Mandatory Testing for Homeschoolers?

by Robert Pondiscio
December 29th, 2009

Should homeschooled children be required to sit for state exams to ensure minimum competency in reading and math?  And what should happen if they fail?    Indiana University School of Education professor Robert Kunzman, who studies homeschooling, proposes in the journal Theory and Research in Education that states require a basic skills test for homeschoolers.

Seconding Kunzman’s article, Miller-McCune magazine asks, with as many as 2 million students currently being homeschooled, whether ”it might be time to consider some sensible oversight.”  In theory, the magazine notes, a required basic skills test “could be a useful tool to help homeschooling parents understand which areas their child is excelling and struggling in and, if constructed properly, could illuminate where to focus additional attention.”

Above all, it’s essential that the test be crafted by individual states (just as individual states create tests for public schools in compliance with federal testing mandates) and be viewed as “neutral” (evolutionary science off-limits?) by parents and students. Then perhaps local homeschool organizations could work with the state to create a skills assessment that contains no ideological or moral “litmus test.” The result, as Kunzman conceives it, “would involve computation skills (adding, subtracting, multiplication, division) and reading comprehension.” In other words: a simple, rudimentary, noncontroversial test that even a serviceably educated student could pass.

Even that won’t be simple, however.  At the website Homeschooling Research Notes, Milton Gaither, a professor at Messiah College sees several problems with Kunzman’s proposal:

First, he is not clear about exactly when these tests would need to be administered or what would happen if a student failed them.  By what age must a child be able to read, write, and cipher?  For some unschoolers such skills are not deliberately taught until a child wants to learn them, which could be as late as 10 or 12.  Such children would fail the Iowa test of Basic Skills, perhaps repeatedly.  What then?  Kunzman says in a footnote that failure doesn’t mean kids should be forcibly placed in public schools, for they might do even worse there.  All he says is that repeated failure shoud prompt “a closer look by the state into that particular homeschool context, the quality of instruction, and the needs of the student before deciding how best to protect his or her educational interests.” (p. 328)  This I find unhelpful and vague.  Why bother administering the test at all if there’s no clear consequence for failing it?

Kunzman’s website has a lot of interesting information and resources about homeschooling (his state-by-state chart of homeschooling regulations is fascinating).  While I understand the impulse behind his proposal–he points out we really have no objective information about how homeschooled students truly perform academically–but I think it’s unlikely that many, perhaps even most, homeschoolers will see mandated testing as anything other than an unwarranted intrustion.  “The underlying assumption of this proposal seems to be that the citizen is somehow subject to the standards set by the state,” writes one homeschooling blogger.  “Or perhaps that the state has a more compelling interest in the well being of the child than the parent. As any homeschooling parent can tell you, we don’t need a test to tell us how our child is doing. They are not a name on a roster, they are our focus of attention.”

In short, prepare for a fight.  Given the relatively low performance of most states, it will also be hard to make a credible case that they know best or are even minimally competent to gauge, let alone assure academic success.

Required Reading

by Robert Pondiscio
January 11th, 2009

A weekly roundup of the week’s most important news, information and blog posts about curriculum, teaching, education policy and other items of interest to the Core Knowledge community.

Core Knowledge

The Unbearable Whiteness of Newbery?
The last time a Newbery Medal winner featured a black protagonist was Christopher Paul Curtis’ depression-era historical novel Bud, Not Buddy in 2000.  The last Hispanic protagonist?  Maia Wojciechowska’s Shadow of a Bull in 1965.  A new study shows precious few nonwhite protagonists—or even secondary characters in Newbery winners

Why Nature (and Recess) Might Help Kids Learn
New research finds that interaction with nature is “restorative” — it provides a rest from the kind of directed that many people believe is important to schooling.  Dan Willingham notes this finding fits well with other data showing that recess provides a cognitive boost for students. ”

Class Discussion For Sale
You attended school in the bad old traditional days. Don’t deny it. Back then, the teacher lectured while you took notes, read dead authors, and regurgitated dry facts. There was no class discussion. Today, you would not have to suffer, writes teacher Diana Senechal Schools across the country have purchased and mandated an exciting new type of classroom conversation called Accountable Talk®.

Reclaiming the Value of Knowledge in Public Life
It’s time to reclaim the value of knowledge in our political and civic life, argues UCLA professor Mike Rose.  Not merely academic knowledge, but broad, practical know-how that enables people to solve problems.

Best of the Blogs

The conceit of “21st Century Skills” at Flypaper
21st Century Skills is “the latest incarnation of the ‘all kids need to learn is how to learn’ argument,” writes Mike Petrilli.  Call it the “life adjustment” movement, call it “outcomes-based education,” call it “21st Century Skills” or call it a “doomed pedagogical fad.” Or simply call it bunk, because that’s what it is.

The Boston Pilot/Charter School Study: Some Good News, and Some Cautions at Eduwonkette
“A study on the efficacy of charter and pilot schools is a well-done, careful study that provides us with a range of estimates of charter and pilot school performance. There is certainly enough positive evidence here to support the creation of more charter schools in Boston,” notes Eduwonkette, ”but I want to offer two cautions.”

Blaming Special Ed at Jay P. Greene’s Blog
“It’s all too common but also completely mistaken to blame special education for the shortcomings of the public k-12 system,” Jay Greene writes.  ”Most attempts to blame special ed don’t even bother presenting data or make the most crude use of data to support their claims.”

Curriculum and Teaching

Spelling Is an Integral Part of Learning the Language, Not a Matter of Memorization
American Educator
A common perception is that visual memory–taking a mental picture of the word–is the basis of spelling  skill. Teachers often teach spelling by encouraging whole-word memorization. More recent studies, however, do not support the notion that visual memory is the key to good spelling.

The Rush for ’21st-Century Skills’
Washington Post 
The phrase has inspired a flood of programs, notes Jay Mathews, including Lego engineering clubs for elementary schools, and the National Geographic’s science adventure Jason Project for middle schools.  But many teachers say it is just good teaching with a jazzy name.

Maryland schools rank 1st in nation in analysis by ‘Education Week’
Baltimore Sun
Maryland’s schools rank first in the nation in an analysis of factors such as high school graduation rates, student achievement, academic standards and accountability by Education Week.

Education Policy

Schwarzenegger proposes 5 fewer school days
Los Angeles Times
A proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to shorten the school year by five days is creating panic among educators across California, who say they barely have enough time to fit the state’s academic standards into the existing 180-day calendar.

Rhee Plans Shake-Up of Teaching Staff, Training
Washington Post
At the heart of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s vision for transforming D.C. schools is a dramatic overhaul of its 4,000-member teacher corps that would remove a “significant share” of instructors and launch an ambitious plan to foster professional growth for those who remain.

Are we testing kids too much?
Mlive.com (Michigan(
An increased reliance on assessment tests is a trend that some find unsettling but others see as one of the most positive recent developments in education. Advocates say assessment tests help school districts measure the quality of their curricula and instruction.  Still, for some, subjecting students to so many tests sums up what’s wrong with American education.

Homeschooling and Parenting

Homeschooling Grows
USA Today
The number of home-schooled kids hit 1.5 million in 2007, up 74% from when the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics started keeping track in 1999, and up 36% since 2003. The percentage of the school-age population that was home-schooled increased from 2.2% in 2003 to 2.9% in 2007.

On the table
Boston Globe
Even as families feel the economic pinch, many eligible students don’t take advantage of free or low-cost breakfasts served at schools. Why?

Rhodes Scholar says parents rewarded achievements in the classroom over football field
Diverse Issues in Higher Education
FSU junior safety Myron Rolle has played his final college football game. But he’s not leaving to join the National Football League; Rolle is one of 32 U.S. students who have been awarded an all-expense paid scholarship for up to three years of study at Oxford University in England.

Politically correct parents ditch ‘offensive’ traditional fairy tales
Daily Mail (U.K.)
Two-thirds of British parents believe traditional fairytales have “stronger morality messages” than modern equivalents.  But some are ditching Cinderella and Rapunzel in favor of The Gruffalo or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, believing the older stories are politically incorrect or “too dark” to read to children.

Et Alia

Playing outside can prevent children becoming short-sighted
Daily Mail (U.K.)
Playing outdoors dramatically cuts a child’s risk of becoming short-sighted. Spending two or three hours outside each day halves the chance of developing the condition.  The finding by researchers in Australia challenges the belief that short-sightedness is caused by computer use, TV watching or reading in dim light.

Required Reading

by Robert Pondiscio
September 28th, 2008

A weekly roundup of the week’s most important news, information and blog posts about curriculum, teaching, education policy and other items of interest.

Core Knowledge

Counterfeit Equity
A new report from the Brookings Institution’s Tom Loveless notes many students are being pushed into algebra without having mastered basic skills such as multiplication, division and fractions. 

Hardy Perennials
From generous grading for failing work to “no homework” policies, there’s lots to cheer about if you’re a fan of lower standards and diminshed expectations.

Notes on a Scandal
Officials in South Carolina are investigating old test results at a poor, inner-city Charleston elementary school that had been hailed as a miraculous success story. 

Core Knowledge School Raises Money With Math
O’Dea Core Knowledge Elementary School students in Ft. Collins, Colorado are raising money for their school each time they take a math test until Oct. 3. Students are asking friends and family to pledge money for each correct math problem they get on a marathon test.  

Best of the Blogs

The Community Schools Con at the Education Gadfly
Checker & Co. find the idea ”gooey and emotional, focusing on the externalities of daily life that drip into America’s classrooms-poor healthcare, single parent families, unemployment–rather than on what schools can do with the kids who actually turn up there.”

Evolution in Play in Texas at Curriculum Matters
Texas officials are embarking on a revision of their state’s science standards, a process that has generated a furious debate in several states in recent years—most of it focused squarely on the topic of evolution. A first draft of the new standards, released this week, seems likely to please the scientific community.

Cool People You Should Know: Sean Reardon at Eduwonkette
Until recently, we did not have a clear portrait of the differences between black and white high-achievers in elementary school. Thanks to Sean Reardon, a Stanford sociologist of education who studies school segregation and the sources of racial/ethnic achievement gaps, we’ve come a long way.

My Kingdom for a Parking Space at It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages
“If one more person tells me to do it for the kids, I might throw a kid at them,” writes Mimi, who teaches at a NYC elementary school.  “It just seems at times as if this job teeters on the brink of being inhumane.”

Teaching and Curriculum

FCAT analysis finds misconceptions about science
Associated Press
Florida students have misconceptions about science, and they need more practice demonstrating its concepts and relating them to the real world, according to an analysis of the state’s standardized test.

Recalculating the 8th Grade Algebra Rush
The Washington Post
“Nobody writing about schools has been a bigger supporter of getting more students into eighth-grade algebra than I have been,” writes Jay Mathews.  “Now, because of a startling study, I am having second thoughts.”

Joy in School
Educational Leadership
If the experience of “doing school” destroys children’s spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition, have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?

Education Policy

NCLB Testing Said to Give ‘Illusions of Progress’
Education Week
Harvard University researcher Daniel M. Koretz says rampantly inflated standardized test scores are giving the misbegotten impression that, as in the fictional town made famous by radio personality Garrison Keillor, all children are above average

Consensus on Learning Time Builds
Education Week
Under enormous pressure to prepare students for a successful future—and fearful that standard school hours don’t offer enough time to do so—educators, policymakers, and community activists are adding more learning time to children’s lives.

Study Details Barriers to Career-Changers Going Into Teaching
Education Week
Experts are pointing to a new opinion survey and research analysis as evidence of a need to overhaul teacher training, compensation, and support, in order to appeal to potential career-changers interested in teaching.

Are high-stakes tests making the grade?
Richmond Times-Dispatch
After a decade, have standards and high-stakes tests improved public education in Virginia? It depends on whom you ask.

Colorado Targets Achievement Gap
The Rocky Mountain News
School districts must focus on and organize help for failing students if Colorado is to close the achievement gap between rich and poor students.

Homeschooling and Parenting

Minneapolis Sets Covenant on Black Achievement
Education Week
The Minneapolis school board and the local African-American community have taken an unusual step toward healing fractured relations and improving schooling for black children by signing a “covenant” that places responsibility for improvement on the shoulders of parents and district leaders.

Homeschooling Surges in U.S. as Parents Reach for Legal Rights
Fox News
States and school districts have a disjointed jumble of ordinances and measures that can make it tough for parents to know exactly what they are permitted to do as homeschoolers.

Father Abandons Nine Kids Under “Safe Haven” Law
KETV.com
A Nebraska father who dropped off his nine children at a hospital emergency room apparently cannot be charged under the state’s new Safe Haven law, which says any child under the age of 19 can be left at a hospital if they’re in immediate danger.

Et Alia

Learning From Mistakes Only Works After Age 12, Study Suggests
Science Daily
Eight-year-olds learn primarily from positive feedback (‘Well done!’), whereas negative feedback (‘Got it wrong this time’) scarcely causes any alarm bells to ring, a new study suggests.  Twelve-year-olds are better able to process negative feedback, and use it to learn from their mistakes. 

Stand-up desks provide a firm footing for fidgety students
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Several schools are experimenting stand-up workstations in the classroom.  Anecdotally, teachers report greater attentiveness, fewer behavioral problems, better posture and more enthusiasm.

Bay Area Schools Need Earthquake Proofing
Contra Costa Times
Engineers say nearly 8,000 older school buildings in California are prone to collapse during a major earthquake.

Dewey Need This School?

by Robert Pondiscio
July 17th, 2008

Washington PostFrom the Washington Post comes an uncharacteristically credulous piece about a soon-to-be launched private school built around a radically student-centered model. Harvard-educated lawyer Alan Shusterman’s 6-12 grade school will charge $25,000 a year in tuition, but the schedules and lessons will be different. “The model is inspired by the success of home-schoolers,” says Shusterman.

“Students will set their class schedules, enabling them to learn at their pace and in their styles. Teachers will act as advisers, not taskmasters,” reports the Post’s Jay Mathews. Yup, more “guide on the side” stuff.

As for homework, “the one-size-fits-all [model] mandated in today’s schools is largely counterproductive,” Shusterman says in a slide presentation he uses to sell his idea. School for Tomorrow will have a home reading requirement and “encourage and support individualized, student-initiated homework.”

Mainstream education can learn a thing or two from successful homeschoolers. But if this kind of radically student-centered model is what you’re after, why pay $25,000 for what you can get at home for free?

Surprise Update.  Alan Shusterman responds in the comments section.  He turns out to be quite well-versed on Core Knowledge–and his school will have a core curriculum after all.

Vote Early, Vote Often

by Robert Pondiscio
June 1st, 2008

Parade Magazine has an online poll asking “Should parents need teaching credentials to home-school their kids?”  Given the energetic representation of homeschoolers online, it’s no surprise that “No” is winning.  The 90% to 10% margin is still surprising.

The poll accompanies an article about the California appeals court ruling that that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home-school their children.” The court will rehear the case this month.  The article also features an eyebrow-raising quote from the redoubtable Rick Kahlenberg

“If upheld, the California ruling will send shock waves nationwide,” says Richard Kahlenberg, the author of a number of books on education. He says the case “pits those who believe parental rights are paramount against those who place a premium on well-educated citizens.”

Homeschoolers don’t place a premium on well-educated citizens?  It’s all about parental rights?  Surely this is a nuance-averse interpretation of whatever Rick actually said. 

Subway Snubs Homeschoolers

by Robert Pondiscio
May 28th, 2008

You won’t find a word about it in the papers, but Google ”Subway and homeschool” and you’ll see dozens and dozens of blog entries from HSers peeved that the sandwich chain has excluded their kids from a national essay contest.  The “Every Sandwich Tells a Story” writing contest offers $5,000 in athletic equipment to the winner’s school.  But it’s a disclaimer on the contest’s web page that wrankles. 

Contest is open only to legal US residents, over the age of 18 with children in either elementary, private or parochial schools that serve grades PreK-6. No home schools will be accepted.

A letter from the Home School Legal Defense Association calls for Subway to reverse itself. 

We understand that the competition is focused on traditional public and private schools because the grand prize of $5,000 of athletic equipment is designed to be used by a traditional school and not an individual family. A potential homeschool winner, however, could simply donate the grand prize to a public or private school of their choice or to a homeschool sports league.

Subway has reportedly responded to the pressure, but stopped short of changing the rules.  A letter from the chain posted on the HSLDA site apologies “to anyone who feels excluded by our current essay contest. Our intention was to provide an opportunity for traditional schools, many of which we know have trouble affording athletic equipment, to win equipment. Our intent was certainly not to exclude homeschooled children from the opportunity to win prizes and benefit from better access to fitness equipment.”

The letter promises Subway will “soon create an additional contest in which homeschooled students will be encouraged to participate.” 

Required Reading

by Robert Pondiscio
May 26th, 2008

Our weekly roundup of the week’s most important news, information and blog posts about curriculum, teaching, education policy and other items of interest to the Core Knowledge community.

Core Knowledge

Learning Essentials
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week 
Core Knowledge prizes content across the disciplines, bucking a trend toward a narrower, skills-based approach to learning.

Best of the Blogs

 Revisiting AERA, Bill Ayers, the Weather Underground and Public Education at Matthew K. Tabor
Just what the title says. The definitive post.

 Redefining intelligence at Joanne Jacobs
Yale psychologists are trying to develop new tests of intelligence that measure “practical, creative, and analytical skills.” One goal is to identify more black and Hispanic children as “gifted.”

Could a Parrot Pass the New York State ELA Exam? at Eduwonkette
What’s worse, the question students are asked to write about? Or the anchor paper?

Beating My Drum: Education, Economics, and Entitlement at The Gonzo Diner
America is not only experiencing an economic crisis, it is experiencing an education crisis, and there are more connections between the two than many think.

Compromised Competitiveness at The BoBo Files
The replacements for America’s retiring work force are less knowledgeable and less educated, less skilled and demotivated, disinclined to learn and prone to shortcuts, weak in science and math, and possess poor reading proficiency.

Teacher Voice From Washington…And, Is The AFT Going All Sherman Over Michelle Rhee at Eduwonk
What’s happening inside the teacher’s union?

Teaching and Curriculum

No Crisis For Boys In Schools, Study Says
By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
A new study on gender equity in education concludes that a “boys crisis” in U.S. schools is a myth and that both sexes have stayed the same or improved on standardized tests in the past decade.

Great education debate: Reforming the grade system
By Steve Friess, USA TODAY
A handful of schools nationwide have set off an emotional academic debate by giving minimum scores of 50 to students who fail.

Bill to protect PE, arts classes vetoed
By Matthew Benson, The Arizona Republic
Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoes a measure intended to protect gym classes and the teaching of music and the arts from K-12 budget cuts.

Georgia Throws Out State Test Results
By Laura Diamond, Alan Judd and Heather Vogell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The state throws out the results of two social studies tests and education advocates question the validity of eighth-graders’ abysmal math scores. 

Sent home: The suspension gap
By James Walsh, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Black students are far more likely to be suspended from school than are their white classmates — and Minnesota’s disparity in suspensions is twice the national average. Why? What are the consequences? 

Education Policy

States Starting Slowly on NCLB Proficiency Goals to Face Crunch, Report Says
By Christina A. Samuels, Education Week
States that established modest goals for themselves in the early days of the No Child Left Behind Act may need to make nearly impossible improvements in student performance to reach the law’s target of 100 percent proficiency by the 2013-14 school year.

Fixing the Flaw in the ‘Growth Model’ And Helping Schools, States, and NCLB in the Process
By David P. Sokola, Howard M. Weinberg, Robert J. Andrzejewski, & Nancy A. Doorey, Education Week
Why not craft the reauthorized NCLB to foster innovation and improvement in the field of assessment, rather than to prevent it?

Homeschooling and Parenting

Home-schoolers, unite and take over
By Melanie Wilson Daniel, Athens Banner-Herald
Home-schoolers solidarity comes from awareness that they’re rebels, outlaws – and that there are those out there who’d like to make them criminals.

Brown, Schwarzenegger rally behind homeschoolers

California Attorney General Jerry Brown is urging a state appeals court to reconsider a ruling that parents must hold teaching credentials to homeschool their children.

Et Alia

Education drives democracy
By Diane Cameron, The Albany Times Union
Jefferson and the other founders valued education not so that the United States would someday lead the world’s economy, but to ensure longevity for the form of government they were birthing.

Study probes RFID use in schools
By Dennis Carter, eSchool News
Radio-frequency tracking technology would be ideal for equipment but could violate privacy laws if applied to people, researchers say.

Disrupting Class

by Robert Pondiscio
May 6th, 2008

More than two-thirds of Americans favor using public funds for online courses that enable sudents to take advanced coursework, or to help students in rural schools get access to a broader range of courses.  Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to let their child take a high school course on line for credit.  The data comes from a new national poll from Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University.

Curiously, support for online coursework dries up when it’s for homeschoolers. Only 26% favor using public funds to allows homeschooled kids to take online courses; 44% are opposed.  

Might as well get used to online education, because it’s about to explode argues a provocative article in Ed Next by Harvard business guru Clayton M. Christensen (The Innovator’s Dilemma) and Michael B. Horn.  The two predict that by 2019 about 50 percent of courses in grades 9-12 will be delivered online in their grandly titled new book, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.”  While that projection sounds high, even fanciful, Christiansen and Horn point out several assymetrical advantages to online coursework over traditional schooling, especially price and differentiation, that they say make disruption of traditional education models inevitable.

“While estimates vary depending on circumstance, many providers have costs that range from $200 to $600 per course, which is less expensive than the current schooling model,” the authors point out.  “Computer-based learning has another technological advantage that is crucial to its expansion: one can customize it to meet different students’ needs. Currently, according to reports, computer-based learning works best with the more motivated students; over time, it will become engaging and individualized to reach different types of learners.”