Memorandum submitted by Kelly Green

 

Executive Summary: The main points of the following submission to the Commissioned Review of Elective Home Education are as follows:

 

The North American experience is that education is legislated by state and province, so home educators in North America face a wide variety of legislation/regulation regarding the practice of home-based education.

Research does not indicate that home-educated students in more heavily regulated jurisdictions fare any better than students in more free jurisdictions. Research does show that home-educated students as a group are academically ahead of their schooled peers, and do exceptionally well with regard to social and career development.

Forced registration and monitoring of home-educating families is a waste of taxpayer monies, and can, in many instances, produce counterproductive results.

 

1. Biography of submitter: My name is Kelly L. Green. I am a Canadian editor and writer. I am also a home-educating parent with four children. All my children have been/are being educated at home, and the older two, ages 19 and 21, are currently full-time university students at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. Both are honors students with A averages, and both were College Board Advanced Placement (AP) Scholars. My second son was a Canadian National AP Scholar. Fewer than 200 Canadian secondary students achieve this status each year. I was formerly the secretary, conference chair, and newsletter editor for the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents, and am a founding member of the British Columbia-based group Freedom and Choice in Education (FACE). Over the years I have interviewed hundreds of home-educating families, and have written extensively on the practice of home-based education and the laws applying to this form of education in Ontario and British Columbia.

2. I have prepared this submission at the request of several home-educating groups in the U.K. to speak to the Canadian and North American experience regarding home-based education, known as Elective Home Education in the U.K.

3. As in the U.K., North American families choose home-based education for a variety of reasons. What is different in North America is that home-based education is legislated by state and province, thus creating an enormous variation in the types of requirements home-educating families face. Some jurisdictions have extensive regulation, while others allow the home-educating family complete freedom.

4. I can refer personally to the legislative and regulatory models of Ontario and British Columbia. Both provinces offer the home-educating family relative freedom. Ontario's legislation states that a child must be given "satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere." British Columbia's law simply states that the parent must provide the child with an educational program. B.C. also requires that children be registered with a school operating in the province.

5. The interpretation of these laws has created different experiences for home-educating families.

6. For many years, home-educators in Ontario were harassed by Ministry of Education and school board employees, to the point that home-education organizations organized a complaint to the provincial ombudsman. Some families were the subject of official "inquiries" into their educational methods; some were threatened with the removal of their children by social services simply because they removed their children from school. These investigations were not based on any evidence that the parents were failing in their duty to educate their children, but were rather a part of a campaign by education officials who were attempting to stop the spread of home-based education.

7. Not only did this practice cause enormous stress and pain for home-educating families, but the inquiries and investigations cost many thousands of taxpayer dollars. After the complaint to the ombudsman, the provincial government ended this very expensive, officially-sanctioned harassment, and now home-educating families are asked, but not legally required, to register their intent to educate their children at home with their local school board. Because of the bad experiences many families have had in the past with their local school boards and school attendance counselors, some refuse to comply with this request. Nevertheless, for the past eight years, home education in Ontario has co-existed peacefully with traditional school options.

8. In British Columbia, home educators have several options. Many families choose a distance learning alternative through the public or independent schools. These families are not legally considered "homeschoolers," because a public or independent school teacher is assigned to the student in such a program. Ironically, those parents who take on the full responsibility for their children's education at home are legally defined as "registered homeschoolers," even though the practice of "school-at-home" which this term implies is least likely to be practiced by this group. Many, but not all, registered "homeschoolers" practice a form of child-led learning that you in the U.K. know as "autonomous education."

9. British Columbia requires registration but Ontario does not. What does this mean? In reality, very little. Registration in B.C. simply means that every child has a Provincial Education Number. There is absolutely no practical need for this. Every child born in Canada has a birth record and a Provincial Health Number, and is entitled to a Social Insurance Number. All children are therefore officially accounted for by and to the provincial governments. They are also accounted for through their parents' federal tax returns. In British Columbia, when the parent takes on full responsibility for the child's education, no reporting is required, and no official records are kept. Therefore, registration is meaningless, and was simply enacted in B.C. as a compromise when the teachers' unions began to oppose home-based education more than twenty years ago.

10. If no official records are required, some wonder how students are able to negotiate "life after home education." Again, experience and academic research indicate that home-educating families are creative and resourceful in presenting the students' accomplishments. Families may keep portfolios of work, or may choose from a wide variety of independent academic examinations if post-secondary education is the goal. Students often put together extensive resumes of their work and explorations. As I indicated above, my own sons are students at the University of Victoria. They provided a combination of exam results, essays, reference letters and portfolios in their application process.

11. Of the hundreds of home-educating students in B.C. I have met in the past twelve years, I have yet to meet one who was prevented from pursuing his/her personal and career goals because of B.C.'s regulatory requirements regarding home-based education. The freedom of this regulatory model, in fact, allows many students to make great headway toward their goals during the teen years, whether by working and apprenticing, or by taking classes at colleges and universities as "special students."

12. Home education in North America has been studied extensively by academic researchers. I am familiar with most of this research, and have read much of it in detail.

13. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the research on home-based education has shown absolutely no difference in outcomes for home-educated students based on the education regulations of their geographical jurisdiction. In other words, greater levels of regulation do not produce better results. More regulation may, in fact, be counterproductive. I will examine the reasons for this below.

14. Research on home-educated students has shown that they achieve consistently higher academic standards than their traditionally schooled peers. They are now sought after by many prestigious post-secondary institutions. Home-education also produces a high level of social and career function. In this area I refer to the independent academic research of, for example, Dr. Larry Shyers (University of Florida), Thomas Smedley (Radford University), Dr. Bruce Arai (Wilfred Laurier University) and Dr. J. Gary Knowles (University of Michigan/Ontario Institute for Studies in Education - University of Toronto).

15. I noted that none of the researchers cited above were referenced in the woefully inadequate "overview of evidence" prepared for the Badman review; nor was the work of renowned British researcher Roland Meighan. This overview was, supposedly, meant to "summarize evidence relating to elective home education in the UK and internationally." I find it astounding that such critical independent evidence could have been overlooked or ignored.

16. Opponents of home education in B.C. have also raised the specter of "home education as a cover for child abuse," as the Badman report is doing today in the U.K. The shibboleth that home-educated children may be more at risk of undiscovered child abuse than schooled children is offensive and erroneous on a number of counts.

17. First, there is the implication that parents who choose home-based education for their children may have something to hide. This concept is, in itself, ridiculous, since home-educated children are frequently much more visible in the community than schooled children, as they are out with their parents during school hours. Like it or not, home educators are the objects of great curiosity, and constantly receive attention and questions precisely because their children are not in school. In short, it is difficult for home educators to "hide." In any case, social services legislation in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. is very clear - any child suspected to be the victim of child abuse can be the subject of a social services investigation. Home educators have no problem with this legislation. Like all sensible people, we want all children to be protected from abuse.

18. Secondly, the reality, as has been shown again and again, is that statistical records indicate that children in home-educating families are at much less risk for abuse than their traditionally schooled peers. This should hardly be surprising, considering that parents who take on the responsibility of their children's education demonstrate an above-average commitment to their children's well-being. A Canadian example can put this in concrete terms. British Columbia has a population of more than three million people, which currently includes more than 15,000 home-educated children. A provincial home-education association has kept track of every court case or social services investigation involving home education for the past 21 years. Only two cases have involved allegations of child abuse. Both investigations were resolved in favor of the family.

19. Finally, there is a malevolent subtext to the "home education may be a cover for child abuse" allegation. This is the belief, held by many professional educators and others who have no experience with this educational alternative, that home education is, in itself, a form of child abuse. This belief may derive from the ever-increasing move toward standardization in Western educational practice, which has created the impression that there is only one correct way to prepare children for adult life and experience. Children who do not go to school are deemed to be "losing out" on all the things school has to offer, from team sports to field trips to religious education to parties. Home educators can produce extraordinary amounts of evidence to show the many ways in which their children experience all these activities and more, but in spite of this evidence many people simply refuse to accept that a home-based education is easily as rich and variegated as school-based learning.

20. This prejudice, often propagated by the professional education establishment, frequently leads to situations like the one the U.K. is facing today. It is virtually impossible for those committed to the educational status quo to really consider the value and benefits of home-based education. Many professional educators perceive home-based education as a threat to existing educational institutions and systems. Some wish to eliminate this educational alternative altogether, while others are content to allow parents to educate their own children if they are properly "monitored" by "real" educators.

21. As many U.K. home educators are eloquently insisting, it is impossible for those with no understanding of this educational method to "monitor" it. To give one example, the proposed requirement that parents provide a learning plan a year in advance is nonsensical to most home educators. Since many include their children in the decision of what, how, and when to learn, any plan made a year in advance is going to change radically along the way. A child who has been fascinated with ancient Egypt for a six-month period, may, having gone to the theatre, suddenly develop a passionate interest in Greek theatre or Commedia dell'arte. A teenager who has been half-heartedly studying French may suddenly discover Indian culture, decide to take up tabla and throw him/herself into the study of Hindi. There is no way that the parents could have anticipated these things when making up the "plan." What is the parent to say? "No, you can't learn that; it's not in the plan?" This defeats the whole purpose of child-led, or autonomous, education.

22. The overwhelming success of home-based education from an academic point of view, regardless of the regulatory hoops, or lack of them, that families are forced to leap through, is evidence that parents who teach their own children do not need any monitoring at all. Their children not only "cover the basics," but have ample time to pursue their passions as well. If they need any support in any particular area, they inevitably go out and find it for themselves.

23. In light of the above facts and the North American experience, forced registration and monitoring of home-educating families are a complete waste of taxpayers' money.

24. Forced registration may even be counterproductive in terms of the "visibility" of home-educated children. The Ontario experience was that, when the government allowed active harassment of home-educating families by education officials, these families simply "went underground." That is, they were more careful about having their children out during school hours; they did not always reveal to casual acquaintances and neighbors that the children were being educated at home, and were extremely suspicious of interactions with education officials.

25. This is exactly the situation that the proposals of the Badman report would create. In all likelihood, home educators will refuse to cooperate or comply with invasive regulations. Some will move, and many may even leave England rather than put up with the invasion of their privacy and the violations of their civil liberties that these regulations would require. Again, the North American experience is instructive. Many, many home-educating families, including my own, have moved to different states and provinces precisely for this reason - to be in a climate that is more conducive to the free practice of home education.

26. In conclusion, I would ask the Select Committee to examine the evidence. There is no evidence that home-educated children are at greater risk than their traditionally schooled peers for any type of harm or abuse. There is extensive evidence in North America and Britain (again, please see the work of Roland Meighan in the U.K.) that home-educated children do well in every sphere of life, from academic achievement and creative work to social experiences and encounters with a wide variety of people. Home-educated children are not hidden from the world but are out participating in it on a daily basis. They are far more likely to encounter other belief systems, ethnicities, and faith communities than traditionally schooled children, whose only encounters with diversity may, in fact, be through the pages of a book. The Badman proposals would only serve to cut down the opportunities for home-educated children to operate freely in the community, as their parents might begin to fear having them exposed to public view.

27. As an independent international observer, I note that the shoddily written and researched Badman report includes both egregious misuse of statistical data and gross misrepresentation of submissions (please refer to the complete submission made by the Church of England as one particularly heinous example of selective quotation). In addition to the fact that the report was extremely poorly done, there is the obvious issue of Mr. Badman's conflict of interest and his complete inadequacy as an evaluator of home-based education. The University of York's Institute for Effective Education informs us that Mr. Badman's career is "school-based." A look at Mr. Badman's c.v. confirms that he has absolutely no experience with home-based education.

28. Considering that there were hundreds of better qualified individuals in Britain who could have prepared a completely independent review of elective home education, one can only wonder at the choice of Mr. Badman. A briefing paper by the group Action for Home Education lists no fewer than 16 government initiatives since 2005 with a potential negative impact on the freedoms of home educating families. It seems that an unwarranted amount of governmental attention and resources is being devoted to such a tiny percentage of the population. Again, as an international observer I must ask, is there a governmental mandate to keep hammering away at this minority group until parental choice in education is eradicated? Was Mr. Badman chosen to conduct this review because the DCSF was therefore assured of what the outcome would be before the report was written?

29. In light of the evidence, there is only one logical course of action. The Badman review, and any legislation stemming from it, must be rejected. The right of parents, as protected by the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to choose the education that shall be given to their children must be respected. The principle of innocent until proven guilty must be respected. The civil rights of families, and the privacy of the family home, must be respected. The ample child protection legislation that is already in place should be trusted. Government should take action to ensure that the existing child protection systems are working properly. Home-educating families must be allowed to exercise their right to take complete responsibility for the education of their children in peace. A hostile educational establishment, which has little comprehension of this proven educational alternative, must not be permitted to interfere in the everyday lives of law-abiding citizens. Do not create a persecuted minority group in British society. The original European law against home education was established in Nazi Germany. Free societies allow dissent and creative thought. As a long-time admirer of British cultural and legal legacies, I urge you to be true to the high standards of British justice.

 

August 2009