Responding to declines in the environmental and educational quality of public schools, increasing numbers of families in the United States are choosing to home-school their children. With this increase comes a rise in legal conflicts between families and government officials over homeschooling regulations.
Currently, 1.1 million students in the US receive their education through home-schooling. A 2003 study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that “an interest in religious or moral instruction” was the second biggest reason for choosing to home-school, behind environmental concerns at public schools. And in recent cases, families in some states are using their right to religious freedom under the Religious Freedom Protection Act to counteract restrictive home-schooling laws.
Last month, Darrell and Kathy Combs of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against their county, citing hat Pennsylvania’s home-schooling requirements, which are the most restrictive in the nation, infringe upon their religious freedom.
Their attorney, James Mason, who works for the Home School Legal Defense Association, commented, “It’s not the burden of the paperwork so much. It’s the authority they believe the Bible gives to them to provide and decide what appropriate education is.”
Like many families across the United States, the Combs believe home-schooling allows them to raise their children with Christian values, using the Bible as the basis of their teaching. They feel many public schools don’t provide the foundation needed to guide their children in making right decisions in life. Some believe that education is a God-given responsibility, citing Biblical verses such as Ephesians 6:4, “…bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
The Combs’ case centers around their refusal to comply with Pennsylvania law, requiring families to submit a plan of educational goals to the local school district superintendent. Joseph Marcoline, the superintendent, has charged the Combs with truancy, but the family is fighting back, saying Marcoline neglected to first initiate a hearing before filing the charges.
Pennsylvania home-schooling requirements entail a three fold review process: parents must submit a log of activities and subjects taught each year, while their children’s education is evaluated by an independent teacher and standardized tests in the third, fifth, and eight grades.
These measures, and similar regulations enforced in other states, stem from worries that “some children may not be receiving top quality education instruction from their parents,” declared Peggy Peterson, Director of the Mississippi Department of Education. Although Peterson resides in a state which she says “has the most lenient home-school laws in the nation,” her concern is echoed among those who support tight government regulations on home-schooling.
However, evidence shows that home-school students often receive high-quality education. A spokeswoman for the State College Board, Sarah Nicholas, stated that, in comparison to public school students, home-schooled students often achieved higher scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and American College Test, two standardized exams used in college admissions.
A resident of Mississippi who home-schools her two children, Mary Beth Hallman commented, "No one cares more about our children than we do and it is a privilege to teach them at home."
For many families like the Combs', the choice to home-school is an opportunity to provide high-quality education for their children, with a firm Biblical foundation according to their faith. And they are speaking out in the courts to maintain their right to this authority.