Four years after the Iowa Legislature deregulated much of the state’s home-school process, a majority of Iowans now say the government should maintain more oversight of home-schooled students, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows.
An unknown number of students allowed to escape any education
Do you believe in God? This question was among those asked to more than 1,000 U.S. adults in a 2016 Gallup Poll. Eighty-nine percent responded “yes,” 10 percent responded “no,” and one percent had no opinion.
Compare those responses to ones in a recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll of 800 Iowa adults. They were asked if they favored or opposed annual testing for home-schooled children to ensure reading and math skills are at grade level. Ninety-one percent favored testing, 8 percent opposed it and 1 percent of respondents were not sure.
The idea of assessing educational progress of children garners more support than the idea of a god.
State lawmakers should recognize the overwhelming public support for minimal monitoring of home-schooled students — support that transcends religion, political affiliation and geography. Leaders should reverse a recent change in law that allows some kids to never learn a thing, let alone ever be tested.
Parents have a right to educate their children at home and some do a great job. Traditional homeschooling provides some outside oversight and gives families access to resources at local schools. A kid taught at home might go to a nearby school for chemistry class or to play on the basketball team.
Then along came the 2013 education “reform” signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad. It created a new category of homeschooling called independent private instruction.
This unfathomable option allows parents to keep at home their own children (and up to four unrelated children) without notifying anyone. Students can suddenly stop attending school and parents can say they’re exercising the independent private instruction option — or say nothing at all.
An independent private “instructor” is supposed to teach broad subjects, including reading and social studies, but that requirement in state guidance is meaningless. There are no educational assessments. There are no specific standards about what students should learn. No educator will ever visit the family.
An entire science education can consist of watching a cow give birth. Counting seven cookies could meet the obligation to teach math. Students may never learn to read.
Independent private instruction not only allows children to vanish from organized education, it also guarantees they do. These kids are prohibited from using local school districts for academics, special education or extracurricular activities.
What about education laws and rules about attendance and truancy? The state simply assumes independent private instruction children are in compliance. Though Iowa youth have long been required to attend school from about age 5 through the school year they turn 16, no one knows what IPI students are doing. They can’t be considered truant because they’re automatically considered present in a home school.
Three Iowa mothers talk about why they home-school their children and how class is always in session.
Andrea Melendez/The Register
While all this raises obvious education-related concerns, it raises bigger concerns about safety. Children drop off the radar of schools and are also exempted from state-required immunizations, dental screening and vision checks. No medical professional may ever see them. A birth certificate, assuming parents obtained one, may be the only record a child exists.
Meanwhile, 91 percent of poll respondents think home-schooled kids in Iowa should be tested annually. The vast majority also think families should be required to review lesson plans with coordinators and take kids to local schools for regular welfare checks.
These Iowans should share these opinions with their lawmakers. Because right now, an unknown number of unmonitored Iowa children may be receiving no education at all.
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