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Is Home Schooling Bad for Kids?

Aired June 2, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET




Home schools, they used to be looked down upon, but no longer: not after three home-schoolers cleaned up in this week's national spelling bee. But there are still some serious questions about home schooling, like how many parents qualify as good teachers and should home teachers have to be certified?

Debating the pros and cons of schools at home tonight, Janet Parshall. She's spokeswoman for the Family Research Council. And Jerrold Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School principals -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: OK. So far, what I think has been -- we have been allowed to infer here is that these parents of home- schoolers are a cross between isolationists and bigots.


That's the only reason they would keep their kids home, so suggests, you know...

PRESS: You're learning.

MATALIN: ... Mr. Demagogue here. But let's say, here's why these kids are getting successful education at home, and it is self- selective. But they do what it is you've tried to do your 40 years of improving education. First and foremost, they tailor to their individual child strategies necessary for their individual learning. Secondly, they eradicate boredom, because when a kid gets into something they let them stay into something. And thirdly, they reduce the pressure by having the child, and the child wants to work for the knowledge, to master the material, not for the grade.

And about these children -- now the first wave is getting into college -- Mike Donahue, the Indiana and Purdue universities' admissions director, says this: "I will admit any home-schoolers who come my way. They have self-discipline. They know how to use the Internet. And they jump right in and get going."

These don't sound like isolationist crackpot bigots to me. JERROLD TIROZZI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SECONDARY SCHOOL PRINCIPALS: Well, I mean, I have never used those terms.


MATALIN: You didn't, but you're on the same side of a guy who did suggest that.

TIROZZI: But no -- but the point is, as was said earlier -- and I think there's research to show this -- a significant percentage of those who are home schooled, being parents, have college degrees and they're committed, too, and largely very conservative.

And my experience in Connecticut, with a large group testifying before the state board of education, they were largely conservative, and I mean, they're very religious. That was very obvious with the crucifixes and everything else that was displayed in that meeting room.

So again, I don't have a problem if a parent wants to make that individual decision. I'm simply making a point there are 40 -- almost 47 million children in the public schools of America, public schools, that we're talking about a very -- a very minuscule number of students here.

But one of the key questions -- we have to step back and go -- what I talked about earlier, we have compulsory school laws in this country between the ages of roughly seven and 16. Schools and school districts have a responsibility for all children. If parents can just summarily bring them into the home and home school without some parameters, some guidelines, there is absolutely no guarantee that a school district or a state is fulfilling its constitution and its responsibility.

MATALIN: You're right, but there's not a state in the nation that doesn't to some extent, to lesser or greater degree, monitor these kids. And in every single case they have to take a test to get into college, and when they get into college, they are identified by the teachers as already having learned to manage their time, as being self-initiated, being good students, they don't have any social problems. This compares with their public- and private-school counterparts over whom -- over half of whom have to take remedial classes in their freshman year.

That's -- that's the test. That's the responsibility the parents are fulfilling to their kids.

TIROZZI: Again, but I think it goes back to the key point that this is a highly selective group of kids. I -- if I could take Washington, D.C., and select the kids I want to educate in one school with my top teachers, I would match anyone, home-schoolers or anyone else.

Again, I want to go back to a key point: Public education serves all of the children, all of the people: special education, slow learners. I mean, that's our job, that's our responsibility. But I would also argue, when you look at where this country is today and the growth we've had over the last decade, to me it's very difficult to fathom when people keep talking about the failure of public schools, I think this is largely because of the huge success of the public schools, and the fact that in our public schools we do celebrate -- we try -- to celebrate diversity between and among people.

MATALIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but one final quick question: Why do you all think that this small number of self-selected kids with highly educated parents is some threat?

TIROZZI: Oh, I'm not. I'm not.


MATALIN: ... is a threat to the public school system.

TIROZZI: No, I'm not. If I'm coming across, I apologize. I'm not saying it's a threat at all. It meets the needs of a select group of youngsters and a select group of parents.

You will -- sure. Will you see other people do it? Yes. But I don't think this will ever go to the number where suddenly, nationally we're going to have 25, 35 percent of our kids home-schooled.

PRESS: Janet, two quick questions: one as a parent, one as a teacher. As a parent, I have to two sons who I love madly, and I used to walk them to the school bus in morning. As much as I love them, I have to tell, the best moments in my life are when I saw that school bus pull away. Now why isn't it healthy, seriously, for kids and for parents to get them out of the house for a big block of time during the day?

JANET PARSHALL, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Let me respond as parent and then as a teacher. As a parent, let me tell you that we are the preeminent teachers of our children. As much as the teachers out there want to be the teachers, they are, but they do so with a high level of accountability. In fact, sometimes there's more accountability on the Ford assembly line than there is, to me, as the parent. And I sent my child to that school. And I have to tell you, that when a parent sits down and carefully considers what is best for their child, the option of home-schooling must be there for them.

And my worthy opponent is right, it's about 1.7 million kids, school-aged in this country, about 2 percent of the school-aged kids who are doing it. But it should be an option. It should be option for every parent who says, this is what I, the preeminent teacher, have decided I want for my child.

PRESS: OK. But I'm also a former teacher, and I think teachers -- I think it's the most important job in the world, I really do. I think we ought to pay them, you know, accordingly, by the way. But you know, we would never put an unqualified teacher, hopefully not, in a classroom. If we did, there would be howls of protests. You can't tell me every parent is qualified to be a teacher. Isn't that, you know, the big hole in this theory? PARSHALL: Let me flip it around. You can't tell me every teacher is qualified to be teacher.

PRESS: No, and I think we ought to weed them out, but we're assuming -- you are, aren't you? -- that every parent is qualified to teach those kids, you know, whatever subjects all through high school?

PARSHALL: Well, let me turn it around again. Would you tear down the entire public school system because you have some bad teachers?

PRESS: No, I'm saying, there are more and move efforts, and I applaud them, to get those weak teachers out of classrooms, to improve training or teachers. All of that is going on, but nothing is going on to say that home teachers ought to be certified. Shouldn't they be trained? Shouldn't they have to be certified?

PARSHALL: First of all, you know, it's interesting, one out of four home-schooling parents happens to be a certified teacher, but that is not the preeminent qualification.

PRESS: Twenty-five percent.

PARSHALL: That's right. And it's not the preeminent qualification. As Mary alluded to earlier, there is an accountability in some way, shape or form to states that have home-schooling. You have to pass a proficiency test, you have to take a college-entrance exam. The proof is in the pudding. The qualification manifests itself in the outcome of the tests. That's the real outcome-based education.

TIROZZI: Go back to something Mary...

MATALIN: I'm sorry. Well, we should all go off and home-school ourselves more. It's a great time. We thank you so much. You have both done so much in field of education. Doctor, thank you. Janet, thank you.

Bill and I will be back with our final comments on CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.


PRESS: Mary, I come back to the wisdom: Don't let your studies interfere with your education. I mean this kid can spell "demarche," and that's great, but my question is, what does he really know about life after home-schooling? Not a lot.

MATALIN: This is -- you are so ignoring the opportunities for socialization which exists in monumental ways. Why do you think every choice for parents in education of their children is a threat to the public school? This isn't for everybody, but it's certainly not motivated by isolationist tendencies, or bigotry or anything. It's a choice that certain parents want to make. Not for everybody. I couldn't do it. You couldn't do it. We can barely sit here for 22 minutes a night. PRESS: You got it.

MATALIN: Do you think we could sit there with our kids? So we wouldn't do it.

PRESS: Pardon me. You used the word "threat." I never used the word "threat." It is not a threat to the public schools. It's an option for some.

MATALIN: If kids are succeeding, what's wrong with it?

PRESS: And let them do it, but it's not good for most kids.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Have a good weekend. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again next week for more editions of CROSSFIRE.



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