May 8 2014
Vicki E. Alger
Government schooling officials in Wales have backed away from plans to force home-schooling parents to register with the state, thanks to a backlash from outraged parents. According to the BBC:
Opponents said the proposals, put on hold in December 2012, amounted to a licensing scheme for home educators. Under the plans, parents would have needed to apply to join the register and the quality of the environment and education would have been assessed. .
Welsh ministers will issue guidance on home schooling to councils instead. …But [Education Minister Huw Lewis] said the majority of local authorities and children’s organisations believed legislation was ‘absolutely necessary to ensure home-educated children were receiving a suitable education.’
Whether we’re talking about Wales or Washington, DC, we need to ask a fundamental question: what evidence do we have that politicians and special-interest groups (purportedly acting on behalf of “the children”) know best about education?
Here in the U.S. we’re spending more than 2 ½ times what we did in 1970, but student achievement has flat-lined. As the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson explains, all that money hasn’t been funding better results. It’s swelling the ranks of public-school staff. That track record should encourage Washington pols to back out of meddling in education. Instead, it’s emboldened them, most recently by pushing Common Core national standards, which are watered-down, politicized, costly, and unconstitutional.
Well perhaps the Welsh government is a public-schooling powerhouse. Nope.
According results on the international PISA assessment, taken by high school-aged students from 65 countries, Welsh students rank dead last in the United Kingdom in reading, math, and science. Excluding the combined UK country score, Wales ranks 38th in math, 31st in reading, and 25th in science.
Welsh Education Minister Lewis acknowledged that these disappointing results “showed Wales had a long way to go.” Responses from elected officials on both sides of the aisle were much blunter.
Conservative shadow education minister Angela Burns called Welsh PISA results “truly appalling figures [that] show Wales’ educational performance has at best stagnated, and at worst declined.”
Liberal Democrats leader Kirsty Williams tweeted that she is, “Really sad and angry that 14 years of Welsh Labour Education Policy has led us to these #PISA results.”
It is perversely ironic, then, that politicians such as Welsh Secretary David Jones expect parents to sit idly by and wait for government to “address these serious educational deficiencies and give the young aspirational people of Wales the skills they need to succeed.” Meanwhile, many of those same officials want to put home-schooling parents under the microscope to ensure they’re doing a good enough job educating their children.
It would be a mistake to think what’s going on in Wales can’t happen here.
The Obama administration threatened a to deport a family who fled Germany and was granted asylum here because they home-schooled their children. The freedom parents have to home-school also varies by state, but these parents are getting consistently better academic results.
Even after controlling for various family background differences, such as parents’ education levels, income, and race, home-schooled students score 15-30 percentile points higher on standardized achievement tests that their public school peers. In fact, some research suggests home-school students outperform their public school peers by close to 40 percentile points.
Also, regardless of whether parents are “certified” instructors or not, across grade levels and core subjects such as reading, math, science, and social studies, home-school students score between the 80th and 90th percentiles, compared to public school students who score at the 50th percentile.
What’s more, once home-schooled students become adults, they are more likely than the general population to participate in community service and vote.
Results like these help explain why as many as 2.4 million children were home-schooled in the U.S. in 2010, and each year that number increases by about 7 percent, around 100,000 children nationwide.
A handful of states know better than to mess with success. Homeschooling in Oklahoma is constitutionally protected, while Idaho doesn’t require parents to get any kind of approval from the state if they prefer to home-school. In New Jersey parents may simply educate their children “elsewhere” besides a school (See p. v).
As the Home School Legal Defense Association sums up:
Of course, an education movement which consistently shows that children can be educated to a standard significantly above the average public school student at a fraction of the cost…will inevitably draw attention from the K-12 public education industry. …
The question HSLDA regularly puts before state legislatures is, ‘If government regulation does not improve the results of home-schoolers why is it necessary?’
Welsh parents have been asking their elected officials the same question—and the answer is the same no matter where in the world parents live: Parents don’t need to depend on government to school their children—especially when governments consistently fail them.