Home Schooling Sparks Credential Debate

Parents who home-school their children need a teaching credential, according to a recent appellate court ruling in California. What does the ruling mean for those who home-school more than 1 million American children?

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Parents in California who are homeschooling their children may soon need to have a teaching credential to do it. That's the word this week from the California Appeals Court.

And as David Gorn reports, it has sent a chill through homeschoolers across the state and the nation.

DAVID GORN: This may not look like a typical classroom. It's two o'clock in the afternoon on a school day. Aaron(ph), age 10, and his seven-year-old sister, Heather(ph) are sprawled out on their living room floor in Berkeley. They'd broken out a complicated board game called "Heroscape."

(Soundbite of children playing)

GORN: Their mother, Lucy Coons(ph), says her kids learn more at home than they would if they attended the grammar school that's right across the street. And the games, she says, are part of the reason why.

Ms. LUCY COONS: Oh gosh. Aaron learned to add because he played games that where you rolled dice and you have to figure out how many moves to go. Games are learning even if it doesn't look like it.

GORN: Coons started homeschooling, she says, so she could spend more time with her children and because they can get the individual instruction they couldn't get in regular school. But this week's ruling by a California Appellate Court says that Coons and thousands of parents across the state who homeschool their children would have to get a teaching degree to keep doing it.

Ms. COONS: I don't really understand the mentality of it - up until the age of six, parents are okay, you know? But somehow when kids turn six, the parents become stupid and are no longer qualified to teach their kids.

GORN: But it's not about intelligence, it's about training, said Lloyd Porter on the board of directors of the California Teachers Association. Sometimes when parents do the teaching, their kids can fall behind, he says. So when those kids do enter the public school system, they can be a drain on the classroom.

Mr. LLOYD PORTER (Member, Board of Directors, California Teachers Association): You may already have a kid in your classroom that's functioning below grade level. Then here comes another one from homeschooling, probably haven't been using the same textbooks throughout their education either. It could be difficult.

GORN: Teaching kids can be hard work, Porter says. Like any complex job, you need to be trained for it. But that notion doesn't sit well with Loren Mavromati, president of the California Homeschool Network. Does the state really want to police all of the homeschools, she asks, to see whether or not parents have the right amount of training to teach their kids?

Ms. LOREN MAVROMATI (President, California Homeschool Network): Where do we draw the line with the state's responsibility? I mean, sure the state has an interest in seeing that all of us educate our children, but do they really have the right to tell us exactly how we can go about educating our children?

GORN: Interestingly, this case was not brought up by the board of education. A Los Angeles county agency was concerned about potential child abuse in a family that homeschools. And the court really just upheld a law that already exists, that children must be taught by a private or public school or by a certified tutor.

So the court ordered that these particular children must attend a private or public school, in part so their physical and emotional well-being could be monitored. Most homeschools aren't under this kind of scrutiny. But if this case is upheld, it means that they might have to meet stricter requirements to prove they qualify as a private school. And that has big ramifications for the roughly 1.1 million children in American homeschooling. To Lloyd Porter of the teachers association, that's not a bad thing.

Mr. PORTER: Everybody, the public seems to want to hold us accountable to standards and yet if they don't necessarily want to be able to have these standards in their own house when they're doing schooling, so it's make up your mind.

GORN: This week's ruling is supposed to go into effect in 30 days. But that's not going to happen, as homeschoolers will appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.

For NPR News, I'm David Gorn.

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