Schooled at home

It works well for many, but state law has troubling gaps

September 15, 2009 

Alaska has some of the most lax home-schooling laws in the nation, according to a report in Sunday's Daily News. Home schooling can be a highly effective option for educated, motivated parents who have the time and expertise to handle such a profound responsibility. However, our home-schooling laws are so lax, parents don't even have to notify the state that they have a school-age child whom they are educating at home, let alone show that their children are actually learning anything.

That needs to change. These gaps in the law make it too easy for irresponsible parents like Papa Pilgrim to evade the compulsory schooling law and raise their children in ignorance.

Reform has to start with the most basic change: Requiring parents to let the state know when they are home schooling a child. As part of the process, the state could supply the parents with information about home-school support programs offered by various Alaska school districts. Parents may not be aware of those programs, which offer money for home-school educational activities and materials, such as computers.

Most fundamentally, the state needs to know whether the home-schooled children are actually getting an education. Alaska school superintendents routinely report that their districts enroll formerly home-schooled students who are far behind academically.

State law does provide some academic oversight of home schooling, but only when home-school students get help through a school district correspondence program. Those students have to take the state's standardized tests to measure their educational progress.

The same requirement should apply to students who are being taught at home without any help from a state-recognized correspondence program. In fact, that kind of academic oversight is even more important in those circumstances. In general, when parents don't get outside support, their home-schooled students are at a greater risk of not getting a real education.

Efforts to tighten up Alaska's home-schooling law will probably hit stiff political resistance. Alaska has no shortage of parents who want to be left alone to educate their children as they see fit.

They do have that freedom, and that is a good thing. But that freedom is not unlimited.

Parents don't have the right, whether intentionally, through negligence or just simple lack of expertise, to keep their children mired in ignorance.

Alaska state law says all children must be educated. That law needs to provide more oversight, to make sure students being educated at home are actually learning.

BOTTOM LINE: Alaska's lax home-schooling law needs to be tightened up.

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