Saturday, February 23, 2008

LB 1141: Where to begin?

State Sen. DiAnna Schimek, of Lincoln, has introduced a bill in the Nebraska Legislature that would severely limit the freedom of homeschoolers in our state.

There are so many things wrong with this bill that it's hard to know where to begin.

One of the first things I noticed, however, is the fact that Sen. Schimek's husband, Herb Schimek, is the director of government relations for the NSEA (Nebraska State Education Association.) Please know that I have nothing against the NSEA. I am married to a public school teacher. I think the NSEA provides a number of good and needed services for teachers. However, it appears to me that there's a conflict of interest, which could possibly color Sen. Schimek's view of home education? We here at the Edmisten household have the advantage of living in both worlds, which helps us to see all sides of the issue.

The second thing I noticed about this bill is that it was introduced entirely on Sen. Schimek's initiative, due to her own personal concerns. It was not co-sponsored by any other senator, it was not brought to her attention by her constituents, and it did not rise out of one of those horrid, nightmarish "Homeschooler Harms Her Own Children" headlines.

"This is my doing because it's been my concern," she was quoted as saying in this article in the Lincoln Journal Star.

Sen. Schimek also asked, in the same article, "How do we know what's happening in homeschools?"

My answer to that is: the state knows what's happening in my homeschool because I tell them every year.

Annually, I file papers claiming that I will educate my children, and I tell the state how I'll do it. Unless there's some reason to assume I'm lying, I don't understand what the fuss is about. I have decided to exempt my children from the state school system, which is entirely my right as a parent. So, as far as I'm concerned, I already provide the state with far more information than they are entitled to under these circumstances.

The Journal Star article also mentions that "Nebraska's constitution says the state must provide education to all children ages 5 to 21." By offering public schooling, the state has fulfilled its obligation as outlined in the constitution. By opting out of the public schools, I have shown them my alternative course of action. By reporting to them annually, I am holding myself accountable. Again, I fail to see the fuss, beyond Sen. Schimek's personal concerns and suspicions.

The bill, which can be found in its entirety here (pdf file), is loaded with new restrictions. A quick summary:
  • Currently, after filing for exempt status from public schools (for either academic or religious reasons) we receive an acknowledgment from the Dept. of Education. LB 1141 adds the requirement that our filing reason be approved.
  • Annually, every child in an "exempt" school (homeschool or non-accredited private school) must either take a standardized test, or submit an extensive portfolio to the Dept. of Education. Those submitted materials will be reviewed by a Dept. of Education evaluator.
  • Annual testing is to be conducted by a certified educator of a school district. And, any six-year-old who will be homeschooled for the first time will be required to take a baseline test.
  • Tests and evaluations are to be done at a time and place chosen by the Dept. of Education (though they "shall make every reasonable effort to conduct them at times and places which are convenient for the parents or guardians and the children being evaluated.")
  • If sufficient progress (as defined by the Dept. of Education, and basically meaning on grade level) is not demonstrated in a given year, the child must be enrolled in a public school the following year (unless, before the next school year, the test is retaken and shows "sufficient progress" as defined by the Dept., or if the Dept. of Ed. evaluator is of the opinion that sufficient progress has been made, or approves a remediation plan.)

So, what's a little testing and record-keeping?

Nothing, really. I'm not frightened of the testing and I already keep enough records that I need to buy another filing cabinet.

That's not the point.

The most important point, of course, is that parents are the primary educators of their children. Period. It is our right as parents to educate our children as we see fit. Placing burdens on homeschooling parents, and telling us precisely how an education works, puts the state in the position of primary educator. It is not. State education is there to fall back on when parents can't do it all.

Not everyone wants to homeschool, nor can everyone homeschool. I believe in the ideal of a free, solid education being available to every citizen. Education should not be for only the wealthy or affluent. It should be available to all. But, "available" and "forced" are two different things.

(And, incidentally, taking on homeschooling effectively does away with the "free" part of education. Not only do homeschooling parents pay taxes to support public schools -- to which we don't send our kids -- we also assume the entire financial burden of educating our children. And now, they want to charge us for the testing, too. Oh, my.)

And speaking of finances, I am wondering how much it will cost the state to implement this bill. Who, in each district, will oversee the homeschoolers? (There are roughly 5500 of them in Nebraska.) Teachers? Being married to one, I can attest that they're already pretty busy, and I'd personally be rather unhappy if my husband, who already spends a good many evenings grading English papers, also had to go visit homeschooling families to make sure they're doing their work.

And, I find it more than a bit unsettling that if a child is not up to standards, by the Dept. of Education's definition, that child will be pulled out of their homeschool and placed in a public school. If a child is not up to par in a public school, is he pulled out and placed in a different school? Not in my experience. Is the educational plan tweaked? Yes. I can do that at home, too.

But, the other glaring problem with this bill is its assumption that there is only one acceptable and successful model of education.

What we do here in our home, for example, may not always "look like school." But it's yielding some pretty satisfying results.

On the night that I first read about this bill, I was struck by these kinds of ironies:
  • Just days before, my eldest daughter had asked me, "Mom, why is it that most of the homeschooled kids I know love school and most of the kids I know who go to school hate it?"
  • My five-year-old approached me (as I was talking to Atticus about LB1141) and said, "Mommy, I'm so silly. I thought this little statue (she was holding a miniature bust, like this one) was Mozart. But it's Bach, of course."
  • My 11-yr. old, says things like this: " ... let's take years and years and years to learn everything!"

That's my take. If you live in Nebraska, please consider contacting the members of the Education Committee, as the hearing will be held on February 26th. Contact your local representative as well, and let him or her know that you are opposed to this bill should it advance out of the Education Committee.

Dana, at Principled Discovery, has done an awesome job of keeping up on this, and I'm going to refer you to several of her posts:

Contact Information (scroll down a bit to find emails and phone numbers for senators)
Intro and Summary
Why Object to Testing?
A response from Sen. Fulton
Contempt for all parents?

Thanks, Dana, for all that you've put into this issue.

And, please, spread the word in Nebraska, and contact your senators!


Matilda said...

The HSLDA has this page of information on the situation as well!

linda68701 said...

Thanks, Karen, for addressing this. Let's flood the legislature with opposition!

Dana said...

Did you see that she is already talking about compromise? I'll be writing about that tonight, I think. I can't decide what to think about it.

And seriously...what does her bill accomplish. As you say, we already provide information to the state. Testing is ridiculous and the schools should move away from this sort of testing as an absolute measure. And the alternatives? If I am lying about the paperwork I already urn in, who is to say I won't lie about the rest? It really does not do anything.

If the parent can't be trusted, then the state still won't know.

Are you going to be at the capitol on the 26th?

Danae said...

Wow...this bill, and all the extra work it would entail for the state, seems like such an obvious waste of time. Especially when there is no conclusive evidence that homeschool kids are "worse off" because they have not received a state provided public school education. I think most traditional school teachers, if they were honest, would admit that they have many obstacles to learning in their classrooms, and many of those obstacles are things that the state requires they do! Even though I have not begun to homeschool yet, I am definitely going to write the appropriate people to oppose this bill.

Liz said...

What's really ironic is that Vermont has actually liberalized it's home study statute in the past few years. If the proposed bill were to pass in Nebraska, your home study law would be stricter than the law was in Vermont when my son was 6 and we were lobbying for a bill which passed, but was deemed way too strict a couple of years ago. In short Nebraska would be headed south just when everyone else was headed north.

Currently, in Vermont there is no approval process. The state has to prove that the parents aren't providing, refuse to provide, or are unable to provide their children with an appropriate education. In order to do that they have to go to a hearing and call witnesses etc. Since that costs the state money they don't do it lightly. Otherwise homestudy is an enrollment process. End of year evaluations are required, but the parents get the choice as to the type of evaluation, and standardized tests can be administered by any one the test manufacturer deems qualified. In the case of the Iowa tests that's any graduate of a 4 year college. Parents are allowed to test their own kids.

One thing this legislator doesn't seem to realize is that the testing environment can effect the result. Children test better when they are comfortable in the setting and with the instructor. As the tester for our homeschool group I refused to test children under 3rd grade age because after doing it one time I realized how stressful it was unless it was a child who already knew you well. The first child who was a six year old that I tested in a group was in tears because she couldn't read as fast as the seven year olds she was being tested with. To ask homeschooled kids to go to school and be tested with children they don't know, by a teacher they don't know, in an unfamiliar setting is not going to yield valid results, at least not for the little ones.

I think that this legislator has no idea of the volume of paperwork this law would generate either for local public school administrators or for someone at the department of education. She should talk to the people at the Vermont Dept. of Ed. who are quite pleased with the drop in their workload since they don't have to review curriculum for every homeschooled child every single year.

Lobby your legislators and be sure they know both how well your own children are doing and what the trend is about regulating home study in other states. Our prayers are with you. Nebraska has always looked like a homeschooling heaven. It would be very sad if it turned into a homeschooling nightmare instead.

Oh and btw, one of the brightest kids I ever taught was absolutely horrible at taking multiple choice tests. He wrote brilliant essays and could nail any short answer test you gave, but multiple choice did him in every time. The results of an Iowa test for him would have had no validity at all. Meanwhile, my daughter who was really not all that great at social studies scored in the 90th percentile and above on the Iowa SS tests every year. So much for the accuracy of the tests.

Dana said...

Well, it is over and it was interesting. It sounds like the bill actually has rather broad support in the legislature, although with notable amendments, but due to the short session, it will die this session. : )

Although it cannot be carried over, we are likely to see similar legislation introduced again next session. : (