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ICHE & CHOIS RESPONSE TO MISSING CHILDREN REPORT

(Editor's Note: To review the Missing Children Report referred to in this response, follow this link)

February 1, 2006

Mr. Kirtlan G. Naylor
Naylor & Hales, P.C.
Post Office Box 9496
Boise, Idaho 83707

   Re: Educational Neglect & Compulsory Schooling. A Status Report
      Governor's Task Force on Children at Risk

Dear Chairman Naylor and Members of the Governor's Task Force on Children at Risk,

I write on behalf of both the Idaho Coalition of Home Educators (ICHE) and Christian Homeschoolers of Idaho State (CHOIS), the two statewide organizations of home educators here in Idaho. The boards of both organizations have asked me to communicate their joint response to the report presented to the Governor's Task Force on Children at Risk on January 13, 2006, by Boise State University (BSU) Professors Philip Kelly, Robert Barr, and James Weatherby. Please accept this letter as that response.

Under the Professional Services Agreement by which they were engaged, the professors contracted to conduct a study to "quantify the number of children suffering from educational neglect" in order to produce "documentation of educational neglect and policy recommendations" to combat the problem. Instead, with the apparent concurrence of the Task Force, the professors turned that straightforward assignment into an effort whose predominant goal seems to have been the identification, registration, and testing of all home educated students in the state.

In the report presented to the Task Force by Professor Kelly, the flawed methodology which was employed produced inaccurate "data." The report then offered recommendations which its own skewed data demonstrates are statistically more likely to increase the number of "missing" students above the levels that exist under the current "hands off" approach taken by the state. Within private industry, such a misstep would have yielded an immediate termination of the contract under which the professors were working. But in the governmental and academic sectors, such an effort was rewarded by the seemingly uncritical acceptance of the report by the Task Force and the payment of the agreed $78,000.00 in compensation.

The Flawed "Research"

Instead of making a genuine effort to find out how many students in Idaho are not receiving the education to which they are entitled, the professors undertook an effort to calculate how many students in the state are not registered with their public school districts or with the state. Their report concludes with remarkable confidence that there are 13,954 such students. But in his presentation of the report to the Task Force, Professor Kelly frankly admitted that he and his colleagues had no idea if even one of these unregistered students were actually not being properly educated. He could only state that these students are not registered with either the state or any local school district. But that is a far different issue than the professors were hired to explore.

The report also fails to mention that, in addition to students who are taught at home, students who attend private or parochial schools in Idaho are also not required to register with the state. Indeed, there is no dependable source in Idaho from which the professors might have come up with their statistic that there are 4,985 students enrolled in Idaho's private schools.

Additionally, the professors' calculations only list 1,258 students as public school dropouts. But on the very next page, the professors note that, in the 2002/2003 school year alone, 2,921 students dropped out of the public schools. The number used by the professors should have been significantly larger since, once a student drops out, he remains a drop out until the end of his school-aged years. For example, a student dropping out at age 13 should be treated as a dropout for four years until he reaches the age of 17. Yet the calculations in the report only accounted for less than half of those students that actually dropped out during the 2002/2003 school year alone. This one miscalculation by itself would have resulted in the number of "missing" students being inflated substantially.

Although statistically impossible, the professors included within their "scientific" data information from nine (9) states which, by the professors' calculation, had more students enrolled in their schools than they had school-aged students in the state. Despite the fact that this should have created serious doubt as to the credibility of the report, this statistical impossibility was blithely passed over by the professors and received almost no attention from the members of the Task Force.

It is also worth noting that the Idaho Department of Education recently consulted with Dr. Brian Ray, the foremost international expert on the subject of home education statistics, to estimate the number of school-aged students being taught at home in Idaho. His calculations yielded a response that in 2003, there were only an estimated 4,600 to 6,600 home educated students in the state. That number is consistent with the National Center for Educational Statistics calculation that 2.2% of all school-aged children are taught at home. Since that time, the advent of virtual charter schools in Idaho has most likely reduced that number by 2,000 to 3,000 students. If the Task Force wanted to know how many home educated students there are in the state, a simple and free inquiry to the Department of Education could have given it access to Dr. Ray's far more accurate calculations.

That the statistical methods and assumptions employed by the authors of this report are seriously flawed has already been professionally documented by Dr. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute located in Salem, Oregon. I have enclosed a copy of his analysis which is also available on the internet at http://www.nheri.org/content/view/201/27/.

In defense of Professor Kelly, by the time that BSU held a press conference on January 27, 2006, to publicize this study, he had already dropped his estimate of the number of home schooled students in the state to 4,700 according to newspaper accounts. Yet even this belated return to a number closer to reality must throw into doubt his confident assertion just two weeks earlier that the number was 13,954.

In the final analysis, the "data" developed by the professors simply estimated that, by one questionable method of calculation, there might be 13,954 unregistered home educated students in the state. On the other hand, the data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the National Home Education Research Institute put the number of home educated students in Idaho at approximately 5,000. Using this data, the percentage of unregistered students taught at home in Idaho is less than 2.5% of all school-aged children, and less than the national average of 3.5%.

The professors' data also showed that the local school districts do not keep tabs on the home schooling families within their boundaries, but that is as it should be. The school districts have no more obligation to keep track of home schoolers than they do keeping track of students in private or parochial schools. That is simply not their responsibility. Section 33-202 of the Idaho Code states that it is the "parent or guardian" of each school-aged child who has the responsibility to make certain that the child is properly educated. It is ultimately the prerogative and responsibility of the parent to decide if instruction is to be by means of public, private, parochial, or home school. None of these systems of instruction is authorized to keep tabs on the other, nor does the state have the responsibility to keep track of any students other than those enrolled in public schools.

In an apparent attempt to garner attention to the subject of their research, the professors have labeled these home schooled students as "missing students." Why this inflammatory terminology was chosen in an academic study instead of a more accurate description such as "unregistered students" is puzzling.

Once the perspective of this report is skewed by this inaccurate data and alarmist language, the professors offer their recommendations: mandatory registration and testing of home educated students. Yet by their own "data," these recommendations will in all likelihood actually exacerbate the problem of "missing students."

State-By-State Comparison

The research by the professors catalogs the home education oversights in place in each of the fifty states. At page 39 of the report, they rate those levels of oversight. Appendix "F" to the report reflects the oversight level of each state. The levels range from states such as Idaho, which have no oversight, to numerous other states that have multiple types of oversight.

The professors draw their conclusions and make their recommendations on the assumption that the greater the level of oversight, the lower will be the percentage of "missing" students. Unfortunately, their own data shows something very different. Attached to this letter is an enclosure reflecting data taken from Appendices "B" and "F" of the report. Instead of an alphabetical presentation as the professors provided, the data on the attached spreadsheet is categorized according to the level of oversight. That data shows that imposing higher levels of oversight does nothing to reduce the number of "missing students" in the state. Indeed, the total lack of bureaucratic oversight of home educators such as exists in Idaho actually produces that lowest overall percentage of "missing students." Yet the report recommends an increase in oversight none-the-less.

Level of Oversight Weight Average of
"Missing Student"
No. of
States
No Oversight (includes Idaho) 2.77% 6
Students Register with School District 3.72% 8
Students Register with State & Instructional Time Requirements 8.44% 2
Progress Monitored by Testing 5.01% 2
Curriculum Oversight 6.20% 6
Teacher Certification -0- -0-
Multiple Oversights 3.38% 26
Home Education Not Permitted -0- -0-

If there were any statistical correlation between the amount of state oversight and the percentage of "missing" students in the state, the professors' own data would appear to show that an increase in the amount of oversight by the state increases the number of "missing students." Since that is what the Professors' own data reflects, one is left to wonder why the report would recommend an increase in the level of oversight by the state. Why should Idaho expend its precious resources to set up levels of oversight that statistically result in an even greater number of missing students? Yet that is precisely what the report recommends.

Missouri Model:

The report then focuses on the program implemented in the state on Missouri and recommends that Idaho set up a similar system to deal with missing students. What the Professors apparently failed to notice in their zeal for ever-greater levels of bureaucracy is that the percentage of students that are "missing" under the Missouri program is 13.8%, over twice as high as the 6.5% of students that they believe are "missing" in Idaho under our current freedom from oversight. That contrast is heightened even further when one considers that Idaho really has only about 2.5% unregistered students. Again, why Idaho would follow a model that clearly has been a failure at reducing the number of "missing" students in the state where it originated is not explained.

Testing:

The final recommendation which the professors make is the mandatory testing of all students in the state every year, including those students taught at home.

But in making this recommendation, they evidently are unaware that the No Child Left Behind Act, at Title 20, Section 7886 of United States Code, expressly exempts home schoolers from the Act and specifically prohibits states from testing home educated students:

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to affect a home school, whether or not a home school is treated as a home school or a private school under State law, nor shall any student schooled at home be required to participate in any assessment referenced in this chapter.

If Idaho were to follow the recommendations of these professors, it would place the state in violation of federal law and would potentially jeopardize millions of dollars in federal education funding under the No Child Left Behind Act.

On the other hand, many Idaho home schooling families test their children on a voluntary basis each year with ICHE using the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the Iowa Tests of Educational Development. The composite data for the students tested each year by ICHE typically shows that the median home educated student scores on the 84th percentile, far above the achievement of students taught within Idaho's public schools.

Conclusions:

From 2000 until 2005, a voluntary program was followed in Idaho under which all known complaints concerning possible educational neglect within home educating families were to be referred by the Idaho Department of Education to the Idaho Coalition of Home Educators for informal assessment to determine if a genuine problem existed. In nearly six years of study, not a single case of genuine educational neglect among home educators was found. During that period, no prosecutor in the state brought juvenile truancy charges against any home schooled child. Yet despite this perfect record, there remain those within the educational and social services establishment who simply are unwilling to be convinced. They continue to believe, in the face of all credible evidence to the contrary, that educational neglect among home schoolers is rampant. This report to the Task Force appears to be a thinly-veiled effort by those of that persuasion to generate "data" on which they might bolster their unfounded notions.

Families choosing to home educate in Idaho have historically thrived under their freedom from governmental intrusion. Without governmental oversight or assistance, they have achieved the remarkable distinction of median standardized test scores on the 84th percentile, far above those of the public schools. Because of that demonstrated excellence under the freedoms they have historically enjoyed, it is safe to say that Idaho home schoolers will staunchly oppose any effort to erode those freedoms, especially when there exists no credible evidence of educational neglect by home educators. To implement a massively intrusive program of registration and testing upon all home educating families in the state as a means of determining whether a problem exists will simply be unacceptable. Such is doubly the case where the data shows that the solution proposed by the professors would in all likelihood actually exacerbate the "problem" by increasing the number of "missing" students in the state.

Such a program would be akin to requiring all families in the state to register with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and to subject their children to annual medical examinations because there might be some families who are abusing their children. The recommendations of the professors in this report present a net that is both far too large and far too fine. Ironically, it also appears to do almost nothing to find and assist the 9,000 other hypothetically missing children in Idaho that Professor Kelly now acknowledges are not home educated.

We respectfully urge the Task Force to reject the procedures, conclusions, and recommendations contained within the report which has been submitted. Doing so will save both the professors and the Task Force criticism for public reliance upon such a fundamentally flawed document.

Very truly yours,

Barry Peters

Copies:   ICHE Board of Directors
  CHOIS Board of Directors
  ICHE Board of Legal Advisors

Enclosures:   Students by Category of Oversight
  A Brief Review of "Educational Neglect and Compulsory Schooling: A Status Report:" by Brian D. Ray, Ph.D. (2006)


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