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.")
So, what's a little testing and record-keeping?
- 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.)
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!