Scientific American takes aim at homeschoolers

Scientific American takes aim at homeschoolers

Should parents be required to pass a background check to teach their kids at home? According to the editors of Scientific American, the answer is “yes.”

In a recent article, the editors of the celebrated 178-year-old magazine heavily imply that homeschoolers are being left behind. But they provide no evidence that homeschoolers are worse off educationally, socially or physically. And none of their suggestions for improvement make much sense.

The article claims that federal oversight is needed to protect homeschooled children from abusive parents. But the editors’ evidence is insufficient to justify this level of government overreach.

Most would find it hard to argue with the editors’ opening argument that “children deserve a safe and robust education.” But they go on to use this as the reason that homeschooling should be tracked and regulated in the U.S. This conclusion just doesn’t hold water based on the evidence from studies they cite.

When homeschool parents were asked why they educate their kids at home, 80% said they were concerned about the school environment, and 75% expressed dissatisfaction with the schools’ academic instruction, according to a 2019 National Center for Education Statistics study referenced in the article. Most parents choose to homeschool because they’re seeking a more robust education and a safer learning environment than the conventional school can provide. The editors neglected to include these relevant statistics.

Scientific American then points out that many homeschool students are exempt from taking assessments that are required of students attending a conventional school. This makes sense, since the individualized learning environment afforded to homeschool students lends itself to more flexible and diverse assessment modalities. While standardized tests might be the most efficient way for teachers to measure the content knowledge of a class of 25 students, a written analysis based on a recent visit to a museum might be a more meaningful demonstration of knowledge for a homeschool student.

What doesn’t make sense, however, is the editors’ argument that the practice of exempting homeschool students from taking the same types of assessments as their peers in a classroom setting “enables educational neglect that can have long-lasting consequences for a child’s development.” This is an unscientific logical fallacy with harmful consequences, including misleading the public about the reality of homeschooling. While neglecting a child’s education is certain to have a negative impact on his or her development, exempting a homeschool child from taking standardized assessments is not a form of educational neglect.

The editors also assert that many studies that support homeschooling are biased and “methodologically flawed.” They blame the shortage of data on “lax reporting requirements and the underground nature of homeschooling.” But a growing number of robust homeschooling studies have been published in recent years, and these are summarized in a literature review referenced in the article. The review cites both quantitative and qualitative studies that provide an in-depth understanding of the current homeschooling landscape. The review indicates that most parents choose homeschooling to give their children a better and safer learning environment than conventional school can provide.

“Education is a basic human right,” the editors assert. But parents have the right to determine how and where their children learn. According to Michigan law, “It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children.” Imposing regulations will only restrict families’ ability to practice this fundamental right.

Editor’s note: THis piece originally was published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

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