Education Secretary John King: Homeschooled Students Not ‘Getting the Range of Options’ They Should

Andrea Farrier sits at her kitchen table with her children Rachel, 8, left, Rebecca, 4, center, and Sarah, 2, as they do schoolwork in their home, Friday, Feb. 20, 2009, in Kalona, Iowa.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

U.S. Secretary of Education John King says he is worried that homeschooled children aren’t “getting the range of options that are good for all kids,” a remark that is drawing strong reactions from homeschooling parents across the nation.

The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke provided Politico Pro’s (subscription only) report on King’s recent remarks to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. Burke writes at the Daily Signal:

King—although he conceded that there are homeschooling families who are doing well—told the audience he worries that homeschooled students aren’t “getting the range of options that are good for all kids.” According to Politico:

King said he worries that ‘students who are homeschooled are not getting kind of the rapid instructional experience they would get in school’—unless parents are “very intentional about it”.

King said the school experience includes building relationships with peers, teachers and mentors—elements which are difficult to achieve in homeschooling, he said, unless parents focus on it.

Burke herself observes that King’s statement “assumes homeschooled students are not in school.”

“As Milton Friedman famously quipped in Free to Choose, ‘not all schooling is education and not all education is schooling,’” she notes, pointing out that about 3.4 percent of children in the United States are now homeschooled, up from 1.7 percent in 1999.

Reacting to King’s remarks, Naomi Riall, who homeschools in North Carolina, tells Breitbart News she wonders if the education secretary has “some master list containing this mysterious range of options.”

“Perhaps I fall into the ‘very intentional’ category, but there are so many opportunities,” she says, explaining:

In the next two months, we’re planning to visit the capitol building, attend a Native American festival, explore a rock quarry, see a theatre production, and visit the museum or park anytime we want. Oh—and there’s our weekly co-op park day, where we have organized sports, friends, and free play awaiting us.

If “the school experience includes building relationships with peers, teachers and mentors,” then the home education experience includes building relationships with family, friends, and the surrounding community. My children are not limited to engaging only children their own age. How silly would it be if after being hired at a new job, the employer separated us into work areas by age? The public education system has fabricated this fantasy that a classroom is equivalent to the real world, which only serves a student as far as graduation. Homeschoolers learn and live life in the real world. We provide an individual instruction experience, instead of “rapid instructional experience.”

Homeschooling parent Amber Shellenberger also reacted to King’s comment that homeschoolers don’t have a “rapid instructional experience.”

“I’m sure Mr. King meant this statement to be a negative aspect of homeschooling, but I believe this can actually be an incredible benefit,” she tells Breitbart News, explaining:

My kids and I are under very few time restraints when it comes to their schooling, so we can take our time to talk things over and actually learn rather than just memorize and move on to get a good grade on a test. I see this as building a very strong foundation for them when they are young. When they get older, they’ll have a complete understanding of the educational basics so that they can build on that. Once my children have a good grasp on a subject, we move on. This can be five minutes or three days, but I don’t see a point of rapid instruction if there isn’t complete understanding by all students.

Shellenberger says she doubts King has done much research on homeschooling:

Just in our small community, we have a wonderful homeschool group that offers support, field trips, spelling bees, science fairs, dances, holiday festivities, and various tutorials. There are opportunities for music lessons, sports, theater acting, choir, art, career research and mentoring, 4H, and many, many more. Honestly, there is an equal number of opportunities for homeschoolers as there are for public schoolers, but the difference is that homeschoolers tend to have more time to get involved and take part in the extracurricular activities offered to them.

Like Riall, Shellenberger also asserts that it’s time to put “the socialization myth” to rest. She points out that homeschooled children can interact with others of a variety of ages – not simply those born in the same year. However, she also values that her children’s social skills aren’t “learned by a group of kids who have no social skills of their own, but by my husband and I – two adults who can guide them and teach them social norms, good habits, manners, and conflict resolution.”

“In this kind of safe environment, I’ve also noticed that my kids can each be themselves and aren’t swayed by the influence of their peers,” she adds. “They can build relationships with others by being themselves and sharing their interests rather than being afraid that someone will criticize them for being different. This is probably my favorite thing about homeschooling my kids!”

Wisconsin homeschooling parent Sara Lehman says King’s remarks suggest he presumes he knows what’s best “for all kids.”

“That’s exactly the problem with the state of government schools,” she tells Breitbart News. “What’s also ironic is that his statement is in direct contradiction to why we choose to homeschool. We didn’t want ‘rapid (one size fits all) instruction’ meant to push kids along regardless if they were actually gaining knowledge.”

“The quality of public education is a joke and I have to believe that these politicians know this,” Lehman continues further:

Why else would their main argument against homeschooling be, continuously, about the “social” aspect? My children are interacting with a broader range of people – a broader age range of children. They are actually getting a broader range of education than in public school as well. King’s argument about that is debunked easily. Does not each school have a list of classes that students get to choose from? Based on funding, schools could have few options or many. Homeschoolers, however, are not restricted at all! Our options are limitless. Our children are getting a well- rounded education that focuses on learning – not grading, testing, and “socializing.” For many parents, the social aspect of government schooling is exactly what they don’t want! In short, they have seen “the village,” and don’t want it raising their children.

However, Karen Braun – a Michigan homeschooling mom of six – says that while homeschoolers may be tempted to reflexively react to King’s comments with the response that they actually have the “most options,” she sees a looming threat in the education secretary’s remarks.

“He is actually saying something I have been talking about for quite a while,” she tells Breitbart News, explaining:

Understanding his statement as it pertains to the transformation in education currently taking place is essential. This isn’t as much about the parent being “intentional” as we might think of it, but more as the student being a part of the system with the intent of “career readiness”. Those that are part of the system have the range of options; those that aren’t, do not. The reference for King’s remarks is the competency-based system of education.

Braun warns homeschoolers “will have limited options in a competency-based education system – and that is by design.”

She continues:

This is a system based on what is “earned,” not what is learned. It’s Pokémon Go! for all learners. Students learn to earn “digital badges” that allow them to advance higher in the system. Those that play their game advance, and those that don’t, won’t.

Homeschoolers don’t play the feds’ game, align to their standards, or compete for badges. Homeschoolers are driven by a desire to develop the mind and hearts of their children, not develop skilled workers.

Braun cites the example of a Michigan homeschooling student who was invited to attend the upcoming homecoming dance in the Wayne-Westland Community school district. A report last week at Michigan Capitol Confidential, however, says the school district responded with its policy that only homeschooled students coming from an “accredited” homeschool may attend dances within the district.

“That would effectively ban homeschoolers from attending dances held by the district since homeschoolers have no reason to be accredited and the state doesn’t require it,” says the report.

“This is a concrete example of ‘limited’ options based on accreditation,” says Braun – who was quoted in the news report. “If the state can restrict homeschoolers from a dance based on accreditation, they can restrict or limit them elsewhere.”

Like Braun, Wisconsin homeschooling parent Tina Hollenbeck also responds to the fact that the U.S. education chief is making a judgment about homeschooling – a clear violation, she says, of the Constitution.

“What is really irksome is that he feels he has a right to an opinion at all,” she tells Breitbart News. “The bottom-line fact is that his job, and the very existence of the Department of Education, violates the 10th Amendment, which means that anything he says about any form of schooling is actually illegitimate.”

Hollenbeck asserts King was “grossly out of line to express any public opinion about homeschooling – which falls far out of the realm of anything for which he is ostensibly responsible.”

“The focus shouldn’t be on arguing against his ignorance,” she asserts. “Instead, it should be on pointing out that he has irresponsibly spoken in an official capacity about something over which he has absolutely no authority.”


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