to approximately 2 million today. Furthermore, their academic success is remarkable. Congress should no longer overlook homeschoolers as a viable and successful movement"

Even with the government becoming more supportive, that doesn’t mean the landscape does not have a few wolves hiding in the bushes. Take the recent two-part "news" report by CBS which aired Oct 13th and 14th titled "The Dark Side of Homeschooling" and "Homeschooling Nightmares". These stories, reported by Vincent Gonzales, tried to link child abuse, murder and suicide to homeschooling.

Joseph Wambaugh in his new book Fire Lover tells the true story of John Orr, a California arson investigator who became a serial arsonist himself. Last month in Denver a volunteer firefighter was charged with setting a church fire. Should we conclude the nation’s firefighters are all potential arsonists? The thought of suggesting our beloved firefighters and arson could be linked is un-American. Yet, we have possibly two cases where there is a link. I ask you Mr. Gonzales, "Do two cases of child abuse -- a nationwide problem found in many walks of life -- really justify the "Dark Side of Homeschooling"?

Response to this "news" report was swift and loud. A letter signed by thirty-two members of congress was sent to the chairman of CBS Andrew Heyward stating "The October 13th segment, which aired on the CBS Evening News, implied a tragic murder-suicide in rural North Carolina was somehow evidence of a "dark side" of homeschooling, which justified further government regulation of home education. The tenuous connection between this two-year-old tragedy involving a single family, which happened to homeschool, and millions of law-abiding mothers and fathers who successfully and safely educate their children at home every day is absurd."

Homeschool groups also sent letters to CBS reporter Vincent Gonzales and producer Barbara Pierce. They also expressed concerns over linking child abuse and homeschooling. Some pointed out the statistic of violence on school campuses. I guess CBS jumped to a few conclusions without checking some important facts.

They should have looked at the new study that dispels the myth that homeschoolers are not as socialized as public school students. The study titled "Homeschooling Grows up" was commissioned by HSLDA and conducted by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute. NHERI surveyed more than 7,300 participants who were home educated over the last twenty-five years. Five thousand were educated at home for more than seven years of their education.

What the study found was 71% did volunteer work or participated in community groups like church or neighborhood associations. This compared to 37% of U.S. adults. The study found home-educated adults were more involved in politics -- 76% of 18-to-24 year-olds who were homeschooled voted regularly compared to 29% of 18-to-24 year old public-schooled adults. The study also found homeschooled adults in a wide variety of professions. For more information on the study go to www.nheri.org

So parents now have statistics to back up the socialization question. Now let’s tackle the second stereotype "Parents aren’t qualified to teach" The primary concern is the teacher’s credential. In 2002 President Bush’s Leave No Child Behind Act (LNBCA) outlines a requirement that by 2005 schools will have "highly qualified" teachers in major core subjects like math and science. The federal government defines highly qualified teachers as "those who hold a four-year degree, have a state certification and demonstrate competence in the subject they teach."

A recent report to congress assessing 1999-2000 school year found that only 54% of secondary teachers met that definition. The report went on to state that 47% of math teachers and only 55% of science and social study teachers were highly qualified. LNCBA seeks to raise those numbers but the country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, says it plans to sue over the law.

If you would like proof that parents can educate as well, if not better than many teachers, check out the recent report from The College Board. They administer the Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT. They report in 2002 homeschoolers averaged 72 points higher than the national average of 1020 for non-home schooled students. The ACT college admission exam also shows that homeschoolers beat non-home schooled students this year as well as last, with an averaged score of 22.5 compared to 20.8.

In the National Merit Scholarship Program, an academic competition for high school students, 1.3 million students are evaluated for recognition. Students must take the PSAT and meet other program entrance requirements. An estimated 16,000 young adults nationwide make the semi-finals. For 2004, 250 were homeschooled. Last year of the 248 who made up the 2003 finalists, 129 went on to be finalists and merit scholarship recipients.

Home education as a modern day choice is more than twenty-five years old. An estimated two million now homeschool. Whether students are achieving merit scholarships or composing symphonies, homeschooled young adults will continue to spark interest in this education option. In 2004, I predict, we will see more evidence that public education will have to justify itself as home education continues to boast its successes. Happy New Year!