by Curt Mercadante
First, I’d like to share the following quote: “To protect the integrity of the system.”
That quote was made on WLS Radio’s “Cisco Cotto Show” yesterday by Senator Edward Maloney as his reason for proposing SB 136.
I repeat the quote: “To protect the integrity of the system.”
With all due respect to Senator Maloney, I think the State of Illinois should worry more about protecting the integrity of the public education system before it begins trying to assert its authority over the rights and duties of parents to choose how to educate our children.
Because, as the SouthtownStar editorial board wrote on February 13: Homeschoolers are not the problem.
In fact, SB 136 is a government “solution” in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. And I use the term “solution” loosely.
In that same WLS radio interview, Senator Maloney admitted that he “doesn’t know” if there’s a problem. He also promised to provide anecdotal evidence in the hearing that some problems may exist.
Anecdotal evidence may be fine, and may provide for good theater. Each and every one of the home educators present today can provide overwhelming anecdotal evidence of their success in educating our children.
But we don’t need mere anecdotes to tell our story. We have statistics to show that the problem with our educational system certainly isn’t home educators.
For example, as that same February 13 SouthtownStar editorial pointed out, almost half of public school students failed to meet expectations in reading and math last year. That is despite being part of a state-run education system in which local superintendents and bureaucrats are fully aware of the curriculum, and supposedly in charge of the educators.
Senator Maloney has also stated that this bill is about “accountability.” Well, let’s talk about accountability.
In 2001, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that more than 5,000 Illinois public school teachers — not students — failed to pass basic skills exams. National Public Radio has reported that these exams should easily be passed by someone with an eighth or ninth grade education.
In the Chicago Public Schools system, only 28.5% of 11th graders met or exceeded expectations on Illinois standardized tests — yet, according to a report in Newsweek, only 0.1 percent of teachers were dismissed for performance-related reasons between 2005 and 2008.
That isn’t accountability. It’s failure. It is a sign that the State of Illinois is failing our children.
We, as home educators, have chosen to step up to the plate and choose something different — something better — for our children.
That is our right. It is our responsibility.
But education isn’t the only factor that influenced our decision to home educate. We have certain moral and religious values that we have chosen to instill in our children as part of their learning experience.
In addition, we are troubled by many of the social ills that plague American youth today.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death.
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, during the past month 26.4% of children ages 12-20 used alcohol, and binge drinking among the same age group was 17.4%.
Also according to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2008, an estimated 20.1 million Americans ages 12 or older were current illicit drug users.
In addition, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “Stop Bullying Now” fact sheet: Studies show that between 15–25 percent of U.S. students are bullied with some frequency (“sometimes or more often”) while 15–20 percent report that they bully others with some frequency.
Now, can the public education system guarantee that our kids won’t be the ones who are failing in reading and math; or the ones who succumb to drug use, alcohol abuse, suicide or bullying? Of course not.
But, as a home educator, can I guarantee that my kids will excel in their studies and avoid those social ills? Absolutely.
We are happy to have the choice to home educate our children, where the track record is much better. On key factors related to basic skills test performance, home educated children, on average, outperform public school children.
In 2004, the 7,858 homeschool students taking the ACT scored an average of 22.6, compared to the national average of 20.9.
A 2009 study, “Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics,” found equally impressive data. This report was compiled by Dr. Dr. Brian Ray, an internationally recognized scholar and president of the non-profit National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). He analyzed data for the 2007-2008 academic year, drew from 15 independent testing services and included 11,739 homeschooled students. In basic core areas (reading, language, math) home schoolers achived an average in the 88th percentile. Public school students? The 50th percentile.
These are not anecdotes. These are hard statistics compiled using independent basic skills exams, including the California Achievement Test, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and Stanford Achievement Test.
Given this track record, I think it is fair to say that the threat to our educational system is clearly not posed by home educators.
Home educators have earned the right to be left alone.
Some of you may be thinking: well, this bill doesn’t ban homeschooling, it would only require registration.
My answer to you would be that this bill is about exerting the authority of the state in an area where it has no authority — Constitutionally, morally, or otherwise — to do so.
Article X of the Illinois Constitution merely provides that the state shall be the primary funding source for education in the State of Illinois. It does not purport to exert state authority over parents in the education of our children.
Article X, Section 1 of the Illinois Constitution reads:
“A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.
The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. There may be such other free education as the General Assembly provides by law.
The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”
The State Government is a funding mechanism for public education. It is not a mechanism of authority over how I, as a parent, choose to educate my children. As home educators, we’ve decided to say “no thanks” to the state’s offer of free education — even though we still pay for that education through our hard-earned tax dollars.
Perhaps instead of working to interfere with our efforts, the State of Illinois should thank us for stepping up to the plate to provide quality education for more than 60,000 Illinois children. Perhaps the state should thank us for paying our taxes to fund the public education system for which we don’t even send our children.
Forcing us to register with a state government whose record on education is so abysmal would be comical if it wasn’t such an affront to the rights and duties of parents.
In closing, I pose the following questions to the members of the Committee:
Will this bill provide for monetary fines or even jail time for home educating parents who fail to register with the state?
What will be the cost to the taxpayers for the increased paperwork and staff resources required to register home educators? Can the State of Illinois really afford that increased expenditure?
Is it too far-fetched to assume that mandatory registration would be accompanied or followed-up by a statute to assess fees or taxes from home educating parents — in addition to the taxes we already pay into the public education system and the costs we already incur to educate our children?
Might this registration also be followed up by a statute to have the state approve home educators’ curriculum? Or a statute to mandate home inspections by the State of Illinois?
I am certain other home educators who oppose this bill will have additional questions and concerns about the bill, so I realize these questions are just a start.
Please oppose SB 136. Protect parental choice. Protect our rights to educate our children as we see fit.