Well, I finally finished the reading of the nasty articles for my paper last night, an occasion that would have inspired happy dancing if I wasn't so freaking tired afterwards. Now today, I've spent a large portion of my morning participating in the time-honored tradition of staring at the blank page and trying to figure out if I ever really had thoughts about this. I know I did, and I'll find them eventually, but it seems like the process requires some measure of me not knowing what the heck I'm doing.
In an attempt to get the juices flowing, I figured I'd break my rule about not writing about my paper (since it has taken over almost every other aspect of my life) and talk about my subject and why I chose it.
I was homeschooled for my entire K-12 career. It had a lot of effects on my life, good and bad, but it did lead me to the path that I'm on. I figured out that I would probably be a good teacher because the way our homeschooling was set up, I had a lot of opportunities to interact with younger kids and express my natural desire to teach, and develop it at a pretty young age. Fast forward a few years, and when faced with picking a topic for this semester's research project (and likely my thesis as well) I somehow ended up right back where I started: Homeschooling.
I started out with the idea of looking into how different methods of homeschooling handle high school records keeping and making sure they stay up with subject matter requirements. The problem that I quickly ran into was that there is very little research on this. Or at least, research that I can use. And even the research that does exist is pretty sparse in the samples they were able to pull together, because homeschoolers can get pretty spread out. This caused some issues in my project this semester, because there was no actual data on what I wanted to look at. So I've been kinda making it up as I go along ever since then.
Here's the thing though. I ended up with an argument that I'm fully aware doesn't jive with the homeschool culture as it is, because I've lived that culture. I am arguing that all states need to have one standard of accountability for homeschoolers that shades towards more oversight, not less (but still preserves freedom). Generally, the homeschool advocacy rhetoric is entirely against that. It's always been assumed that less regulation was better. My argument is that if homeschoolers want to be considered as a viable educational alternative in the age of school choice - a movement that is supposedly governed by data from the options available - they need to acquiesce to some regulatory measures.
I'm not talking about regulation of curriculum, because basically the entire point of homeschooling is based on the freedom to choose curriculum and how to teach. My main points are:
1) Registering the amount of kids, and having a database that researchers can access to pull samples for their inquiries. Regulations for the people teaching them are optional, because that steps on the parent's rights. I mean, I understand the logic behind background checks on those who are considered "instructors," because literally every educational professional has to pass them. But unless it's a requirement for every parent to have a background check to parent (not likely to become a thing, even though it might help some situations), I doubt that's going to get much acceptance. Also, requiring teacher certification for homeschool parents is a bit much. I was taught by plenty of people who were not certified teachers and some of my non-certified teachers were probably better teachers than certified teachers I learned under. While I see the value of teacher preparation programs (obviously, because you know, I'm in one), I don't think it's a necessity for small-scale education.
2) Having some measure of subject-matter accountability. Not in how you teach it, just that you taught it. It has to do with the State's responsibility to ensure that every child is being provided with their right to a decent education. That was the driving motivation behind public education historically, and with more recent laws establishing it as an actual inalienable right, it becomes even more important. This may not have to be anything more than requiring homeschool kids to take the same state tests at certain grade levels. Why many homeschoolers take issue with this, I will never understand, because the data that does exist suggests they usually do just as well, and often better on these tests. Also, other options - portfolios, sheets recording number of instructional hours spent on core subjects, etc - are way more intrusive.
In the end, the standardized test option also provides us with the best data to compare with other forms of schooling, which homeschoolers are all about. They love quoting stats that make them look superior (who doesn't, really?). The problem is a lot of those stats are currently based on extremely lopsided data. It's not an accurate representation of the homeschool population. We don't even know what an accurate representation of the homeschooling population would look like, because even the demographic data is so spotty. Thus, the need for some sort of nationwide accountability measures.
The thing is, I'm not even convinced it has to be a government thing. If you get a national organization that's willing to keep track of all this and provide the data to states, that might keep it farther from supposed greedy clutches of the states. I am not a policy expert, obviously. I just think, based on what I've seen in the research, something needs to shift if the homeschool community wants to be more open to being considered as a favored option.
Now I get to go write all that, with less opinionated language, APA references and a good bit about accountability theory which is seriously the most boring thing in the world (So. Boring. I. Want. To. Shoot. It.).