WASHINGTON – Home-schooling mom Jenni White gave some of the loudest cheers when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation to repeal the Common Core education standards.
White, president of Restore Oklahoma Public Education, helped organize rallies, robo calls and letters to legislators encouraging the repeal. “You name it. We had to do it,” White said. “We just had to do it out of a shoestring budget out of our own accounts.”
In Oklahoma and elsewhere, home-schooling parents, often with their kids, are a frequent presence at legislative hearings and other political functions representing anti-Common Core forces. Sometimes, as in White’s case, they are even leading the opposition.
Home-schooling parents can teach their kids what they choose, but many of these parents still have a big beef with the standards.
Facebook groups such as “Home Schooling Without Common Core,” have popped up. A Home School Legal Defense Association produced video on the standards has been viewed online hundreds of thousands of times.
“All parents should be concerned about this. This is our children. To me, it’s not political,” said Megan King of Lawrence, Kansas. She pulled two of her three sons out of their public elementary school, in part, because of the math standards, and she co-founded Kansans Against Common Core.
The standards, adopted in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia, spell out what math and English skills public school students should master at each grade. They were pushed by governors concerned that too few graduates were ready for life after high school.
Use of the standards has become a hot button issue in many states, and governors in Indiana and South Carolina recently signed legislation repealing them. The issue has pitted Chamber of Commerce-aligned Republicans with grassroots conservatives, including many home-schooling parents.
The Common Core effort was led by the states, but the Obama administration has offered incentives to those that adopted “college and career” ready standards. That has led to charges of federal intrusion.
The concern that the more education policy is centralized, “the less control they have as citizens” motivates many of these home-schooling parents, said Emmett McGroarty, director of education at the conservative American Principles Project.
Some of these parents, like King, believe the standards are poorly designed. King said she believes the math standards are developmentally inappropriate for younger kids, not rigorous enough for older students and too heavy on pushing informational text over literature.
Other home-schoolers fear that as textbook publishers incorporate the standards, it will lead to a smaller number of non-Common Core based-textbooks, said White, from Luther, Oklahoma. She said she teaches her children using “classically” aligned texts.
McGroarty said there is a concern that the ACT and the College Board, which owns the SAT, are moving toward aligning with the standards. That, he said, would leave home-schooling parents no choice other than to follow the standards if they want their kids to do well on the college entrance exams.
An ACT official said the company supports the Common Core standards, but the exam hasn’t changed because of them. The College Board, which is revamping the SAT, has said the new version of the exam isn’t aligned to a single set of standards.
Mike Donnelly of the Home School Legal Defense Association, based in Purcellville, Virginia, said there isn’t anything “inherently objectionable” in the Common Core standards, but there is concern that if the standards become more mainstream, there will be more pressure for home-schooled students to conform to them.
A majority of states do not require home-schooled students to take a standardized assessment. In those that do, parents are offered a range of standardized assessments they can use, so it’s possible that home-schooling students in some states could take a Common Core-based assessment or that in the future, there will be fewer options for these students, Donnelly said.
“That’s the concern we have, that our students are going to be marginalized by this Common Core system and we’ll have difficulty and we’ll be pressured and pulled into kind of participating, and we don’t want to do that,” Donnelly said.
Today, home schooling is much more acceptable than it was in the past, and an estimated 3 percent of students are educated at home today, according to Education Department statistics. Years of political battles taught these families to be “very politically savvy,” McGroarty said.
Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, has testified before state legislative bodies in favor of the standards. He said the issue goes beyond the standards themselves. “This is much more of a fundamental, ideological concern for them,” he said.
Carmel Martin, a former Obama administration Education Department official who is the executive vice president for policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, said she finds home-schooling parents’ opposition to the standards a bit “perplexing.”
“Those families make a personal choice, which is a legitimate choice that they are going to handle their child’s education at home, so the Common Core doesn’t really affect them,” Martin said. “They have the option just like a private school to decide what curriculum is going to be used for their children.”
Shane Vander Hart, a home-schooling dad in Des Moines, Iowa, runs two conservative-bent web sites and has done contract work for the American Principles Project. He said that even though his family is “going to do what we’re going to do anyway,” he’s concerned about what the standards will do to public education.
“A one size fits all approach does not work and that’s one of the primary reasons many of us homeschool,” Vander Hart said.
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