The Des Moines Register released more findings from their latest Iowa Poll that showed a majority of Iowans support more government oversight of homeschooled kids.

We have to understand this poll in context. The Des Moines Register has been on the war path ever since an education reform package was passed that included new homeschooling freedom in 2013.

The first change to Iowa’s homeschooling law included making reporting guidelines under Competent Private Instruction (CPI) optional. Families opting to homeschool under CPI would still submit the CPI form to their local school district, but they would not be required to turn in assessments, portfolios, or have a supervisory teacher. The second change was introducing Independent Private Instruction that eliminated all reporting to the state and the need to turn in a CPI form to their local school district. It also allowed home educators to teach up to four students who were not in their immediate family.

Since then The Des Moines Register in tandem with Iowa Democrats have attacked homeschooling liberty that includes, by my count, three separate editorials and an op/ed written by Rekha Basu.

“Never let a serious tragedy go to waste.”

With how recent events are currently driving anti-homeschooling sentiment I’m reminded of current Chicago Mayor then White House Chief of Staff who infamously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

Before the poll was released the Des Moines Register’s coverage of the tragic deaths of Sabrina Ray and Natalie Finn has adopted an anti-homeschooling narrative. The girls were adopted out of the foster care system, and it was reported both families homeschool.

State Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) jumped in with a proposal that school districts check in on homeschooling families. The Des Moines Register‘s latest editorial said Iowa’s homeschooling “free-for-all” jeopardizes youth. Their coverage of the court process for both families has pushed that narrative about homeschooling.

The narrative is a false one. First, because you take your student out of school and do not report to the school district does not mean you are homeschooling. You have to home school, and that is something that does not appear to have happened. A DHS caseworker would not have a difficult time demonstrating educational neglect.

Second, homeschooling is not a risk factor for child abuse, and yet homeschooling is being portrayed as dangerous without proper government supervision. Do you know who has government oversight? Public education. How many teachers in Iowa are accused of sexual misconduct with students? Also, how many children in public schools have been victims of child abuse and neglect by their parents or other family members?

Third, at least in the case of Natalie Finn reports were made to the Iowa Department of Human Services while she was a student in the West Des Moines Community Schools. Both girls were adopted out of the foster care system. The Iowa Department of Human Services was responsible for the proper screening of families, and they were responsible for responding to any reports made. The problem is not with homeschooling; the problem is the failure of the Iowa Department of Human Services.

But The Des Moines Register can’t let common sense (and truth) get in the way of a good narrative.

All of this led up to the latest Iowa Poll that found:

  • 91 percent of Iowans say they favor requiring Homeschool children to be tested every year in reading and math to be sure they are at grade level. (8 percent opposed)
  • 79 percent of Iowans favor requiring families that are homeschooling children review their lesson plans with home-schooling coordinators from local school districts. (18 percent oppose)
  • 67 percent of Iowans believe parents should be required to take homeschooled children to their local districts for a quarterly welfare check (this would not have helped in Sabrina Ray’s case). (29 percent oppose)
  • 46 percent of Iowans think families with foster children should be required to send those children to school and not homeschool. (46 percent opposed)

I have difficulty believing a poll that has 91 percent of Iowans agreeing on anything, let alone standardized testing which has taken a hit in public opinion nationally.

It’s a push poll

The Iowa Poll question about homeschooling regulation, in reality, is a push poll. I say that for a couple of reasons.

First, in their sample of 800 people, in the methodology (that was left out of the article, but Seltzer & Co emailed to Caffeinated Thoughts), we see 93 percent of those responding had no experience with homeschooling. Only 4 percent currently homeschooled and only two percent were home schooled. I recognize that the homeschooling community in Iowa is not a large one. Bill Gustoff, a homeschooling dad and legislative liaison for the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators (NICHE), said in the 2009-2010 school year there were approximately 20,000 homeschooled students.

The growth of homeschooling has exploded between 1980 to 2012 a recent Pioneer Institute study showed. Since the onset of Common Core and an aggressive push to implement friendly LGBT policies in public schools, numerous states have experienced a notable increase in homeschooling families. While compared to the percentage of the general population of Iowans the homeschooling community is still small, among Iowans with school-aged children it is a fast growing segment.

One also wonders if the 93 percent who had no experience homeschooling how many know a homeschooling family? A lack of experience and exposure could color the results.

“After the Des Moines Register spent months demonizing homeschoolers with hit pieces, it’s no surprise that their push poll in which 93% of the respondents said they have no experience with homeschooling would respond skeptically. The truth is, homeschool parents are like any other Iowa parent, wanting the best for their children and sacrificing to give it to them,” Gustoff told Caffeinated Thoughts.

“By all objective standards applied to homeschoolers across the country, homeschooled students outperform their public-schooled peers on average. Studies show again and again that increased regulation and red tape does not improve performance; it only increases costs for parents and taxpayers,” he added.

The second reason that this should be considered a push poll is how it is presented to those being polled.

The script states:

For the following potential regulations for homeschools, please say if you favor or oppose. (Rotate.)

  • Homeschool children should be tested every year in reading and math to be sure they are at grade level
  • Families that are homeschooling children should be required to review their lesson plans with home-schooling coordinators from local school districts
  • Parents should be required to take homeschooled children to their local districts for a quarterly welfare check
  • Families with foster children should be required to send those children to school and not homeschool

No proposed legislation include any of these options given in the poll. There was no choice advocating to leave the Iowa homeschooling law alone.

It’s all in the wording. Test ‘Should all Iowa schoolchildren who are homeschooled be required under penalty of law to undergo state standardized testing?’ and see what the results are,” veteran Republican pollster Rick Shaftan told Caffeinated Thoughts.

One step forward, ten steps back.

If any of the reforms that found majority support among Iowa Poll respondents became law Iowa’s homeschooling law would be more stringent than it was before the 2013 education reform bill. Under Competent Private Instruction, testing was one option among three homeschooling parents could choose. Since homeschooling became legal in Iowa parents, have never been required to submit lesson plans for review. A welfare check was also never required.

Before the change in the law foster care parents were unable to homeschool. A change in the law would not have helped either Natalie Finn or Sabrina Ray since both were adopted and no longer foster kids.

Also, what test would homeschoolers have to take? Would it be aligned to the Iowa Core? Many families have left public school to escape Common Core.

“One hundred percent of homeschool children in Iowa are tested—by their parents. To be fair, any test must match the curriculum the child has studied, so when the government writes the test, the government writes the curriculum. That would defeat the entire purpose of private education. Pretending that government testing is neutral is folly—as the whole Common Core dispute has illustrated. Private education can only flourish when private educators have the freedom to teach a private curriculum,” Micheal Farris, President, CEO, and General Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom said to Caffeinated Thoughts in response to the poll.

The suggested regulations won’t help Scott Woodruff, Senior Counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, told Caffeinated Thoughts in an email.

“All the potential regulations listed in the poll have been tried, in some form or fashion, in other states. There is no evidence they actually help children.  If the 800 people who answered this poll had known that all 4 of these ideas were expensive failures elsewhere, they might have responded differently,” he said.

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