California Homeschooling Crisis

By now, most of you are aware of last week’s surprise decision by a California Court of Appeals effectively banning homeschooling in this state, with the sole exception of those children who are taught in the home by a state-credentialed teacher. California has between 166,000 and 200,000 homeschooled children (the smaller number is an official count from 2000, the latter a current estimate) – more than any other state in the union, amounting to approximately 13% of all homeschooled students nationwide.

California homeschoolers are very active and well-organized. Many homeschool groups will be involved in fighting this. The Virgina-based Home School Legal Defense Association and California’s Pacific Justice Institute will be assisting with an appeal to the California Supreme Court. HSLDA is asking California homeschoolers to sign this petition to depublish the decision, which they say is a critical component of the overall strategy. Our own California-based curriculum provider, Mother of Divine Grace, is urging all California members to sign the petition and to join HSLDA if they haven’t already done so.

A correspondent from the Pacific Justice Institute has assured me that, even if the Supreme Court upholds the decision, the battle will move to the legislative and direct initiative process. I am confident that ultimately homeschooling will remain legal in California. What is less certain is the status of homeschooling between now and a future resolution. The example of Texas should give Californians pause: today, the state of Texas has arguably the best homeschooling situation in the country, but 80 families were criminally prosecuted before the legal status of homeschooling was finally resolved.

Steve Skojec alerted me to this article in the San Francisco Chronicle. In reading the more than 800 (update: now 943 and growing) comments, two things come to mind: 1) there is likely to be an all-out war in California over this; 2) the good guys will probably win. What surprised me was not the anti-homeschooling sentiment, which anyone who knows San Francisco would reasonably expect. No, what surprised me is how many secular, non-religious, non-homeschooling readers of a San Francisco daily are friends of homeschooling and defenders of the rights of parents. Mainstream California is not very devout, but it does have a libertarian streak and that will probably tip the scales.

In response, the California State Department of Education has issued the following statement:

“State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell supports parental choice when it comes to home schooling, but wants every child in the state to receive a high-quality education whether the setting is public, private or in the home so he or she will be well prepared to succeed in the competitive global economy.”

Better yet, Governor Schwarzenegger has strongly denounced the ruling:

“Every California child deserves a quality education and parents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children … 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.”

It’s nice to have the Governator on our side for a change.

I don’t know what we would do if homeschooling were criminalized in California. Leaving this beautiful state would break my heart, but if the government comes after my kids we’ll be out of here fast. Acquiring teaching credentials ourselves would be a pain in the neck, but as a long-term solution it is not out of the question.

14 thoughts on “California Homeschooling Crisis

  1. Jeff –

    Good to see you guys are fighting back. My wife and I saw the SF article tonight, and her first comment was: “Thank God we don’t live in California anymore.” My response: “And if we did, we’d have to get out. Now.” We chose IL, and then MI, in large part because they have such permissive homeschooling laws; thankfully, we had a lot of flexibility in picking a place to live.

    For all the talk about people fleeing CA because of the high taxes and cost of living…it’ll be interesting to see if “oppressive homeschooling laws” get added to that list of reasons. We’d love to have your family as neighbors (you can get a lot of farm for your money here in MI these days), but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

    We are already HSLDA members, and are glad our dues are going to be put to good use fighting this thing. In the meantime, know you’re in our prayers.


  2. Thanks for the support, Chris. And I appreciate the invite to Michigan. California is poorer for you having left it!

    My family has been in California for five generations now, and we’re not anxious to leave. This is a beautiful state with a Catholic heritage and many fine people. I doubt seriously that this decision will stand … but time will tell.


  3. Did y’all see the silly post on Ace of Spades that somebody linked in the comments on my blog post about this? Telling all the home schoolers in CA that home schooling isn’t imperiled; they can relax, take a deep breath, and file a *private school affadavit*. Golly! Why didn’t y’all _think_ of that before? Isn’t it nice that we have such helpful bloggers to tell us that all is well?

    I pointed out in the thread that the opinions rules this option out. Pointed it out something like three different times, finally with quotes. But I’m not sure people get it.

    The truth is that probably most people think home schooling all over the country is regulated far more stringently than it really is and can’t understand what a difference a ruling like this makes.

    We live in Michigan, too. (About 3.5 hours from Chicago, Chris!) Anybody who goes to my personal site finds this out, but I don’t advertise it on WWWtW; we get some trolls over there and even the occasional orc, so it’s not likely I’d give my address out too freely. It’s hard to believe how good the legal situation is here. I was pondering today on the fact that there no doubt are some people who take advantage of it wrongly and don’t educate their kids. But (let malicious ears be absent) it’s worth it. How many kids are there in the public schools not getting educated? I obviously have nothing but anecdotal data to go on, but I’m thinking that if you included everybody who considers himself a home schooler, even a very loose and negligent one, and compared all the home schooled children thus defined to all the public school children, you’d _still_ find better educational performance on average.

    Jeff, there’s one hopeful thought about the “credentialed” thing–I’m not sure it would mean state teacher accreditation. I’m not even sure the judge knows. (Though I could be wrong about this.) HSLDA said something about “a four-year college degree,” which I’m sure one of you has anyway. And even if it does mean something more, in the bad old days (which I’m not _quite_ old enough to remember, having started home schooling shortly after everything got good here in Michigan) I’m pretty sure a BA degree put you well on the way to being credentialed, if you were willing to take some stupid education courses on the side, holding your nose the while. Nowadays you might be able to get those from some on-line school, even.


  4. Jeff, I think the ruling is bizarre because the court should have addressed the issue of school choice for the family alone, rather than for the entire class of California homeschoolers.

    And to cite cases from 1953 and 1961 as precedent! Fifty year old cases! And homeschooling has grown to a cool 200,000 people in the meantime!! How in the world did several hundred (if not more than a thousand) California legislators during this growth boom never realize what these judges did? Answer: the crackpots are liars. They’ve abused their discretionary authority with fables (I’m sure you’ve read the opinion).

    I too believe that the case will be overturned, but as I told a friend, anything less than disbarring these crackpots on the 2nd Court of Appeals would be shameful.


  5. Lydia, I saw your comment and wanted to comment on anecdotal evidence of public school students not getting educated. It’s much worse than that. They’re getting educated all right — often they’re educated to be liars, cheats, scoundrels. It takes tough, determined parenting to overcome the morally devoid morass of garbage that is pumped into their children everyday. And I’m not talking about the teacher or the textbook. Often it’s just on the campus, and they get it through association. Kids cutting themselves (what’s that?). Kids being rude and disrespectful. Look at for some anecdotes. I just got started with it and it’s my first time blogging, so it’s pretty unprofessional, but you can read real stories from the field.


  6. Lydia –

    We’re also about 3.5 hours from Chicago, between Jackson and Lansing. If that’s anywhere near you, please browse over to my site and drop me a note.


  7. Mike, I had a post on W4 on the “cutting” thing called “On Not Accepting the World.” Focus on the Family’s little magazine had an article on the phenomenon trying to help parents catch it in their children, and what struck me about the Focus article was that it treated it as sort of just part of the world now, rather than with the disdainful horror with which it should be treated. My reaction to such a crazy thing (which certainly was not at all common when I was a teenager, though drugs were) is, “Okay, I’m not sending my kids _anywhere_ where they are going to have peers who do this and where it is treated as just one of those things people do.”

    My conjecture here, of course, was related instead to the question of basic academic competence. I hope I won’t step on any toes, here, but I am not thrilled with the “unschooling” phenomenon among home schoolers. However, I was conjecturing that even if we included unschoolers on the one hand and inner city public schools on the other, we’d find a higher percentage of kids who can’t even read, write, and spell among the public schoolers than among the home schoolers.

    I agree, by the way, that it was strange that the judge should have gone into such sweeping comments on the meaning of private schooling in California. Surely there is some category of “educational neglect” in CA (most states have one), so that if the family is not simply being persecuted but is genuinely neglectful and/or abusive, _they_ could be ordered to send their children to a day school on the grounds that _they_ have misused and hence lost their prima facie prerogative to school their children at home. He could have referred it back to the family courts at the local level to decide if abuse or neglect were taking place and make court orders accordingly. Instead he has to try to turn all people who educate their children at home into law-breakers. He even says _regardless of the quality of the education_ received.

    And shouldn’t he at least have taken cognizance of the actual way the law is being used and interpreted now? It’s like he’s been in a time warp for the past forty years.


  8. Lydia and Mike: Thank you for the comments. With respect to credentials, I have a B.A. and my wife has a Pharm. D., but that isn’t good enough here in the Golden State. Last time I checked a credential required a minimum of 9 months additional study in an accelerated credential program.


  9. Jeff –

    That’s right about credentials. My wife was an education major in undergrad, but never got certified; she hated student teaching so much, she decided to go to law school instead. However, if she needed to get certified, it would be very easy; she’d just need to take a fairly simple exam — but she’s only allowed to take that exam because she went through ed school. Interestingly, though, she could ONLY get certified for grades 7-12; if she wanted cert for K-6, she’d need to go back to ed school and get a different degree first.

    The whole thing is a racket, set up by teachers unions to limit entrance to the “profession.” I have a PhD and my wife has a law degree, and I have taught University of California undergraduates, but neither of us is legal to teach a 6th grader in California. Sheesh.


  10. I’m sure you guys are right, and you obviously know about what’s required, whereas I don’t. I had held out some faint hope that the “credential” in question didn’t have to be full CA teacher accreditation. But it sounds like it does. And indeed, it is a racket. To make things worse, my experience from talking to people who have had such classes has been that education classes are often anti-education, in the sense that they teach disinformation and faddish methods that are baloney, merely to justify the existence of “education” as a separate discipline that ostensibly makes “progress” and “discoveries.” This, of course, is part of the way that the public schools have been educationally ruined.

    I submit “inventive spelling” as an example of such a fad. And a pseudo-principled opposition to teaching children the multiplication tables, which I gather is now all the rage.


  11. Lydia – You’re exactly right about ed schools ruining education. To your list, I’d add the use of “whole language” method, rather than phonics, in teaching kids to read.


  12. For sure. But the amazing thing about “inventive spelling” is that it appears to be worse than whole language. I wouldn’t have thought that it was possible for them to think of anything worse until I heard about it from a friend whose 7-year-old was having trouble learning to read. In whole language, they showed the child the words spelled correctly, whereas I’m told that in inventive spelling, they try to teach them to spell words without vowels or with randomly chosen vowels, so that “because” becomes bkz or bkuz, and so forth. This means that even a bright child will have fewer opportunities to figure out phonics for himself, as many of course have done and thus learned to read despite whole language.

    Young Shelby was terrifically frustrated with all of this, so I loaned Stephanie (the mom) a copy of _Why Johnny Can’t Read_, and she taught Shelby herself. All was well after that. That was eight years ago, but someone mentioned the inventive spelling to me in the grocery store just a few weeks back, so evidently it’s still going on. That was in one of the supposedly “good” public school districts.


  13. “Inventive spelling.” Oy. And here I was blaming IM and texting for the trend — I had no idea this was a new “educational” fad as well.

    We also love the homeschooling freedom of Michigan. Jeff, if you Culbreaths need to flee into exile, you can be sure of some local relocation guides in the Wolverine State.

    Chris – my wife (who does have an Education degree) did pick up a fondness for Whole Language, and thinks it contains some useful techniques if not turned into an ideology. Unfortunately, during her turn at university, that’s exactly what it was — children must be taught to read via Whole Language and must not be taught to read using phonics. Complete with hints on how do “deal” with any reactionary Neanderthal parents who dared to question this wisdom.



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