Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The school board of Community High School District 218 learned this week that a significant number of its students read at third- and fifth-grade levels, according to Kevin McCaffrey, the district’s assistant superintendent for instructional services.
That shocked board member Ron Patl, as well as hard-working taxpayers who fund our schools.
“We need to go public with this,” Patl said.
When we pay property taxes, we expect that money to be used to give our neighborhood kids the best education money can buy. Instead, we learn those precious dollars may have been squandered, and we’ll have to pay to fix the problem.
Voters should be incensed.
But just what were District 218’s state lawmakers focused on earlier on that same day in Springfield?
State Sen. Ed Maloney (D-Chicago) and a few others were testifying at the Capitol about another so-called urgent crisis — registering homeschooled students.
About 4,000 homeschooling families packed up their minivans and launched on an all-day excursion to the Capitol with hopes to preserve their freedom to homeschool without additional government interference and oversight.
In Illinois, home-taught students are required to obey the compulsory attendance laws just like everyone else. The attendance law says children ages 7 through 17 must attend a school that offers branches of education comparable to the public school system, and those subjects must be taught in the English language. In Illinois, a home school is considered a private school.
Already Illinois law provides that if a child is not obeying the compulsory attendance law, the students’ parents can be brought before a judge to determine if they are guilty of causing their child to be truant.
But Maloney insists that’s not enough. He argues those children should be registered with the state.
So at the hearing Tuesday, state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville) asked Bill Reynolds, a downstate truancy officer, what he would do with homeschool registry information.
Here’s the exchange:
Luechtefeld: “If they register, will you go to any house and see if you can help?”
Reynolds: “Yes, sir.”
Luechtefeld: “Even those that are doing a really good job?”
Reynolds: “That’s right. And I’ll know very quickly as I knock on the door. The ones that are doing a great job won’t let me go. They’ll want me to come in. The ones that say, ‘We don’t want you around,’ I’ll know to take further action.”
Luechtefeld: “I still don’t see how this changes things just because they register.”
Reynolds: “It gives me the name and opportunity.”
Again — he said, “It gives me the name and the opportunity.”
Homeschoolers can be called a lot of things because they’re so independent and self-sufficient, and that seems counter-intuitive in today’s world. But they’re not as paranoid as some public school officials would make them out to be. The truancy officer acknowledged he would assume guilt before proving innocence. He would not have a problem searching private homes to prove the schools within were up to state standards.
The Senate committee exchange became more revealing when Reynolds told the committee he would look around those registered homes for computers with educational software, books and other indications teaching was going on.
And then he would “help” them.
Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) awkwardly attempted to soothe ruffled feathers in the packed Capitol hearing room: “I think that the ultimate goal here is to come to some consensus on how we can make sure that the educational standards are the same, we understand who’s involved with public education as well as homeschooling education.”
Homeschooling families, no doubt, agree with Garrett. After all, homeschooled boys’ nationwide academic achievement averages in the 87th percentile, and home-taught girls are at the 88th percentiles.
It’s high time educational standards in the public system were at the same level as homeschoolers’. It’s high time every student in the public school system scored as well as homeschoolers in reading, math and science. It’s disgraceful that the Chicago Public Schools system’s high school graduation rate is at its current abysmal state.
Former President Ronald Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ”
That’s why any reasonable citizen would hesitate to open to the door — even for a well-meaning truancy officer such as Reynolds.
The education of our next generation is crucial to our state’s and nation’s futures. But just as crucial to our future is preserving basic liberties and freedom from an overbearing and failed government bureaucracy.
So to Maloney and anyone else eager to register homeschooled children: Let’s first get the standards up to par at the state-funded elementary and secondary schools. Only then can we talk about the need to register homeschoolers.