Saturday, June 14, 2008

Home education in Montana

There is a nice AP story about the freedom that parents have to educate their children at home in Montana. We are blessed with some of the least restrictive laws in the nation when it comes to home-schooling, although the education establishment has certainly attempted to introduce legislation to make it more difficult for parents. We can expect that they will be back for another try in the 2009 session, especially if the Democrats control one or both of the houses of legislature.

Knowing human nature and the variations in individual ability and initiative, there are certainly home-schooling parents who don't do a good job educating their children. There are probably kids who would do better in public schools, at least from a strictly academic standpoint.

But then there are undoubtedly children who would do better academically at home with their mother than they are doing in public schools -- should we try to identify those children and make their parents take them out of school to teach them at home?

Billings Public Schools have an abysmal high-school drop-out rate of 20%. Is the rate of teenagers being homeschooled dropping out of education higher than that? Doubtful. And what about functionally illiterate high-school graduates? Anyone want to take a bet on where one might find the most functionally illiterate students -- in the home-schooled ranks or in the public schools?

And there is the talk about socialization. Anyone want to take a bet on where one will find the highest percentage of kids headed for juvenile detention centers -- in the home-schooled ranks or in the public schools?

How about college admissions and graduations? Anyone want to take a bet on which population has the highest percentage of kids admitted to college or finishing college -- in the home-schooled ranks or in public school graduates?

There may be no hard evidence to answer these questions, but based on anecdotal experience being exposed to many home-schooling families, it is hard to imagine that the home-schooled crowd wouldn't come out either equal or on top of public schools in almost any metric you might choose for measuring academic performance and achievement.

Don't take this as an advocacy for home education from Montana Headlines. It takes a special kind of parent to do it, and there are things that are often given up, like involvement in competitive sports, orchestras, and the like (although creative home-school associations provide opportunities for these things and sometimes public and private schools alike welcome home-schooled children into their activities.) And how does one replace having advanced math and science being taught by teachers who thoroughly understand their subjects -- some gifted children might do great at home, while others might be held back by not having access to advanced coursework. On the other hand, if one lives in a city large enough to have such advanced courses, there are also often community colleges that home-schooled teenagers can take advantage of.

The common theme in the Montana Headlines observations of home-schooling families is the sheer creativity and entrepreneurial nature of it all -- something that should warm any free-marketer's heart. They find niches and opportunities, they create associations and swap expertise with other parents, they search high and low for materials that fit the needs and aptitude of a particular child. Their children are invariably articulate beyond their years and relate well both to adults and to their siblings (how many parents would love to have those two things.)

It is hard to imagine why the state of Montana would want to put the brakes on this kind of activity. Our state legislature should resist any calls from the Montana educational establishment to add further restrictions or regulations on home education in Montana.

The young man featured in the AP article spends his days reading books (for a time he read geography 7 hours a day for months to prepare for the National Geographic geography competition, in which he placed 10th in the nation,) training horses, working with a local wildlife biologist, and participating in the local muzzle-loader club. Sounds like Montana Headlines heaven -- put us down as being in favor of leaving kids in heaven for as long as possible.

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