Va. law would lift degree requirement

No other state requires home-school parents to have a college degree if they don't want to follow a set state-approved curriculum.
March 14, 2006

After 16 years of home schooling her seven children, ages 5 to 19, Betsy White knows how to get them to read, to understand arithmetic and to research anything she doesn't know.

But public school teachers have something White doesn't have - a college degree.

Without a degree, the Gloucester County mom had to submit a detailed curriculum to her school district before she was allowed to teach her children.

But future home-school parents may soon be able to sidestep the extra paperwork. State lawmakers passed two identical bills that drop the requirement that home-school parents have a college degree.

Parents who home-school their children welcome the legislation, but some public school officials are concerned it will affect the quality of home-school education.

Virginia is the only state that has a degree requirement for parents who home-school. Ten states require a high school diploma. The rest set no education requirements for parents.

Under the current law, parents can home-school their children without having a college degree only if they are a certified teacher, use a correspondence course approved by the state, or submit a curriculum that includes the Standards of Learning objectives. The standards describe the state's expectations for student learning and achievement in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The purpose of the bill is to put all parents on an equal footing, since the curricula that parents submit to their school divisions differ statewide, said Yvonne Bunn, director of government affairs for the Home Education Association of Virginia, a nonprofit organization that promotes home schooling.

Different superintendents require different proof of compliance submitted by parents who don't have college degrees, Bunn said. "There are 12 divisions in the state that cause a lot of difficulty for these home-schoolers."

Home-school parents welcome legislation removing hurdles for those who didn't get a degree. "It recognizes the parent's right to home-school ... and that you don't have to have a degree to teach Johnny to read," White said.

Some parents with college degrees agree that their education doesn't necessarily make them the best teachers for their children.

"It's the time that's spent with the children rather than the parents' education or the money they have," said Rhonda Joyner, a Smithfield mother who has home-schooled five children for the past eight years. Joyner and her husband, a Navy chaplain, both have master's degrees.

Cher Gingues, a Gloucester mother who home-schools her five children, said her special education degree was "a stumbling block to teaching my children."

She said she had to retrain herself to focus on each of her children and their individual learning needs, something she didn't have time to do when she was teaching large classes in public schools.

However, a 1997 study by the National Home Education Research Institute found that the children of parents with degrees did better in standardized math and English tests than those whose parents earned only high school diplomas.

The study surveyed more than 5,000 home-school students across the country. Students with mothers who graduated from college scored an average of 8 percentile points higher than students with mothers who only had a high school diploma.

School officials agree that a college degree reflects on the standard of teaching. "We don't have high school graduates teaching our kids," said Ivy Lee, coordinator of school social work services in Hampton.

The state doesn't require substitute teachers to have attended college, but Lee said Hampton requires them to have two years of college education. "We want teachers who have the best qualifications. So why don't we want that for our children that are home schooled?"

Lee, who processes applications from home-school parents in Hampton, is concerned that removing the degree requirement for parents will lead to many more parents asking to home-school their children.

"I think that would open the floodgates," she said.

However, most home-school parents in Hampton don't submit a college degree certificate to the division to allow them teach their children - 185 use either an approved correspondence program or submit a curriculum, and 153 claim their degree as the basis.

This issue has come up before in the Virginia General Assembly. Two years ago, a similar bill passed the House of Delegates and the Senate but was vetoed by then-Gov. Mark R. Warner.

Home-school advocates are more confident that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will sign off on it this year. As lieutenant governor, Kaine lobbied Warner to sign the bill, said Bunn, director of government affairs for the Home Education Association of Virginia.

"The governor will review the bill," said Kaine's spokesman, Kevin Hall, "but generally (he) is supportive of efforts to remove bureaucratic hurdles for parents who chose to home-school their kids."

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