SACRAMENTO – The March arrest of a Los Angeles public-school assistant principal on charges of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old student is the most recent in a burgeoning line of sexual and criminal misconduct cases involving public-school teachers and administrators. Yet, a recent California court decision would force parents who homeschool because of safety, moral and educational concerns to send their children into a public-school system that is dysfunctional and often dangerous.
The case involves eight children taught at home by the children’s mother, who does not hold a state teaching credential. The court said that children are exempted from compulsory education in a government-run school only if they attend a private school or are instructed by a tutor who holds a state teaching credential. This rationale is flawed legally, logically and empirically.
California’s longstanding practice has been for individual parents to sign a so-called Private School Affidavit that designates the parents’ home as a private school where they can teach their own children. The affidavits are filed with local education agencies such as county offices of education. Under this practice, parents avoid the education code requirement that children taught at home need to be instructed by a tutor with a teaching credential. Indeed, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell says he supports “parental choice when comes to homeschooling.” The court, however, ignored this accepted procedure and there are several problems with its approach.
First, private schools, including the best and priciest, are not required to have credentialed teachers. If the state doesn’t require teachers at La Jolla Country Day School to have state teaching credentials, why should homeschool parents be held to a different standard? The judges made the unconvincing argument that it’s too “difficult and expensive” for the state to oversee homeschooling parents, while it’s “less difficult and expensive” to supervise private-school teachers. The court provides no evidence for this assertion, nor does it supply any evidence for its implied argument that private schools have a greater incentive to provide competent instruction than homeschool parents. On the contrary, as a matter of common sense, parents have the highest interest in the quality of instruction for their own children.
Further, the court’s reasoning is based purely on process issues and ignores the key question of whether a teaching credential bears any relation to student achievement. The empirical evidence is clear that simple possession of a teaching credential doesn’t guarantee high student achievement. The Pacific Research Institute’s recent book, Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice, revealed that nearly 300 schools with mostly middle-class and affluent student populations were found underperforming. In nearly all of these schools, 90 percent or more of the teachers held state teaching credentials.
For instance, at Mountain View Elementary School in Southern California’s affluent Simi Valley, a full 100 percent of the teachers hold regular teaching credentials. Yet in 2006, only 32 percent of third graders and 38 percent of sixth graders at Mountain View scored at or above the proficient level on the state English test.
Finally, the court’s opinion fails the “laugh out loud” test. The court cites state constitutional language saying that a “primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and nation as a means of protecting the public welfare.” In this state, CSU schools of education openly tout Marxist theorists like the Brazilian Paolo Freire, who styles himself a revolutionary. Does anyone really believe that those gaining credentials from such programs are going to be teaching old-fashioned patriotism in public-school classrooms?
The homeschool marketplace has become extremely sophisticated with challenging curricula and innovative learning tools that have produced some of the best-educated students in the nation. In contrast, the government-run school system has become a disaster of epic proportions. The state Supreme Court and lawmakers in Sacramento need to understand this true reality when reviewing a state appellate court ruling that is far out of touch with reality.