George Lucas Educational Foundation

Credential Crackdown: Court's Homeschool Decision Imperils Online Learning

A state Court of Appeals ruling on homeschooling may have a dampening effect on virtual schools as well.
By Lauren Smith
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The recent ruling by a California court that parents without teaching credentials cannot homeschool their children may have some effect in the world of online learning, with potential fallout for distance learning and virtual learning as well.

"The potential for this case is pretty significant," said Michael Donnelly, staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). "When you look at what the ruling says, kids have to go to a full day of school or be instructed by certified teachers. That's not what happens at virtual schools. You could make the argument that this would not allow virtual schools."

Homeschooling has never been stringently regulated in California. As it stands now, parents can homeschool their children by filing paperwork with the state that establishes their households as small private schools. They have the option to either hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent-study programs run by private schools, charter schools, or school districts.

Many of these programs are operated online, and parents who homeschool use an array of online resources, including whole curriculum plans offered by companies that support their programs with tutors and teachers. As of January 2007, 173 virtual charter schools in eighteen states served 92,235 students.

But that may soon not be enough for California, where on February 28, the state's Second District Court of Appeal ruled that children must enroll in and attend public or private full-time day school unless the child is tutored "by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught."

The loophole here is that different virtual-learning and distance-learning programs have different standards. Although some employ only teachers with California credentials, others utilize teachers credentialed in different states. In addition, some online programs have the parent act as the primary or secondary educator. The ruling does not address these differences, and therefore, it is unclear whether the state would allow reciprocity for teachers credentialed in other states and whether homeschooling parents would also need to be credentialed.

No Constitutional Protection

"Parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children," Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in an opinion. "Parents who fail to [comply] may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete parent-education and counseling programs."

If imposed, the court ruling would challenge the homeschooling tradition thousands of families value across the state. Some critics have attacked the ruling as the most regressive form of education policy in the country.

"There aren't enough prisons to put us all in jail," said Steve Ramsey, who homeschools his son Wyatt through a charter school called Pathways. "Everyone knows someone who is homeschooled, but no one really knows how big a community it is. It's huge."

The HSLDA estimates that more than 2 million children are homeschooled throughout the nation. The court's decision sparked so much controversy that as of March 10, the organization's online petition had more than 168,000 signatures and was growing at a rate of one signature per second.

The controversial ruling was the result of a specific child-welfare and abuse allegation case involving a Lynwood, California, family that was repeatedly referred to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Though the parents enrolled their eight children in a private Christian academy, the mother, who is not a credentialed teacher, was their primary educator at home. Aside from the children taking occasional tests at the school and school officials infrequently visiting the family's residence, the family had no interaction with the school.

A trial court disagreed with a lawyer appointed to represent two of the children, who argued that the court should require the children to physically attend public or private school. But on appeal, the appellate court ruled that the family is violating state law and that their irregular contact with the academy did not qualify the children as being enrolled in a private school.

Uncertain Effect on Online Learning

It is not certain how this ruling will affect virtual-learning communities, but one thing is for sure: Online learning is growing dramatically; according to North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL), the number of students in grades K-12 who take courses online is growing 30 percent annually.

Jeff Kwitowski, vice president of public relations for the California Virtual Academies, the largest online public charter school in the state, says the ruling will not affect his institution, because its teachers are all credentialed and it is publicly funded by California. But the HSLDA's Michael Donnelly says that the far-reaching ruling does have the potential to interfere with public online charter schools.

"At an online school, who's actually doing the teaching?" Donnelly asks. "Is it a teacher who's credentialed in Nebraska but teaching children in California? Often, it's not clear. In some of the virtual public schools, the parents are the instructor; in some schools, they're the assistant instructor. It's unclear how virtual schools would be dealt with."

The lasting effects will not be certain until the case has made its way through the higher courts.

Spector, Middleton, Young & Minney, a legal office based in Sacramento, takes the position that this case does not address or affect the legality of non-classroom-based education in public schools, both charter and otherwise.

Even California's governor has publicly decried the court's decision. "Every California child deserves a quality education, and parents should have the right to decide what's best for their children," Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts, and if the courts don't protect parents' rights, then, as elected officials, we will."

At the least, the ruling is unlikely to be effective immediately, as the family is appealing the decision to the California Supreme Court.

The HSLDA plans to file an amicus brief on behalf of its 13,500 member families in California. "We will argue that a proper interpretation of California statutes makes it clear that parents may legally teach their own children under the private-school exemption," the association's briefing on the court ruling says. "However, if the court disagrees with our statutory argument, we will argue that the California statutes as interpreted by the Court of Appeal violate the constitutional rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children."

Research shows that students in online learning perform as well as or better than their peers. The American Digital Schools 2006 Survey reports that 4 percent of K-12 students engage in online learning and that this number is expected to grow to 15 percent by 2011.

Lauren Smith, a freelance writer for education-focused publications, has reported for the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Bangor Daily News, and the Scripps Howard News Service.

Comments (26) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Miss Wolfe's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have taught in public schools in 3 states - Maine, Arizona and now in New Hampshire. I still find the American public school system lacking in meeting the international AND national standards in math and science. I teach at the high school level - Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. Our current public school system does NOT prepare our children for vigorous courses in mathematics and science in order to compete technologically with other countries. I have students in my Algebra II class who STILL cannot perform long division!

I have found, however, that students who were home-schooled to be more prepared for college prep courses, more self-disciplined, and more respectful of education. Part of the problem is that the feds are increasing the standards for the students to meet but not setting the students up for success. Not much emphasis is made in mathematics and science at the elementary and middle school levels - if the teacher doesn't like math, then the students learn not to like math. This is a really horrible way to start off a child's education especially when strong math skills are so important in today's increasing technological world.

To take the parents' right away to educate their children thoroughly is not only unethical, but also plain stupid. (I'm not talking about un- intelligence.) These legislators are not really thinking about the best educational opportunities for the CHILDREN. Their actions bespeak their own selfishness, what they want, when they want it, and forget about everyone else's children who actually WANT TO LEARN. The whole point to NCLB is that EVERY child has a right to a GOOD education; if that education occurs out of the traditional classroom due to violence, disruptions, or some other threatening situation inside that classroom, then so be it. Another thing that the legislators need to think about is students who NEED a separate environment - not all students learn the same way, not all students have the same learning abilities; there are many students who need that separate space. Mainstreaming is great, but not all parents will put their children in an environment in which that child may be harassed because of a disability. NOT ALL CHILDREN ARE THE SAME. I'm sure I'm not the only teacher in this country to feel this way.

Maybe if the federal and state governments accorded us teachers our due respect (salary, etc.), then we would be able to have more resources to teach better, creating more integrative, interactive classrooms so parents won't need to home-school their children.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a public school elementary educator and administrator, I have known many homeschooled children. Most of the children entered at or above their expected comptetency rates and most had parents who were 100% supportive and committed to providing their children the best quality education they could find. However, not every parent chooses homeschooling because he/she thinks it provides a better education. For example, I personally know of a parent who now homeschools her middle school-aged son because she doesn't want to be charged with educational neglect. This child had horrible attendance at my elementary school and therefore was extremely behind his grade level peers. His mother gave every excuse in the book to explain his absences while he was in elementary school. My assumption is that she probably got tired of lying about his absences at the middle school. Are there homeschooling policies and regulations in place to protect the children? For example, what will happen to this child who is most likely falling farther and farther behind his grade-level peers? As far as I know, nothing happens. In the meantime, this boy rides his bicycle all day around the neighborhood and our school. The staff at my school jokingly says that it must be his "PE time." His "PE time" lasts all day long!

Chris's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a parent that homeschools in the state of Missouri. I brought my children home when my 4th grader couldn't read fluently. We have continued to homeschool for the last three years. I have 14 years of working at public schools, even though I am not a certified teacher, I have been in all grades K-12th. The kids that re-enter public schools do not represent the "normal" homeschooling family. The homeschooling community despise those people that "hid out" and say they are homeschooling, as they give us as a community a black eye. There are millions of children and parents that are learning and meeting their children's educational needs. To curtail their freedoms would be a huge mistake for this country. Our public schools are riddled with problems, and few teachers really get to teach as they have to deal with so many other issues. One size and shape does not fit all!

Terri's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have great respect for many public school teachers. They are trying to make the best of a system that is out-dated and terribly broken.

Do you really think 166,000 homeschooled children would get the education they deserve if they were forced to return to the California public school system? Could the system support them when classes are already over-crowded and the state is cutting so much funding that many school districts are losing hundreds of teachers? I don't understand how anyone can think homeschoolers are damaging public education.

We homeschool our children because public schools are not safe. Students bring weapons to school, bullies rule the halls and teachers can't protect the innocent because they are too busy trying to maintain order.

We homeschool our children because a public school education is very biased. It is biased toward a liberal government agenda that if continued unchecked will turn our Democratic Republic into a socialist dictatorship.

It is also heavily biased towards disrespect for God and religion and our freedom to practice it. It is biased in favor of condoning immoral lifestyles and exposing our children to beliefs contrary to our own.

We homeschool our children because public schools are designed to create good employees who don't know how to think for themselves and don't know how to question whether their leaders are doing a good job or not.

Our children have healthy and safe socialization opportunities. They take classes with other homeschooled children. They are active in Scouting and Sunday School. They are not exposed to bullies on unsupervised playgrounds, but play well with their neighbors and friends.

Unfortunately, not all homeschooling parents are doing a good job. I know 9 and 10 year olds who do not read well. There are homeschooled children who are behind, who's parents neglect their education. But these are the exceptions, not the norm.

Homeschooling is not for everyone, but homeschooling is one answer to, not a cause of, a broken public system. The system was broken before homeschooling was popular; homeschooling is popular because the system is broken.

tom's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am wondering why this artical was published today when the decision was overturned last week?

This sort of decision illustrates the problem of the court rulling without context and knowledge of California EdCode.

John Bragg's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a high school graduate, I have three children in the first, fourth, and sixth grades in California. Is it legal for me to be the teacher? What about subjects like algebra which I don't know anything about.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Are you SERIOUS? This is the problem with public educators. You all think that parents are uneducated nit wits that are incapable of fostering a good education for their own children.

My children both were in public school, taught by so called "certified teachers". The school system and all its vast knowledge of educational practices couldn't teach my son to read, write or do anything more than simple math (1+1). They were stumped and started to blame my child for their failure. Him being a child with a 130IQ, completely open and ready to learn.

Within one year of homeschooling him with NO "educational background" or "certification" he learned how to read, write and do more complex math. In public school he would be in 3rd grade (because the unwise wisdom of public school teachers was to hold him back 2 years, he should be in the 5th grade). Today with his uncertified parent as his teacher he is reading at a 7th grade instructional level, writing at his actual grade level (which the public school employees told me he would NEVER do), and he is doing 6th grade level math.

Public charter schools DO HAVE parents teaching the children and they also have a computer program that teaches children. The actual time the teachers of the online charter schools spend with the children is nada, most have online virtual chat sessions that amount to very little time. Most of the learning occurs at home with PARENTS and from programs like K12. In fact most online public schools have lesson plans that parents print out and then go over with their children.

Please stop and think about what you are typing and realize that you are so off base its not even funny. A computer and curriculum do not teach a child, a human does. Without human interaction education is doomed. So your little bit of online contact with these children is hardly the winning factor in their educational gains. If anything its the parents that teach your lesson plans, ensure the children are doing their work, the parents who answer questions when online virtual teacher isn't available, etc..

Nate Herrick's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Help us Mr. Lucas, you're our only hope! Please sir, take a stand for homeschooling. I'm a huge fan of all your films. I was at the 2002 Star Wars convention in Indy.

Your films have always stood for individual freedom-THX1138! I wish Edutopia would take a more supportive stance for homeschooling!

Please Mr. Lucas-speak up for this small band of education-rebels; fighting the good fight against the far-reaching hand of the empire (entrenched ideology); speak up for homeschoolers!

May The Force Be With You

Thomas Corriher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Home schooling is mandated to be legal nationwide in the U.S.A. Reference the U.S. Supreme Court case: Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972). Also reference the cases of Pierce, Parham, Meyer. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may impose "reasonable regulations", but requiring parents to possess a four-year college degree in education is not reasonable, and flies in the face of both the wording, and the spirit of the Court's decisions.

Michelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You have to realize that being a teacher, you are only seeing homeschooling "failures." If homeschooling was working for those families, they would not be in public school. The vast majority of homeschoolers are success stories. A public schoolteacher would not see those kids, because why would they bother going to school if homeschooling was working?

Do you really think that the government is providing children with an "unbiased" education? I know that my own children are receiving an education that is far superior than they would get in the one-size-fits-all local public school. Do some kids excel at school? Yes of course. Do some kids soar at home? Absolutely. To say otherwise shows ignorance of the actual results of most homeschool programs.

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