Last week we shared the story of some families in Ohio that have chosen to homeschool their children, a trend that is on the rise here and around the country. But many of our readers took offense at the assertion by some that there is little oversight of homeschoolers. They say there is plenty of oversight, and homeschooling parents must adhere to many requirements stipulated by the state of Ohio.
Oversight, or lack thereof, is one of the most controversial aspects of homeschooling. It’s what concerns skeptics the most, and it may be the easiest criticism to latch on to. Take for example Stanford University professor Rob Reich (not to be confused with the former Labor Secretary Robert Reich), who says he’s not opposed to homeschooling in theory. But when presented with arguments by both sides of the homeschooling debate, he responds, “Well, how do we know?”
Reich says his concerns stem from the fact that “we don’t know how many people homeschool for a small amount of time, the entirety of school, because the registration requirements are either non-existent or minimal or minimal and non-enforced. People are just trading in anecdotes.”
There are no federal requirements for homeschoolers, so it’s up to each state to determine how much oversight they give home education. In California, for example, it is legal to homeschool (it’s legal in all 50 states) but it does not recognize homeschooling as an option in and of itself. In the Golden State, most parents have to essentially establish a private school in their homes in order to homeschool their children.
Parents in Ohio do have a few more hoops to jump through if they want to educate their children at home. According to the Ohio Administrative Code that deals with homeschooling, parents are expected to notify their local school superintendent every year. They also need to meet certain qualifications, including the number of hours spent educating their children (at least 900), and they must assess their child’s progress annually and send a report to the local superintendent.
But from the standpoint of the Ohio Department of Education, spokesman Patrick Gallaway acknowledged, “There’s not a lot of oversight. We just don’t have it written in law and the authority to do it.”
Gallaway noted that there are a lot of homeschool associations around the state that provide support for parents, but it’s really up to the local school district to work with families in their area.
“The district does need to know who is living within their district who is of school age. …That’s one thing that’s important to note and notifying that district to say, ‘I have three children but I prefer to homeschool them.’” Gallaway said. “And then they can also talk to their district about resources, and that’s an important thing as well. But in terms of the oversight that the Ohio Department of Education has, it’s very little.”
Just as with students attending private schools in the state, homeschooled students are not required to take the same standardized tests as public school students, though some families opt to participate in the testing through their local school district.
As for figuring out just how many children are homeschooled in Ohio, Gallaway says his department has an estimate.
“We have some data roughly what we believe are the numbers for homeschool and the last that I saw was probably a 2009 figure but it was around 24,000 students that we think statewide. Again, that could be more, because you’ve got to think we’ve got an Amish community in Ohio”
Those words, that Ohio has “some data” of “roughly” how many students are homeschooled in the state is what concerns people like Rob Reich. There is no way to know definitively how many children are educated at home because the state relies on those parents to voluntarily comply with state regulations. But if families decide not to inform their local school district – for whatever reason – then they slip under the radar. In which case, there really is no way to count them, or enforce the regulations they’re expected to meet in Ohio.