Schooled Reporting on education

What does Harvard know about homeschooling?

Education | The Ivy League school draws fire from alumni for an article that calls for a home education ban
by Laura Edghill
Posted 4/29/20, 05:51 pm

Now that Alex Harris is a father, he appreciates his parents’ wisdom in addressing their children’s educational needs individually.

“The people who made the choices about my education were the two people who knew me best and loved me most and truly desired my good and the good of my siblings,” said Harris, a homeschool alum and a graduate of Harvard Law School. He spoke out after his alma mater—Harvard, that is—published an interview with law professor Elizabeth Bartholet, who argued for a ban on homeschooling.

Harris and his six siblings grew up largely off the grid, with no television but with plenty of books and outdoor exploration. His parents were not well-educated themselves. But Gregg and Sono Harris, early homeschool leaders, took the task of educating their children very seriously, imbuing lessons into daily life.

“By every metric, we are the people Professor Bartholet would outlaw,” Harris wrote in a letter to the editor of Harvard Magazine. In the latest issue, Bartholet discussed a paper she wrote in the Arizona Law Review claiming homeschooling is unregulated, deprives some children of a “meaningful education,” and isolates them in abusive environments.

Outraged Harvard alumni who were homeschooled themselves responded almost immediately. They called Bartholet’s scholarship one-sided and poorly researched. Many of them published articles refuting her claims and offering alternate perspectives.

Bartholet perhaps drew the most ire by asserting that allowing parents total authority over their children’s schooling is inherently unsafe.

“I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority,” she said.

But homeschooled Harvard alumni repeatedly pointed out that Bartholet erroneously assumed powerful state actors like teachers are inherently safer for children than family.

“No one doubts that abuse occurs in homeschools,” wrote attorney and Harvard alumnus David French on his blog. “It happens. No one should also doubt that abuse occurs in public schools. I’ve seen that with my own eyes in my public school childhood. The law prohibits abuse in both contexts, and it is imperfect in preventing it in both contexts.”

Bartholet explicitly called out the Home School Legal Defense Association in her article, stating legislators hesitate to constrain homeschooling practices due to the advocacy group’s overwhelming political clout. HSLDA Vice President of Litigation and Development Jim Mason considers that a compliment.

“We’re actually glad that she raised our name in the article,” he said. “We’re quite content to be the people who help homeschooling families.”

Mason also pointed out that Harvard missed an opportunity to join an evolving national conversation in a meaningful way due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is kind of ironic,” he said. “I think that the law review article had been a long time in preparation, but it was launched in a time when everyone has their kids at home and many people are considering homeschooling.”

Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Osorio (file) Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Osorio (file) Pershing High School in Detroit

Reading rights

A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that students in Detroit’s beleaguered public schools have a constitutional right to literacy. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ split 2-1 decision sends the case back to U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III in Detroit, who dismissed the lawsuit in 2018. In that decision, Murphy said literacy is inarguably important but should not be enshrined as a fundamental right.

The original lawsuit said appalling, “slum-like” conditions in the city’s public schools rendered them “functionally incapable of delivering access to literacy.” Citing Detroit Public Schools’ dismal academic record, the plaintiffs argued the state had a responsibility to provide funding and resources to local districts.

Last week, the 6th Circuit agreed.

“One cannot effectively vote, answer a jury summons, pay taxes, or even read a road sign if illiterate,” U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay wrote for the majority. “[If] a group of children is relegated to a school system that does not provide even a plausible chance to attain literacy, we hold that the Constitution provides them with a remedy.”

In his dissenting opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Murphy argued the problem was not constitutional and is best remedied by state and local officials rather than courts: “The Constitution doesn’t give courts roving power to redress every social and economic ill.” —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon (file) Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon (file) Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Cash for strapped schools

The U.S. Department of Education released more than $13.2 billion in emergency funds for K-12 schools last week. The money is part of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package Congress passed late last month to bolster the economy against the coronavirus pandemic. Schools hope the aid will offset some of the expenses they incurred from sudden closures.

State governments are supposed to dole out the funds to public schools using a formula that determines what districts and charter schools normally receive under Title I guidelines. The formula uses applications for the free and reduced-price lunch program along with other economic data to determine the level of financial need in a school community.

The department also released $6 billion in grants last week to colleges and universities. The funding is meant to help students with unexpected expenses like food and housing that cropped up when their college campuses closed. The accompanying Education Department guidelines only make the relief funds available to students who already qualify for federal aid. That raised the ire of immigration advocates, who complained that left thousands of vulnerable students out of the equation. Some universities balked, as well. Both Harvard and Princeton universities declined their multimillion-dollar shares of the funds, citing objections to the department’s rules.

Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the rescue package legislation “makes clear that this taxpayer-funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S. citizens, which is consistently echoed throughout the law.” —L.E.

Beating the odds

Five years ago, Lashawn Samuel’s prospects for a college education didn’t look very bright: His family struggled to make ends meet, his health was poor, and gang violence plagued his neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio.

Starting in eighth grade, Samuel walked 1½ miles each day to the Columbus Metropolitan Library, where he signed up for academic assistance through its Homework Help program.

Last week, the high school senior became the proud recipient of 12 college admission offers, including several full scholarships.

“I never would have achieved it without God, my family, my friends,” Samuel told WCNH-TV in Columbus. —L.E.

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Laura Edghill

Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • VolunteerBB
    Posted: Wed, 04/29/2020 07:29 pm

    What would be some of those expenses incurred by a school because of the sudden closure?  They could turn down the heat, turn off the lights, and safe some money.  No teachers or janitors are at work, and they are getting paid regardless.

    Posted: Thu, 04/30/2020 10:03 am

    VolunteerBB, here are the expenses addressed: "funds to public schools using a formula that determines what districts and charter schools normally receive under Title I guidelines. The formula uses applications for the free and reduced-price lunch program along with other economic data"

    At the small Minnesota school where I had volunteered, here's part of the April 9 message from the Superintendent: "The kitchen staff is preparing over 2,100 meals per day. The paraprofessionals, with the help of teachers, are loading them on the buses. Since March 16th, the drivers and the delivery teams have delivered nearly 35,000 meals." The school also provides childcare for essential personnel (such as health care workers), and the teachers are providing awesome distance learning lessons. Janitors have done deep cleaning, some of which is usually done during the summer, some due to the health crisis.

  • erinrowe
    Posted: Thu, 04/30/2020 04:01 pm

    Volunteer BB, I can speak only for my local school district,  but since they've made the shift tho online learning (at which the teachers are actually working very hard... glad I'm not teaching for them right now) the district decided to provide every student with a laptop. I imagine they've incurred large costs for online teaching platforms. There are a plethora of free resources out there for families,  but online instructional platforms can involve a hefty subscription fee for schools. I'm not trying to over-generalize here because I have first- hand knowledge of only our own school district,  but those are a couple of really big costs that arose from the whole kerfuffle. Just one perspective!

  • OldMike
    Posted: Thu, 04/30/2020 01:35 pm

    Homeschooling your kids?  Teaching your kids what you think is important?  

    GASP!   Can't have that!  Parents might not feed those kids the politically correct views!  

    The so-called elites in the U.S. have understood for at least a century the power they have through the schools to shape this Nation to their vision. And that vision is not exactly what most of us would want. 

    Thankfully, there are still a lot of people working in public education who aren't trying to turn the U.S. into another socialist "paradise."


  • VolunteerBB
    Posted: Thu, 04/30/2020 09:23 pm

    I understand that schools are continuing to educate kids and provide meals.  How is that different than what they were doing before the virus lockdown?  The only thing I can see is providing the laptops, however, all travel has been cancelled so they could reroute that money.  And I am meaning travel of sports teams, distance learning for educators, etc., some money is being saved.  I still fail to see how this is adding that much more or any costs.