U.S. Education Secretary Faces Backlash for Criticizing Homeschooling

Published November 15, 2016

U.S. Education Secretary John King has been criticized for telling a group of reporters he’s concerned homeschooled students aren’t “getting the range of options that are good for all kids.”

“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,'” Politico reported. “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.”

King made his remarks during a speech given at a breakfast event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor in September.

Writing for The Daily Signal, Heritage Foundation Fellow Lindsey Burke said King’s statement wrongly “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.'”

According to an October report in Breitbart, homeschooling parents have taken offense at King’s comments.

Wisconsin homeschooling parent Sara Lehman told Breitbart, “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.”

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show the number of U.S. families homeschooling grew by more than 60 percent between 2003 and 2012.

The National Home Education Research Institute reports, “The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests. A 2015 study found black homeschool students to be scoring 23 to 42 percentile points above black public school students.”

King acknowledged some homeschooling families are “doing it incredibly well,” and he said he knows of homeschooled students in college who have had “very tremendous academic success.”

‘Pretty Upset’

Will Estrada, director of federal government relations at the Home School Legal Defense Association, says King should have known better than to disparage homeschooling families.

“We were pretty upset about that,” Estrada said. “To have the head of the U.S. Department of Education criticize homeschooling and say he’s not sure that it can provide a good enough education for that many kids is a little ironic when we have more and more parents who are frustrated with the public schools and are choosing to homeschool their kids.

“[King] did say he’s seen some good things with homeschooling, but then he said, ‘I have some concerns,’ and when a federal official says he’s concerned, that’s not a good thing for him or the 2.3 million homeschooled students who are using that option,” Estrada said. “Then he went on to actually lay out some of the debunked myths about homeschooling: that homeschoolers are not able to get as good of an education or as well-rounded an education as children in public schools. [He said this] even though the studies and the research and now 30 years of homeschooling success show that is not the case at all.”

‘Plenty Are Misguided’

Frazier O’Leary, a former high school teacher and current homeschooling father, provides online classes and other enrichment activities to homeschoolers through the online O’Leary Academy. He says despite much progress, myths about homeschoolers still abound.

“I was disheartened but not surprised to read Secretary King’s statement about his concern about the ‘range of options’ for homeschool students,” O’Leary said. “While many in the education establishment feel threatened by independent, self-directed learners and parents, there are plenty who are just misguided and who are still blinded by negative, outdated prejudices. I’m hoping that Secretary King is in the latter camp: just misguided.”

O’Leary says the education establishment should learn from the homeschooling movement.

“At a time where government schools are striving to try to fix their own outdated educational model and provide students with more individualized, differentiated instruction, competency- and standards-based evaluation rather than ‘time in seats,’ and more diverse, practical assignments and activities, education leaders could do a lot worse than to emulate homeschoolers,” O’Leary said.

A ‘Diversity of Options’

O’Leary says contrary to King’s statement, homeschoolers actually have more options than their peers in traditional schools.

“Our kids and the kids in our larger homeschooling community mix traditional instruction with homeschooling co-ops, public speaking classes, art classes, group projects, independent-learner labs, independent projects, online classes, and courses at other schools and community colleges,” O’Leary said. “They mix the pursuit of their own interests with rigorous and diverse instruction that takes advantage of the amazing resources available online and in our area, the most vibrant educational community in the country.

‘No Authority to Regulate Homeschools’

Estrada says he does not foresee the Department of Education acting to regulate homeschoolers.

“We do not anticipate [King] taking any action, and the reason why is even if he wanted to, he couldn’t, because now for about 22 years we’ve had U.S. law [in place that] very specifically says nothing in federal education law will ever apply to homeschools or private schools that do not receive federal funds. Congress had this put in so that the Department of Education has no authority to regulate homeschools, even if they wanted to,” Estrada said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.