Where America leads, we in this country tend to follow. Trends seen in the USA in areas as varied as crime, education, pop music and sport, sooner or later seem to find their way across the Atlantic. We have of course seen this happen with home education. From Paul Goodman in the sixties to Holt, Gatto and the Moores in the eighties, the ideology of American home education has had a profound influence on parents here. Some believe that the huge and growing numbers of home educated children in the Unites States are a foretaste of what we can expect in this country in the coming years. If this is so, could there be any lessons which we might learn from the States, any emerging problems with home education there?
A couple of weeks ago, a scandal erupted about home education in the state of Texas. Texas is of course famous for having very laid back and non-intrusive rules regarding home education. All it takes to become a home educator in Texas is a verbal assurance to the local school board and hey presto, that's it. Your child is home educated. Many home educating parents in this country believe this to be a good thing. The claim is made that tighter regulations in the different states of America do not have any effect on academic achievement. This belief is used to justify a slack and ineffective regime of monitoring in Britain. Let's see what has happened in Texas.
The recently released figures suggest that in the last few years home education in Texas has increased exponentially. Even dedicated advocates of home education in America have smelt a rat. Brian Ray, founder of the National Home Education Research Institute, has denounced this new statistic as 'Ridiculous'. According to the official figures, there were twenty three thousand new home educated young people in the state in 2008. Of course, this is simply not true. Home education may be growing in America, but not that fast! What had actually happened was that the number of long term truants from middle school and dropouts from high school was getting a bit high. This reflected badly on the local authorities and so they decided to encourage parents and students to claim that they were going to home educate. Readers with long memories might recall Firfield School in Newcastle pulling a similar trick in 1999. They managed to slash their figures for truancy and exclusion by this means. It's still a common practice in this country, largely because the monitoring regime in many local authority areas is useless and has no legal sanctions to back it up. Recommendation 15 of the Badman Report dealt specifically with this problem.
Does it really matter if this sort of thing goes on? Well, for one thing there are now tens of thousands of children and young people in Texas who are probably receiving no education at all because of a combination of slack monitoring and downright dishonesty on the part of teachers and other professionals. Schools are often glad when troublesome pupils drop out and this kind of thing relieves the authorities of having to make any sort of provision for them. The signs are that this is becoming a widespread phenomenon in the USA, involving tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pupils. The more laid back the monitoring system, the easier it is for this sort of stunt to flourish.
Many home educators are crowing that with the defeat of Badman and the Children, Schools and Families Bill, they can continue to refuse visits and fob their local authority off with some trashy educational philosophy downloaded from HE-UK. There can be little doubt that, as I said to begin with, where America leads we will follow. The greater the number of home educated children in the USA and the more relaxed the regulations, the more likely it is that thousands of children will simply drop out of education entirely. This is probably not a good thing and it would be sad if this sort of scam were to become even more widespread in this country than is already the case.