Bulletin #19 An interpretation problem with No Child Left Behind and homeschoolers    01/05/2004


Did you know? An already existing “fix” to a perceived problem through the federal No Child Left Behind

Act, may be causing more of a problem than the one it was supposed to fix.


In Arkansas, a report in a newspaper article (see below) indicates that homeschooled children in that state are required to take certain standardized tests periodically just as public schooled children are required to do. The article also indicates that because of understaffing in that state’s Education Department, the Department has not been able to keep track of whether homeschooled students have taken those tests. The article indicates that one public school superintendent is lobbying the Arkansas legislature for clarification of that state’s law to determine who is responsible for students “slipping through the cracks – their parent educators, the school district in which they reside, or the state?” The report quotes the superintendent as saying that the state “is no less responsible for these students than for any others.”


This is an example of how statutes may be misinterpreted and how the misinterpretation could lead to still more unnecessary legislation. No Child Left Behind was enacted to improve the public school system. As such, it needed no clarification exempting homeschooled students. Homeschooled students are not part of the public school system. Yet, at the request of HSLDA, nonetheless an exemption for homeschoolers was included.


The Arkansas superintendent’s confusion is not unusual under the circumstances. The superintendent apparently is not reading the No Child Left Behind Act in its entirety, line by line, giving it thoughtful analysis as to whether it applies to homeschooled students. Because of this, he is unable to discern whether or not his district may have to account for those homeschooled students who are not taking the standardized tests, or for those homeschooled students who are taking the standardized tests and who do poorly on them. The superintendent appears to be concerned about his responsibilities and how the actions of the homeschooled students affect his school system. The superintendent wants clarification. However, the clarification need not come in the form of federal legislation. Federal legislation would affect not only his students in Arkansas, but also students all across the country. The clarification also need not come from the Arkansas State legislature in the form of state legislation. The clarification could come in the form of discussion with those familiar with Arkansas law and No Child Left Behind to explain to the superintendent how and why the perceived problem is not really a problem at all, or that it is easily corrected. Such a discussion could result, for example, in tbe issuance of an explanatory or advisory letter from the Arkansas Education Department. In other words, correction of a misinterpretation of the law may result in the elimination of a perceived problem and the avoidance of further unnecessary legislation.


Attorney Deborah Stevenson - Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense. – www.nheld.com or email : info@nheld.com

Judy Aron - Director of Research, NHELD – imjfaron@sbcglobal.net



MH superintendent: Home-schooling system is lacking in accountability

Bulletin Staff Writer


Home schooling in the state of Arkansas is in disarray, and Mountain Home School Superintendent Steve Singleton wants to see something done about it.

Singleton has lobbied state officials for clarification on the state law. One of the issues at hand is students slipping through the cracks and who is responsible -- their parent educators, the school district in which they reside or the state?

Forty-two percent of registered home-schooled tenth-graders do not take the SAT9 test -- a mandatory requirement within the state of Arkansas.

"These are children at risk, with no support system," Singleton said. "The children that need help the most are slipping through the cracks."

Currently, parents wishing to home school their children need only submit a form each school year expressing their intent to the appropriate district and a waiver form releasing the state from its responsibility to educate their children, in accordance with Act 400 of 1997, the current governing provision.

Home-schooled students in the fifth, seventh and 10th grades are required to take the SAT9 standardized test, as are public school students in Arkansas. Home-schoolers do not take Benchmark or any other statewide exams.

Students cannot be more than two years beyond the normal age for their appropriate grades, according to Act 400. Students not complying with the SAT9 testing requirement will be considered truant.

But the state, which has one employee in its Home School division, does not have the resources to track the students that aren't taking the required tests.

Flaws in the system can confuse the numbers as well. Students can take the test in other counties, move or receive a General Educational Development diploma, without notifying their home districts.

According to Singleton, there is no clear connection between the home-schooling legislation and the state's truancy laws, leaving no concrete disciplinary action for the state to take.

"There is no accountability," he said.

Twenty-eight percent of the home-schooled students in the Mountain Home District last year did not take the SAT9 test, a number Singleton said was the tip of the iceberg across the state.

"We have children who are not getting an education," Singleton said. "And obviously, the legislature is still accountable for the education of the children in the state of Arkansas."

Singleton praised the home-school environment when it is executed properly.

"I am not opposed to home-schooling," Singleton said. "The parents and students that are dedicated to it do an outstanding job with remarkable results."

Singleton also said it was a false assertion to assume that the district is losing money because of home schooling.

"Some of these students -- not all -- have learning disabilities or had trouble in public schools. These are the students that cost us more to educate because they may have special needs."

The national No Child Left Behind legislation mandates continued improvement in education -- a charge that may be difficult to keep with vague records, Singleton said.

"The state is no less responsible for these students than for any others," said Singleton, adding that he doubted the issue would come up at next week's special legislative session.


Originally published Tuesday, December 2, 2003