Crusading to keep kids clueless

Posted: Aug 23, 2002 12:00 AM
The public education monopoly can't stand the thought of "unqualified" parents teaching their own children. That is why they are cracking down on home schooling, even as a new study shows that thousands of public school teachers themselves are shamefully unqualified to educate the nation's students. In California, the state's hostile education department is tightening the screws on enterprising parents who have taken the initiative and turned their family rooms into classrooms. State Deputy Superintendent Joanne Mendoza wrote in a July 16 memo to all school employees that without official teaching credentials, these parents no longer can file required paperwork that would authorize them to home school their children. Thus, Mendoza concludes, home-schooled children not attending public schools would be considered "truant" by local school districts -- making their parents vulnerable to arrest and criminal charges. The education department's Nanny State view is that parents may be allowed by the government to "supplement" their own children's education with tutoring at home, but "not substitute the education with uncredentialed home instruction." Local districts are following the cue. Sonoma County and San Diego school officials are distributing memos that declare home schooling illegal. As I've said many times before, there's nothing like stiff competition to bring out the worst in government. Nowhere does this prove more true than in the battle between home-schooling parents and public school bureaucrats. More than 1.2 million children now call mom and dad their controlling educational authorities. Their overwhelming success -- in academic competition, on national tests, and in college -- poses a mounting threat to the government-run education monopoly and to the public school teachers' unions. Despite abominably low test scores, enormous waste, unsafe classrooms and administrative incompetence, the public schools have remained a hallowed and untouchable fixture. How dare "uncredentialed" parents rise up in revolt? How dare they demand excellence, discipline, and a curriculum that reflects their values and love of country? Mocking home schoolers as fringe radicals and religious extremists, meddling with their teaching materials, and forcing them to beg public school officials for permission to educate their own children wasn't enough to defeat the growing movement. So now California's educracy has adopted a new motto: If you can't beat 'em, criminalize 'em. These bully tactics are bound to backfire in California and the rest of the country as the public school system's incompetence continues to be laid bare. As California wages its war on "unqualified" parents, a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust reported this week that one-fourth of all secondary school classes are taught by public school teachers untrained in the class subject. It's a problem that hasn't improved for nearly a decade. The researchers examined whether classes in four core subjects -- English, math, science and social studies -- were assigned to a teacher who lacked a college major or minor in that field or a related field. Nationally, 24.2 percent of classes were taught by such unqualified teachers. In California, 27 percent of classes were taught by the untrained. Twelve states had more than 30 percent of classes fitting that category. Five states -- Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, New Mexico and Tennessee -- averaged more than one-third. Among those hurt the most by this trend: poor and minority students. In schools that serve mostly poor students, the study found, nearly twice as many courses are taught by out-of-field teachers as in schools with few poor students. In schools that mostly serve minority students, 29 percent of classes were taught by unqualified teachers, compared with 21 percent for schools that have low minority enrollments. Our public schools are filled with substandard math teachers who never took math in college, French teachers lecturing about biology, art teachers masquerading as history teachers, and other instructors who have absolutely no expert knowledge or intellectual curiosity about the subjects they've been assigned to teach. This is a system whose first priority is self-preservation of its tax-subsidized employees, not academic enlightenment of its captive charges. And they dare to accuse home-schooling parents of educational malpractice?