No Child Left Untested?
- J. Michael Smith President, Home School Legal Defense Association
- 2003 5 May
This year, Home School Legal Defense Association is seeing a new trend in state legislation. Several states have attempted to make homeschool students take the statewide assessments tests now mandated under President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a law aimed at holding public schools accountable by systematically testing students.
Testing homeschool students is not a new idea. Nine states require standardized testing: Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, and South Dakota. Fifteen additional states have some form of testing but provide an alternative such as a written evaluation.
This means only 24 out of 50 states require some form of testing or evaluation from homeschoolers. Furthermore, in all 24 states, any currently mandated or optional test refers to a standardized achievement test developed by private publishers. Theoretically, such tests are not tied to a particular curriculum offered in the public schools.
However, the state assessments required under the No Child Left Behind Act will specifically cover mathematics, reading, language arts, and science, based on state-mandated curriculum. Thus, any students preparing for the test would need to use public school curriculum.
A predicted problem and a proposed solution
Foreseeing potential for state departments of education to apply the new state assessments to home educators, HSLDA's National Center for Home Education began monitoring the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 to ensure that homeschoolers would not be subject to the act in any way.
The Bush administration assured us that it did not intend to require any of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act to be required of home educators. Therefore, we were able to get Congress to provide an amendment to the act to make sure everyone understood the president's intent, as follows:
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to affect a home school, whether or not a home school is treated as a home school or a private school under State law, nor shall any student schooled at home be required to participate in any assessment referenced in this act. - 20 USCA §7886(b)
Three states-North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana-have already introduced bills that would require homeschool students to take state assessment tests being developed under the No Child Left Behind Act. Thankfully, all three bills appear to be dead. By the time you read this, however, this article will be dated, so please monitor our website (www.hslda.org) to keep track of this battle and to watch for similar legislation in other states.
HSLDA has pointed out to each of these state legislatures that such bills directly violate the No Child Left Behind Act and would also be unconstitutional. Requiring homeschooling students to take public school tests covering public school curriculum would blur the distinctions between private and public education as guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925).
Should such a testing provision become law, there would be all sorts of ramifications. Homeschoolers would have to take the test under controlled circumstances, such as at the local public school or under the supervision of public school officials at another location. Many homeschool parents would object to this because they have chosen home education to be free from public school control.
HSLDA is prepared to take action
First, HSLDA will oppose any attempt in any state to reduce homeschoolers' current freedom. Second, if any one of these bills dealing with state-mandated tests for homeschool students ever becomes law, HSLDA will immediately file a lawsuit to have the law declared unconstitutional.
We, as a homeschool community, cannot rest on our laurels. Every year, some legislators around the country try to roll back our freedoms. Although homeschooling seems to be winning the hearts of the general public, there are still those-such as teachers' unions and many public school administrators-who oppose this method of education. The NEA continues to insist that every child should be taught by a certified teacher. Until these attitudes change, home educators cannot rest.
What can you do?
The most effective strategy of the homeschool community in defeating bad bills and passing good ones is your participation. Without a strong grassroots response to legislation, homeschoolers will lose the freedoms we know today.
Our simple request is that when we do notify you of legislation and ask you to take action, you act. Everyone must act for our lobbying efforts to be effective with the legislature. Your telephone calls and letters, accompanied by a large turnout of homeschoolers descending upon the state capitol when requested, are key to defeating bad and passing good legislation.
Finally, the value of prayer cannot be ignored. Continue to pray for the protection of the homeschool community and the homeschool law in your state.
Even in the midst of an increasingly regulatory environment, if we will be faithful, I believe that we will maintain our liberties.
Reprinted with permission from The Home School Court Report. http://www.hslda.org/courtreport/