Opponents also caution about the lack of homeschooling regulation. The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to impose nationwide regulations on education matters, so regulation decisions fall on the individual states. As a result, home school regulation differs from state to state.
The HSLDA categorizes the fifty U.S. states into four levels of homeschooling regulation: no, low, moderate, and high. At the least restricting, parents do not need to have any contact with the local public school. At the most restricting, parents must send notification, achievement test scores, and/or evaluations in addition to other requirements such as approval of an education plan or teacher qualifications.
Such variation in home school regulation degrees means that homeschoolers in one state do not have the same experience as homeschoolers in another state, which supposedly results in varying degrees of homeschoolers’ academic success.
I focus on the academic concerns of unregulated homeschooling because, although opponents also cite physical abuse and public health risks and political harms, the main worry surrounds academics. Supporters of state involvement in a child’s education promote the state’s right to ensure that children receive an adequate, liberal, democratic education, and contest that parents, for all of their good intentions, may ignore the role that education should play in preparing students to serve as the future adult citizens of a liberal state.
Total parental authority in a child’s education “interferes with the child’s capacity to become a functioning and productive citizen” (Moran 1081). Lacking inconsistent regulation and no public accountability, homeschooling may not deliver an education sufficient enough to prepare students for entrance into society.
For unschoolers, who follow a laissez-faire style of education, and in no and low regulation states, where parents need to submit a letter of intent at most, the danger is highest. Georgetown University Law Center Professor Robin L. West, recognizing the attainment of a public school-equivalent education as a matter entirely depending on parental discretion in such circumstances, fears that “the radical deregulation of homeschooling [sacrifices] some children’s knowledge base, literacy, and numeracy” (West 10).
The most prominent study that assesses the effect of home school regulation on academic proficiency comes from Dr. Brian Ray. To evaluate the impact of state regulation on homeschooling, Ray relied on comparison of standardized test scores among low-regulation, moderate-regulation, and high-regulation states. Using the 2008 SAT and the scores from the 6,170 homeschoolers who tested that year, Ray detected no significant difference in the verbal, math, or composite mean scores of homeschooled students in states with different levels of regulation (Ray 15).
Based on these results, greater or lesser regulation does not translate to statistically significant greater or lesser student performance. Notably, though a compelling argument, this study does once again depend on the outcomes from a standardized test that students must voluntarily take. It measures success among a particular home school faction, and not the entire homeschooled population in the United States. Nevertheless, it at least tabulates that for those homeschoolers that do take the SAT, level of regulation in the state had little to no bearing on performance.
A couple of Supreme Court Cases, while not directly confronting this matter, have set forth statements that have affected the homeschooling landscape. One of them, Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), dealt with foreign language instruction in public schools. A school in Nebraska forbade the teaching of German to students – likely a political move that reflected the tension between America and Germany after World War I. The Court concluded that though the state had the power to compel attendance and make reasonable regulations, it could not regulate arbitrarily (Moran 1066).
Of course, then a new question arises: What constitutes reasonable regulation? At what point does regulation cross the line and become arbitrary?
As a homeschooler myself, I believe in a parental right to educate one’s own children. As a citizen in a free society, I also believe in children’s rights to an adequate education.
Standardized test scores suggest that homeschooled students perform as well as or better than their public school counterparts, but one must remember that these statistics take into account only a small percentage of the homeschooling families across the United States – less than 10% in Rudner’s study using ITBS/TAP and less than 2% of the nation’s approximately 450,000 homeschooled high school-age students using the SAT in Ray’s study.
Therefore, one must consider the unknown success or failure of the other 98%. I do not suggest that parents set out to under-educate their children. Without a doubt, many homeschooling parents teach their children at a level equal to or above that of the public school system. This has been the case in my experience. However, without some degree of regulation, how can we be sure that the untested majority is meeting grade-level educational goals?
In the conclusion of his homeschooling analysis, Moran recommends a reasonable compromise: “The state can…[allow] homeschoolers to determine the nature of their children’s education while also fulfilling its need to guarantee that children receive a basic education by implementing regulation that objectively and unobtrusively assesses the adequacy of homeschoolers’ education” (1093). This state involvement would meet the moderate regulation level as the HSLDA defines it.