I shared last week about my experience being interviewed by a national TV news program regarding homeschooling freedom in Oklahoma and whether there should be more regulation. The focus of the story, which appeared last night and is summarized online, was whether homeschooling regulations are necessary to “guarantee” that education is taking place, parents are doing an adequate job teaching, and in extreme cases, that children aren’t being abused. My position in the interview is that homeschooling regulation isn’t the answer to these exceptions: “Parents can fail either way,” I answered the reporter. “There are parents who are going to fail, whether their kids go to public school or not.”
However, the reporter’s examples stuck with me, particularly the angle of the story about low-income areas in Tulsa where some children weren’t going to school or being homeschooled. I laid awake thinking about it for several nights after the interview. The plight of those children that aren’t getting an education because their parents use the excuse of homeschooling to keep them home, yet can’t even take care of themselves, really bothered me.
I was talking it over with my sister that weekend, telling her that I didn’t understand: Homeschooling has been legal in Oklahoma forever, and those low-income housing areas have been in the same state they are currently in since I was a kid. So what has changed that all of a sudden there are kids staying home from school unsupervised, with homeschooling as an excuse? If you can’t take care of yourself, much less feed your children, why would you keep them at home all day? I would think that sending your children to school on the school bus every day would be a win-win for everyone in that situation: Not only would they be gone all day, but they also get fed at least once and many schools also provide breakfast. What has happened to change that?
My sister informed me that they no longer bus those kids to school. Wait, what??? Yes, she said: She lived in one of these areas about 14 years ago, and back then, the school buses would leave full, the church buses came (many with sack lunches) on Sunday and would always be full, and even a library bus came once a week. However, the library bus quit coming because of violence in the areas, and then the school buses quit coming because of budget cutbacks. The church buses are the only ones still possibly running their routes in that area.
I was flabbergasted! I went home and did some research on my own to see if this was really happening. Sure enough, many of the Tulsa schools no longer run bus routes. So if you live less than 1.5 miles from the elementary school, you must transport yourself, and because many schools in Tulsa are close together, those schools do not have bus routes at all. Although it isn’t a terribly long walk from the area of low-income housing the reporter described to me, it is definitely a dangerous walk. Many of these parents do not have vehicles and may not be available to walk their children to school and later pick them up (making it at least a two-to-three mile a day walk for both parents and children) due to working or just not being able to get it together. Apparently for some of these families, it has become easier to just let them stay home.
One solution to the lack of school buses that I found in my research is a proposal to create what they are calling a “walking bus.” In fact, Michelle Obama supports this as part of her anti-obesity campaign. It would be an inexpensive option to school buses and may get those kids back in school, the campaign states.
As I continued my research, I discovered another reason children may not be attending school in these areas: The school itself. When I was a kid, I attended Marshall Elementary for 5th and 6th grade.: It’s a school in this area that the reporter was speaking of. At the time, we were first place in all-city gymnastics and many times in track and field. We had a great art program, music program and even speech and drama classes. This is where I got my first taste in opera and claymation filming. That has all been dropped due to state testing. These are the programs that offer a more well-rounded education in my opinion, and more importantly, they kept school interesting. I’m not saying that reading, writing and arithmetic aren’t the core of what should be taught. However, these schools didn’t replace the enrichment classes with better core classes: The focus is now how to take a test.
My point is that this particular problem, which was linked in this story to failures with homeschooling, isn’t due to unregulated homeschooling at all. Instead, it’s a sign of yet another failure on the state government’s part to provide what’s needed to keep public schools running successfully. The Marshall website says their mission is “Every Child. Every Chance. Every Day.” If the public school district really cared about every child, wouldn’t they make sure all children had the opportunity to get to school safely? It begs the question: Do they really want “those” children there, possibly causing disciplinary issues and bringing down test scores? While several of these schools reviewed online show their test scores rising in the last few years, I can’t help but wonder how that trend might be influenced by fact that less children from these low-income areas are still attending?
The exception does not prove the rule. I believe more research should be done to discover what’s really the root problem creating these exceptions before we automatically assume that regulating all homeschooling parents is going to fix the problem.
What would you have done if a reporter called you for an interview about homeschooling? Have you ever been in a situation where you had to defend your homeschooling rights? What state regulations do you face, and have you dealt with challenges as a result? Would you consider the homeschooling rights of a state if you were considering a move?