We Get a Hearing
Once a bill is in committee, the committee has full power over it. Sometimes it is referred by the chairman to a sub-committee with instructions to study and make a report of its recommendations to the main committee. Persons or organizations interested in a proposed bill may request the main committee, through its chairman, for a public hearing or a personal audience.
"Rep. Livengood," I asked my representative, "do you think we'll be better off with Ron Cowell as the new Chairman of the House Education Committee?"
"I think so," he replied, "Ron listens to people. When he held the first meeting of the committee, he asked each of us what we were interested in getting passed this session."
We were making plans to re-introduce a homeschooling bill. We realized, now, that victory was not just around the corner, that most bills don't pass until the flurry of activity at the end of the two-year session. Now we were concentrating on getting over the hurdles one at a time. Our first hurdle was the House Education Committee. We had come to understand that the legislature will rarely vote on an issue if it has not been carefully studied by a committee.
The first time I called Rep. Cowell, he had not even heard that there had been a homeschooling bill the previous session. Even though he had been on the House Education Committee, none of his constituents had ever contacted him. What a poor job of lobbying we had done! We wanted the House Education Committee to hold a hearing, and we didn't even have constituents contact the members of the committee. We had been using a scattershot approach. We kept hoping that if we made general appeals for homeschoolers to contact their legislators, they would. We had not learned the trick of giving people their representative's phone number and telling them personally that it was important that they make the phone call.
I immediately set out to remedy the situation with Rep. Cowell. We were getting ready for our third legislative breakfast, and I, personally, made sure that at least two of his constituents invited him to come. One of the families from his district, the Wilkies, even agreed to make the long drive to Harrisburg themselves so that they could encourage Rep. Cowell to join them at the breakfast.
Another goal was to get as many representatives as possible to sponsor our new bill. We sent out a general appeal in our newsletter for people to ask their representatives to co-sponsor it, and, at the capitol, Rep. Pitts sent out a private invitation. This time we got 39 representatives to co-sponsor the bill (compared to 25 the previous time). At the breakfast another seven asked to sign on making our total 46, almost one-fourth of the total membership of the House.
About 7:30 in the morning, May 12, 1987, homeschooling families began to arrive at the Downtown Harrisburg Holiday Inn and to go up the carpeted stairs to the large ballroom that was to be the scene of our third legislative breakfast. Outside the door to the ballroom, Gloria Gustafson was busy setting up the greeting table with bright red folders filled with fact sheets for each legislator and family to take as they entered. Inside the ballroom, families were setting up science and social studies displays on the tables in the back of the room.
By 8:00 all of the homeschooling families had taken seats around the circular tables and there were still some empty seats waiting for legislators who would continue to file in for the next fifteen minutes.
Soon Jim Gustafson gave the invocation. Tom Eldredge introduced me as a reading specialist in the public schools with a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. I gave a speech about the problems with the existing "private tutoring" law and about our new home education bill.
In order to point out that homeschooling is not for everyone, I started out by reading a short excerpt of a letter from Kim Jeffery which had appeared in Issue #19 of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers:
My younger sister has just written to tell me that I have so thoroughly convinced her of the merits of homeschooling that when she is married and has children of her own, she is planning to ship them off to me as soon as they are five so that I can teach them at home for her!
Then, I described the present situation in Upper Darby, and I told the story of the prosecution of Rev. Robert and Diane Jacoby,
I would like to describe one case in detail where the parents were refused permission to teach their own children because they didn't have college degrees. It all started when the Rev. Robert Jacoby and his wife, Diane, moved to Pennsylvania from a state that is friendly to home education. They hoped to continue to teach their eight-year-old son, Robert, Jr., using the Christian Liberty Academy correspondence program. They showed Superintendent Greco their correspondence-school curriculum, Mrs. Jacoby's transcript from her two years of college, and a letter of recommendation from a school where Mrs. Jacoby had taught kindergarten; and they let the school district test Robert, Jr., so that the district could see that he was receiving an education.
Even though Robert Jr. scored above grade level on the achievement tests, Dr. Greco charged the Jacobys with truancy and took them before the local magistrate. The magistrate found them guilty and so, in order to avoid a threatened child-dependency prosecution, Robert Jr. was put in school while his parents appealed the conviction.
About a year later, the Jacoby appeal was heard in the Schuylkill County Common Pleas Court (Pennsylvania v. Jacoby), and Judge Joseph F. McCloskey overturned the magistrate's decision. He seemed to be particularly impressed when he discovered that Mrs. Jacoby was qualified to teach other people's children in Pennsylvania's non-public schools, but not considered qualified enough to teach her own children at home. I am going to quote from the statement that Judge McCloskey made when he rendered his decision. I think he clearly stated why it is wrong to have a statute that allows superintendents to prohibit parents from educating their children just because they lack paper qualifications. Here is what Judge McCloskey said:
This court always was of the opinion that any matter which came in front of it [should be] given careful and considered attention. . . . But I would be less than honest if I did not say that I cannot remember a case that I have reflected on and considered more than I have this particular case.
Maybe it's not only because I'm a judge but my family and my wife's family have been involved in public school education. My father . . . was a school teacher. My daughter is presently a school teacher in the Schuylkill Haven School District. [My wife's] father was a superintendent of instruction in southern Fulton County, which is in the far distant part of our Commonwealth.
I have the utmost respect for Dr. Greco, and I sincerely feel that when Dr. Greco made the ruling that the defendant was not a properly qualified or certified instructor that decision reflected the high standards of the North Schuylkill School District. But . . . the high standards that [were] set forth by Dr. Greco in that school district [were] one of the things that gave this Court grave concern.
The other thing that gave me grave concern was I was very convinced of the sincerity of the defendants. . . .
The statute of this Commonwealth gives me great concerns, and I may have to leave home tonight, but in good conscience I must find the defendants not guilty. . . .
Legislators, I hope that this compulsory education statute gives you great concerns as well. . . .
Then I went on to tell what was wrong with the practice, under the present law, of judging the success of home education according to standardized achievement tests:
There is a third unfair aspect of these state school board regulations: Even where the parents have acceptable qualifications, permission to continue home education is based on evidence that the child is making "satisfactory progress." This is usually interpreted to mean that the child must score average or better on every part of a standardized achievement test. I wish I could say (to paraphrase a public radio comedian) that in home education "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average." However, I belie the one about the men being good looking and some children are below average. In your folder today you have a fact sheet entitled "Achievement Test Results for Home Educated Children." It summarizes the results of many studies of home education, many of them conducted by departments of education in other states. While every study of home education has shown that home-educated children, in general, score higher than their school-educated counterparts, not every child is above average. We wouldn't mind using standardized achievement tests to decide if a child should continue home education or not, just so long as the same policy were applied to the public schools as well -- that is every public school child who scored below average on his achievement tests be sent home to be taught by his parents!
After that I described House Bill 1364 in detail and concluded by saying that we were introducing a balanced bill which gave parents the right to educate their own children if they agreed to teach the required subjects for a required amount of time, and if they documented that education is indeed taking place in their homes. I asked the legislators to add Pennsylvania to the eighteen states which have already changed their compulsory education statutes so as to permit home education.
Then it was time for the home-educated students to speak. Our new idea would be put to the test. Would homeschooled children charm the legislators? Would they help the legislators to see the benefits of homeschooling? Ten year old Amanda Bergson-Shilcock was the first. Tom Eldredge introduced her saying, "Most of us associate basic education with workbooks and things like that -- sitting in the classroom, everybody facing ahead -- but true educators realize that the best education comes when you're able to use real work and real tools."
While her father, Peter, ran the slide projector, Amanda stood at the podium and described the projects which she had been involved in. The first project she described was a home cookie and muffin baking business. When she first started she used calligraphy to make flyers which she printed up and distributed to their family friends. Then she described a sachet making business where she grew and dried and sold herbs. Amanda continued along this line, telling about the many business and community activities she had been involved with until suddenly she paused. Silence! What was the hitch? Couldn't she think of anything to say? Would all the children get tongue tied? What was going on? Peter was looking at her and she was looking at Peter. Then Amanda said, with tremendous composure, "Can we get it a little darker in here so that we can see the slides better please?" Once a few additional lights had been turned out, Amanda said, "Thank you," and continued with her talk while we all breathed a sigh of relief.
After Amanda was finished speaking, Tom thanked her, saying that he didn't realize she had been involved in so many activities. Then he introduced my nine-year-old son, Jesse, for a talk demonstrating community involvement and thorough research.
Jesse stood at the microphone while I held a chart for all to see. Jesse talked about picking up litter on our road. He said that the project began when my wife Susan "read in the newspaper that on April 25 there would be Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful Day."
The Dept. of Transportation hoped to get everyone out on the roads picking up trash. She called up the Department of Transportation to see if we could get badges, vests and bags for a small group of homeschoolers.
The next day my family went on a trash collecting trip. We were surprised at how much trash there was just on our part of the road. I think once there is some litter much more will come faster, because litterers feel safer when others have been there first!
Jesse went on to do an analysis of the kind of litter found along the road:
I found that 40 beer bottles were in the same amount of space as 25 pop bottles. For steel cans we found 10 for beer and 23 for pop. More aluminum cans were beer -- I found 23 beer cans and only 4 pop cans. We found 19 cigarette packs. I found only 4 healthy drink containers in 3 bags of trash! [LAUGHTER] The next day I made a graph to show what I had found. All right, here is the graph. Notice the blank space. That is returnable bottles -- zero!
Jesse was also showing tremendous composure, and humor as well. We had each practiced our speeches several times at home, setting up a music stand as a podium and turning visitors into an audience.
After Jesse sat down, Tom Eldredge asked him, "If any of the legislators would like to have you speak over at the capitol on any of the environmental bills, would you be available?"
Jesse laughed and replied, "I'd rather not."
Then Tom introduced nine-year-old Jim Means who talked about another research project, this one about "Big Foot." After Jim came fourteen-year-old Maggie Smeltzer with a fascinating story about her family's dealings with their arbitrary superintendent.
Maggie began her talk most professionally by paraphrasing Mark Twain: "Mark Twain wrote that everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. People across Pennsylvania have been talking about the need for new legislation concerning home education. We are here today to do something about it."
Then Maggie went on to note that this year marked a milestone in her life since she had now been homeschooling for as many years as she had attended a traditional school. She compared her school education with her home education.
My parents began teaching me in 1983 when I was about eleven and in the fifth grade. I can remember what it was like for me in school. I did not get very good grades. I was laughed at and felt stupid. I even gave up trying to learn. I began to dread going to school because each day I got further and further behind. Homeschooling has made a big improvement in my education. My mother always makes sure that I understand each lesson thoroughly before she starts to teach me something new. Consequently, it is impossible for me to get behind. We have, also, the advantage of being able to interrelate all my subjects because my mother knows where I am in each one of them. . .
Maggie went on to note the problems the Smeltzers had with their superintendent.
Some people think they have more authority over the education of children than do the parents who are under the authority of God. This has led to many problems and conflicts in Pennsylvania between the parents and the superintendents. My own parents were charged as criminals last fall because they refused to obey the arbitrarily made law of the district superintendent. It was a frightening experience and it took much time and money to get it resolved.
She concluded with a rousing statement in support of our home education bill.
We are petitioning you, the legislators of Pennsylvania, to pass our home education bill. Pennsylvania families shouldn't have to go to court in order to have the right to perform our God- given responsibility. The Constitution already gives us this right as Americans!
After Maggie finished speaking, Tom pointed out the paradox that when the Smeltzers had first pulled Maggie out of school the superintendent had objected on the grounds that Maggie wasn't doing well in school and would not be able to get the added attention she would need at home. Three years later, he had ordered her back to school saying that since Maggie was doing so well on achievement tests she was obviously gifted, and obviously would not be able to find opportunity to reach her potential at home!
Next to speak was sixteen-year-old Adam Boroughs. Tom introduced him as a motivated young man who plans to be a medical doctor.
Adam told of his experience being homeschooled since seventh grade. He noted that beginning when he was seven, he spent most of four years in the hospital after having been diagnosed as having Type I diabetes, and that partly as a result of this experience he had developed a desire to become a doctor.
Next he described a medical research project that he had participated in beginning the previous summer involving inducing a disease in rats and testing a method for treating it.
I worried that my homeschooling wouldn't be adequate enough for this lab, but everyone that I worked with thought it was a great idea. . . .
Adam went on to note that at the end of the summer when all of the college kids went back to college, he had put the paper into final form and had been listed as the second author when it was presented at the National Pediatric Association Conference.
Dr. Ziegler very generously listed me as second author on the project. In fact, the printer listed me as Adam Boroughs, MD! I have now been asked back to work on phase two of the project and I begin this week. Being homeschooled has allowed me the time to pursue my interest. I could probably spend five years in normal high school science and never receive the education that I received last summer. Being published at age sixteen is something that medical school students and residents would kill for!
After Adam had concluded, Tom said that he was disappointed that Adam had not told about his experience participating in kidney transplants on rats. Adam said, referring to Amanda Bergson-Shilcock's slide presentation, "Oh, I forgot my slides of the kidney transplant on the rat." Tom replied, "Thank you -- we're eating breakfast!"
The final speaker was Holly Hageman who spoke about her social life as a sixteen-year-old homeschooler. She said that since she began homeschooling four years ago, the most prominent question people have asked her is, "What about your social life?"
My social life has become better and happier for me since leaving institutional school. I've met my best friends at social events such as church, homeschool support groups, being on community sports teams, and even going camping.
After describing the social life in schools and noting that at home children are spared the harassment by their peers and have the advantage of learning to relate to their parents and other adults on a full time basis, Holly continued, "In conclusion, my social life is in no way hampered by homeschool. I have many friends of all ages, my own age as well as younger children and older adults. I am very grateful to my parents for their sacrifice of time and energy, to our local school district for their permission and assistance, and to the Lord for using them to train me up in the way I should go."
After Holly had finished speaking, Tom asked the legislators to consider our legislation and give it their full support. The children went over to their projects at the back of the room as people gathered around and talked to legislators.
After the legislators left, we had a short meeting of the parents to discuss the newly introduced home education bill, House Bill 1364. Two parts were different from the previous year -- an evaluation requirement and a provision for an appeal process.
Our success that day was due to the efforts of many people, including the parents whose children spoke and constructed projects as well as the many whose children submitted excellent essays that we did not have time to present. We discovered that we had a powerful tool to use in our legislative effort -- the testimony of our own children. From then on, whenever we had an opportunity to speak to the legislators or the press, we called upon our children.
That afternoon, we announced the introduction of the new home education bill at a press conference in the capitol rotunda. As homeschooled children lined the steps holding signs saying things like, "We love homeschooling because we learn more," and "My Mom's the best teacher," Rep. Pitts, Peggy Smeltzer and I announced the need for a bill that would permit home education. I described our new bill as having about the same requirements as those required for Christian schools except that it also required parents to keep one of three types of documentation: portfolios, evaluation by a professional, or achievement tests. The parents would have to turn in the documentation if it were requested by the superintendent in response to a complaint by a named informant.
In the summer issue of our Pennsylvania Homeschoolers newsletter I wrote:
Now that the fall school year is about to start, it is vital that you plan for a social studies unit on Pennsylvania government -- it is time for you to teach your children about how to get bad laws changed in a democracy. You need to arrange to meet your state representative and state senator and to bring your children to the meetings. Prepare your kids to ask your legislators questions about how laws get passed. Also, you can answer your legislators' questions about homeschooling.
The legislators will want to know if homeschooling is a good thing or a bad thing, and how many people in their district care about House Bill 1364. The PSEA (the main Pennsylvania teachers union) recently passed a resolution saying that homeschooling is a bad thing that should be discouraged. You know that homeschooling is a good thing, but if you don't tell your legislators, who will?
If you have already visited your legislators, please write to them or call them and ask them to call Rep. Cowell, the new head of the House Education Committee. Rep. Cowell is now trying to decide whether to hold hearings on House Bill 1364. He told me that he will hold hearings if he hears that other legislators want him to hold them.
Soon after that, I arranged a meeting between Rep. Cowell and three homeschooling families from his constituency. In response to that meeting and the many calls that Rep. Cowell received from other legislators, he promised to hold hearings on December 3, 1987.
Rep. Pitts told us, "This is your big chance. You aren't going to win if you don't win over the Education Committee at the hearings." We pulled out all of the stops to get our top-flight national people to the hearing. We put out an appeal for homeschoolers to contribute $25 each to pay the expenses, and we got more than enough money.
The story of those hearings is the story of legislators gradually warming up to the idea that homeschooling is a good thing. Rep. Cowell's office had given us permission to arrange the schedule of who would testify in the morning. In addition to Pennsylvania parents and children, we invited three national homeschooling leaders -- Dr. Raymond Moore of the Hewitt Research Foundation, Home School Legal Defense Association Attorney Chris Klicka, and Growing Without Schooling editor Susannah Sheffer -- to give testimony in the afternoon along with those who would oppose homeschooling.
We had learned from the IRRC hearings the previous year that we gave our best testimony when we were concrete and talked about our own experiences with homeschooling. We wanted the legislators to meet the homeschoolers who were being prosecuted. We wanted them to find out what was going on in our homes. We wanted them to see the innate goodness of homeschooling parents and children. So we coached all of the homeschoolers who were to speak that morning to be positive and talk about the good aspects of home education, not the bad aspects of public schools.
The hearings started with about three hundred or more homeschoolers trying to crowd into a room that was only built for about sixty people. Children sat in the aisles, adults stood in the back of the room, and about 150 people couldn't even get into the room. I was sorry that so many of the people who came all the way to Harrisburg did not even get to see or hear what was happening all morning. I hoped that they were consoled by the fact that their overwhelming presence proved to the legislators that homeschooling was an important issue to many people.
At the beginning, I asked Rep. Cowell to move the hearings. I had managed to get a larger room lined up, but Rep. Cowell refused to budge. He was determined to keep the hearing on schedule so that he could get through the entire agenda that day.
The members of the committee sat on elevated chairs in the front of the room. Not all of the committee members were there, and many of them were walking in and out.
Tom and I sat at a table facing the committee, our backs to the crowd. First it was Tom's turn to speak. It was not his finest hour. He had too much to say and not enough time to say it. He was cut off in the middle. Then it was my turn:
This morning you will hear a number of homeschooling parents speak who do not have college degrees. Under the present law, school districts usually hold that these parents are not sufficiently qualified to be private tutors. Homeschooling parents include many of Pennsylvania's businessmen and doctors. Just in the Pittsburgh area the homeschooling families include a Chief Executive Officer who is rescuing a steel company that employs a thousand people, and one of the only doctors in the city of Pittsburgh who is qualified to care for critically sick new-born babies. The doctor's wife, Stephanie Wilson, will speak to you today. She knows that since she does not have a college degree, she cannot get permission from the Pittsburgh Public Schools to be her children's private tutor.
Then there are Ed and Jeanne Smith who were denied permission and prosecuted by the Philadelphia schools even though Ed works as a teacher in the same school district. The Philadelphia district held that Jeanne, the teaching parent, was not qualified.
Then there are Donald and Mary Anne DiBernardino who are now being prosecuted in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Donald owns and runs a wholesale business that employs thirteen people right in a poor section of Upper Darby. The Upper Darby school district recently got a new superintendent who changed Upper Darby from having a friendly policy to an unfriendly policy. As a result, five families had to move out of Upper Darby so that they could continue to teach their own children. One of these families, the Georges, tried to fight the truancy charge, but after being convicted of truancy in a district court, they sold their house and moved to a friendly school district. Now, only the DiBernardinos continue to fight in court, but they have been convicted in district court and their appeal in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas is currently being continued. Soon they may be forced to move, too. Will they have to abandon their wholesale business that is employing thirteen people at 67th Street and Marshal Road in Upper Darby? Will those thirteen people lose their jobs when Superintendent Batory forces Donald and Mary Anne to move?
Finally, there are Ed and Elaine Smith-Whitmoyer who recently moved to the Blackhawk School District in Beaver County and bought a home when they found they could get permission from the superintendent to teach their children. Then the superintendent retired, and they worked with an acting superintendent for a year. Then the school board hired a new superintendent who held that Elaine was unqualified because she did not have a college degree. The Blackhawk School District has now filed criminal charges against the Smith-Whitmoyers. Elaine says that if she ever buys another house in Pennsylvania it will be a motor home! [LAUGHTER]
We, the homeschooling leaders in Pennsylvania, are often called by parents who are successfully homeschooling in other states and who have been offered jobs in Pennsylvania. They want to know how friendly Pennsylvania is to homeschoolers. Right now we tell them that some school districts in Pennsylvania are friendly and some are not. We also tell them that superintendents are constantly moving around and that a friendly district can quickly become an unfriendly district. We are asking you to change the law, so that whenever people from other states call, we can tell them: You have a friend in Pennsylvania!
After I finished speaking, Tom Murphy, Jim Gustafson, and Sue Laurito joined us at the table in the front of the room so that they could help us answer questions from members of the Education Committee.
The representatives asked questions which expressed many of their concerns. It was clear that many of them doubted that home education could be a good thing. It was also clear, however, that they were open minded and wanted to learn more about it. The representatives were also testing our reactions to various possible restrictions that they might add to our bill, for example...
Rep. Daley: Do you support competency testing for parents to be able to teach the children?
Tom Eldredge: No. . . . We don't support that.
Tom Murphy: One of the problems with any competency test is that the nature of the competency is rather vague.
Rep. Davies: Do you have any objection to superintendents doing an evaluation on homeschooling curriculum?
Tom Eldredge: That has been the state of Colorado's initial approach, that they approve a curriculum. I think that many parents in this state, though, would object to a narrow approach like that. . . .
Jim Gustafson: I think that you have to be careful who is going to do the evaluating of religious material. My education is Christian education. So who's going to make the judgment whether my material is appropriate or not?
Rep. Tigue: Why shouldn't home-educated children take TELS [Pennsylvania's reading and mathematics achievement test given in all public schools and most private schools in grades three, five and eight]?
Me: I think it would be a good idea for parents who were teaching their own children to administer TELS. It could help them see what skills their children are deficient in. So I don't think it's a poor idea.
Rep. Tigue: So you would advocate having home-educated children take the TELS test?
Me: Wait. What I am saying is I would advocate having the TELS test be available to homeschooling parents. Yes.
Rep. Tigue: No. The question is, should they be required to take the TELS test. If not, why not?
Me: Well, there are a couple things about TELS. It's a public school program that is available to the non-public schools now. Nowhere is it in the statutes. I know that it was favored by the Secretary of Education under Gov. Thornburgh so schools could find the deficiencies of their students, and I know that it is favored by the present Secretary of Education, but I don't know if it will be favored by the next one. It is nowhere in statute. I think it would be unwise for the state of Pennsylvania to put it in statute for homeschools in case it is...
Rep. Tigue: I'm not asking you whether it should be put into statute. My question is, "Would you agree that we should mandate that all students be tested by TELS? Yes or no?"
Me: All students, public, non-public?
Rep. Tigue: Yes.
Me: Yes. If you included public, non-public, and homeschools with the same regulations, so that... Listen, a lot of kids on TELS do not pass. In a public school the teacher is not fired if his or her students do not pass. As long as you do not say, "If your students do not pass TELS you have to put them immediately in school," and if it were applied uniformly across the board, I can not speak for the group, but personally, I would have no objections.
Then Rep. Cowell dismissed our panel, and it was time for fifteen individual homeschoolers -- three fathers, eight mothers and four young people -- to testify and answer questions. They came to the table to testify three at a time. After each of the three had read a statement, the members of the committee would question them.
First, eleven-year-old Amanda Bergson-Shilcock showed some slides which illustrated the variety of activities outside of the home that she would engage in during a homeschooling day. The legislators began to realize that home education can be very different from school education. They even began to smile, to warm up.
Then Sue Laurito told of the arbitrary treatment that she had received from her school district which had cost her family $9,000 in legal fees. She also put the "socialization" question to rest by mentioning that when her eldest daughter had decided to go back to public high school, she was almost immediately elected president of her class.
Then, fifteen-year-old Maggie Smeltzer told the story about how she had been taken out of school at age nine when she was suffering physical symptoms because of stress. The school district had wanted to deny her family permission because they held that she might be learning disabled. Then, several years later, she had tested so high on standardized achievement tests that the district had denied her family permission to homeschool because they held that Maggie was "gifted."
The children showed tremendous poise as they answered questions, all of us in the audience holding our breath. At one point Rep. Battisto tried to determine how complete an education Maggie Smeltzer was getting:
Rep. Battisto: Are you a ninth grader now, Maggie?
Rep. Battisto: Maggie, what are you studying at home?
Maggie: Well, we have the same classes that the regular school has except that we start each morning with Biblical devotions.
Rep. Battisto: Are you taking algebra?
Maggie: Yes, that's one of my favorites.
Rep. Battisto: Are you studying a foreign language?
Maggie: Well, I'd like to study Latin and French, but we have not done it yet.
Rep. Battisto: What are you reading? Do you read any novels, any books? What are you reading?
Maggie: I enjoy reading very much. I like to read mysteries -- and novels by Charles Dickens! [APPLAUSE]
Rep. Battisto: Have you written essays?
Maggie: Yes, I've written essays on several Biblical characters and also on Thomas Edison.
Rep. Battisto: Are you studying any science, Maggie?
Maggie: Yes, we're studying about electricity right now, and magnetism.
Rep. Battisto: Are you studying history?
Maggie: Yes, we're studying Pennsylvania history right now.
Rep. Battisto: Are you doing any art work? I noticed Amanda's project. Or are you having music lessons?
Maggie: I've taken piano lessons for about two years right now. I'm not what you would consider an artist, but I do like to draw.
Rep. Battisto: Maggie, so you're about at ninth grade level now. What do you plan to do after you finish your homeschooling career?
Maggie: I plan to take the GED and the SATs in order to determine if I can go into college -- and I'd like to be a constitutional lawyer!
Rep. Battisto: A constitutional lawyer! [APPLAUSE] No further questions, Maggie!
The next to testify were Michele Robinson and Norma Hull who told the stories of their prosecutions at opposite ends of the state. Norma's voice broke as she discussed the fear that affected their daughter when they twice had to bring her with them to the courthouse when defending themselves on child dependency charges where they might lose custody of her.
Then Madalene Murphy testified. She outlined the evaluation procedures in our bill, emphasizing the importance of options for showing that education is taking place. Now that the case had been made so well that the present law was not working, it was an opportune time to bring up the alternative that we were offering.
The next to testify were Stephanie Wilson, Susan Richman, and Lisa Bullington. Stephanie made a strong case that superintendents are not the right people to evaluate home education. She compared school educators and home educators to knitters and crocheters. She argued that knitters may know all about knitting, but they cannot help someone who is crocheting.
Susan spoke next from her perspective as editor of our newsletter. She shared how the many resources available to parents help them to become better home teachers. She concluded by noting that homeschoolers are not teaching in closets.
Then Lisa Bullington testified that home education was not "Little House on the Prairie." Rather, we are now doing what is predicted to be the education of the twenty-first century -- individualized education.
At this point, the legislators were actively thinking about the form a new home education law should take. They questioned each of the members of this panel in turn about what sort of evaluation measures should be used. When Susan was questioned, she defended the three alternatives that we had included in House Bill 1364. That parents could choose either (1) to give their children a standardized achievement test, (2) to keep a portfolio of their children's work including a log made concurrently with instruction, or (3) to have their child evaluated on a yearly basis by a professional. She defended the portfolio alternative by noting that the legislature in Florida had just overwhelmingly voted to continue a law with just such a provision.
When questioned, Stephanie Wilson captured the legislators own doubts as she expressed her reservations about our bill's current evaluation provision.
When I lived in Kentucky, which is considered to be a totally unregulated state, I saw what I consider to be abuses in home education. I know of two families where the parents were very laid back. They had other things to do and their attitude was, "Well, it will sink in eventually." I realize that there may be children who are not educated. . . . On the other hand, I see, too, that we have thousands of children in public schools who, as we all know, are not succeeding year after year. We don't close the schools down as a result, and it certainly isn't a reason to say parents can't homeschool. So what I am saying is, in all of the families I've seen there is a very small percentage of children who are not learning. And it is up to you to decide if you think it would be worth it to go to all of the expense to require testing or portfolios to be checked each year, for what is probably a quarter of a percent of children.
Then one of the representatives asked, "Mrs. Wilson, do you have any recommendations for improving the bill as it is, especially regarding whether children are receiving their educations?"
At that point, you could have heard a pin drop as everybody held their breath. I had a strong feeling that whatever Stephanie would say would become an amendment that would be added to our bill. She said:
First of all, I think that it should say what it says, those three methods of evaluation, but I think that parents should have to do one of those three things every year. I understand there are a lot of homeschooling parents who will disagree with me, but because I feel strongly, not only about my right to educate my own children, but about every child's right to be educated, and because I know of some homeschooling families who were not educating their children, I feel that it should be mandatory that one of those three things happen every year.
Then, when one of the representatives asked who should determine which one of those three things the parents should do, she agreed with the language of our bill which said that the parents should decide.
Another tense moment came when Rep. Cowell asked if any of the home educators present would object to Parent Educators of Pennsylvania representing them in negotiations on the bill. None of the people crowding the room spoke up and so Rep. Cowell said that he took that as an indication that there was no splinter group. The implication was that Rep. Cowell, the head of the House Education Committee, had decided that the present law was not working, and he was planning to give our bill serious consideration. He wasn't going to accept House Bill 1364 the way it was, but he would negotiate with Parent Educators of Pennsylvania about any changes.
The next three speakers -- Emily Murphy, John Wilson, and Martin Hudzinski -- compared home education and school education. Fourteen-year-old Emily compared her school experience of hating math and writing to her home experience of loving math and winning essay contests and getting an article published. John compared his experience teaching in public schools with his experience as a homeschooling father. He emphasized that even in schools the parents' role is very important. Martin spoke as a physician with a family practice. He said that at first, before he himself became involved with home education, he was surprised to find that home-educated children were so well socialized. He pointed out that people learn social graces better from their parents than from their peers.
The last three to speak that morning were Holly Hageman, Debra Ingram, and Peter Bergson. Holly testified that socialization was not a problem to her as a homeschooled teenager. Debra compared the cooperative homeschooling relationships between school districts and parents in New Jersey where she had earlier lived, with the adversarial relationships in Pennsylvania under the present law.
Finally, Peter Bergson finished up the morning by setting aside his prepared remarks and directly answering questions that legislators had raised during the morning. He compared the role of a homeschooling parent with that of a general contractor on a construction job -- the homeschooling parent doesn't have to teach everything, he can delegate responsibilities.
Then Peter concluded with an important thought about why professional educators so often oppose home education. He was preparing the representatives for the anti-homeschooling speakers that they would hear at the end of the afternoon. Peter said:
What is the primary source of the resistance to homeschooling? Why, in the face of all the documentation of the successes of homeschools, all of the documentation of the burdens placed on families, in the face of documentation of school failures?
Here is my guess. . . . It is because homeschool steps on basic cultural toes. It is interpreted as a put down to all those people who are trying to provide for the proper education of children. It looks like a slap in the face. It looks like we're saying you're no darn good, and we can do it better. That's really not what most of us are saying.
The hearings broke for a quick lunch. An hour later, they resumed in a bigger room, a room with about 140 seats. Still, every chair and aisle and bit of floor was filled and the back of the room was lined with standing people. Many people still couldn't squeeze in and had to stay in the hallways all afternoon.
Three national homeschooling leaders were on the agenda with Dr. Moore speaking first. He brought to the legislature his extensive experience with both home education and school education.
The legislators looked a little startled when he mentioned that he had once worked as a school superintendent. Soon he and Rep. Cowell realized that they had both been in Colorado when that legislature was considering a new home education bill. Rep. Cowell had been a guest of a fellow legislator, Dr. Moore had been testifying. Dr. Moore was able to fill Rep. Cowell in on the nature of that debate.
Susannah Sheffer spoke next. She based her testimony upon her experience as editor of Growing Without Schooling, a national homeschooling magazine where parents share their homeschooling questions and experiences. She suggested that some of the understandings developed in home education programs could help the schools.
Attorney Chris Klicka, Executive Director of the Home School Legal Defense Association, was our last advocate to testify. He gave the constitutional arguments and responded readily to questions about current laws in other states. At one point Rep. Cowell questioned him about some of the more unusual aspects of our bill, including the due process procedure. Attorney Klicka defended the idea of giving parents an opportunity to present their case to an impartial hearing officer, but agreed that there was room for tightening up this part of the bill. Also Rep. Cowell questioned whether other states were permitting parents to keep their documentation in the home, only requesting the documentation when a complaint has been made that education was not taking place in a particular home. Attorney Klicka agreed that the provision was unusual, but stated that it was a part of our bill that strongly protected parents' rights.
Then came time for the opponents of home education to speak. First, Jack Corbin spoke, representing the PSEA. He began by saying that he did not oppose home education. His big argument was that he did not see any need for a change in the law. Questions from the chairman followed.
Rep. Cowell: If in fact under some circumstances homeschooling can work -- certainly we've heard some young people testify today who are examples of it working rather effectively -- then it would appear to me that one of the problems we need to be addressing is, in fact, the issue that is raised by this legislation. This legislation may not be the most appropriate response, I don't know yet, but it seems clear that it is an appropriate issue -- the lack of uniformity among school districts in the state. One might be willing to accept the suggestion that a superintendent in one particular district may be dealing with a different set of families than the superintendent down the road, and so that may be the basis for the different decisions. But it also seems clear that there have been some instances where the same family, living in the same district, has been forced to deal with two different personalities who've reached two different conclusions. And it seems that to some extent it may have just been based, not on the quality of the program, but based on some philosophy about the propriety of homeschooling at all, under any conditions. Do you accept the suggestion that that is a problem, or are you comfortable with the law exactly as it is?
Jack Corbin: The current law . . . is being challenged on the basis of the judgment that went into the superintendent's decision. . . . If what they are looking for is for all superintendents to approve all programs proposed by the parents without question, there is no point in having the superintendents involved, and that apparently is the design of this law.
Rep. Cowell: We've heard from some of the parents though, and I'm willing to accept it as accurate, that if they disagree with the superintendent's decision, the same person with whom your association deals, then they face a criminal charge. Whereas a teacher who disagrees with an assignment decision or a furlough decision doesn't face a criminal charge, but instead has some other due process route to follow.
Jack Corbin: . . . The fact that a parent would be held as a criminal when not in compliance with a school rule may have to be reviewed. . . . The due process which is proposed in this bill is a valid process. . . . I would agree that parents have a right to challenge, they should have a valid due process. . . . It seems that because of this criminal aspect [they feel] compelled to go to court. . . . Why they go to court, I don't know.
Rep. Cowell: As I'm hearing it, they're told to show up in court! [APPLAUSE]
A minute later, Greg White, the Republican staff person for the House Education Committee asked:
Greg White: You said that there would be no ability of the Commonwealth to monitor instruction in the home education program. When was the last time the Department of Education went to a school district and sat down and monitored the instruction? [APPLAUSE]
Jack Corbin: Probably it was the last time Secretary Pittinger attempted to teach in the Harrisburg Schools. . . .
David John [another Republican staff person]: If House Bill 1364 were signed into law, do you see that there would be any ramifications on the teaching profession because . . . parents would have the ability to pull their kids out of school if they were unhappy with the school system. Would there be any ramifications on the teaching profession, kind of an incentive for change?
Jack Corbin: . . . I don't see any impact. . . .
The next to testify were three representatives of the Pennsylvania School Board Association, Thomas Gentzel and two lawyers. They argued in "legalese" that it was perfectly acceptable to trample the "qualified rights" of parents (Judges had ruled it was acceptable to require certification) and that parents already had due process in Pennsylvania because they can themselves challenge a capricious decision of a public employee through civil action in court.
Rep. Cowell: How do we respond to the point that is made by some parents when they argue that they are literally forced to move around the state, move from district to district looking for what somebody earlier today characterized as a "friendly" superintendent, faced with an "unfriendly" superintendent who recently replaced a "friendly" superintendent. I think it's probably that disruption of a family, that disruption of an education program, perhaps, and all of the other things that goes into a family situation that concerns me as much as anything else! How do we respond to that?
Thomas Gentzel: The question seems to be about the different requirements from one school district to another, and that's being framed in terms of . . . arbitrary decision making in each school district. I think it needs to be emphasized here that the curriculum in public schools varies greatly from one district to another and this is a strength of our public education system. . . . The real question is, "Are people being treated fairly within that setting, are there procedures for them to appeal? . . ."
Rep. Cowell: What about the next argument, I don't want to put words into the mouth of anybody, but I suspect that I understand some of these issues more clearly after six or seven hours of testimony! Some of the people in this room would respond to you by saying, "The point is that . . . there are other options such as non-public schools and that . . . we don't give to the superintendent in each of the 501 districts the right to decide what the curriculum will be at St. Mary's or St. Joe's or Shadyside Academy, but instead we've written some basics into the state law," and I suspect that some of the people in this room in the next breath would say, "That's how we want to be treated, as you have treated those other folks. Treat homeschool like that, rather than as another school district curriculum. We therefore ask that there be some common denominator written into the state law in terms of curriculum requirements, and ask us to abide by that common denominator rather than abide by 501 different sets of standards enunciated in 501 districts!" If they would say that [LAUGHTER and APPLAUSE], how would you respond?
Thomas Gentzel: . . . We don't necessarily see that as a weakness. . . .
Greg White: You have stated that you believe that state certification is appropriate for a home education program. At the secondary level, do you mean that it is appropriate for each individual subject that should be taught, since we have certificates for each subject?
Thomas Gentzel: Our platform does not speak to that question. What we have said is that a certification requirement could be a reasonable basis for approval. . . .
Greg White: Well, Tom, it seems to me that if you're going to require certification, you're going to have to have geniuses for home education instructors -- someone who spent more time in school than all of the rest of the people in this room.
Thomas Gentzel: We're suggesting that if there is some need to change this law, either because of the outcome of the federal court suit now pending, or based on the decision of this committee with the outcome of this hearing, that there is a need to strengthen this statute, if the concern is about consistency from district to district, a reasonable basis for doing that would be to include a certification provision. . . .
Rep. Leh: I'd just like to make a statement here. [The PSBA lawyer] used the term "qualified right" a number of times. . . . A "qualified right" to me though is more or less a privilege that the state can take away. I think the issue with these people out here, and I can agree with them 100%, is we're dealing with an inalienable right. [APPLAUSE] And that's the whole issue. That's the whole ball of wax. And that's what we're going to have to decide. We're going to have to get down to the hard facts of that issue. . . . The scriptures say that we're to obey God, and not man, when matters supersede His law! [APPLAUSE]
The final witness was John Fitzpatrick representing the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers (PFT), the other teacher's union. He argued that House Bill 1364 was flawed from top to bottom. He spoke of his experience tutoring children as a homebound instructor for the public schools when he was trying to make extra money.
John Fitzpatrick: I found tutoring to be the most obnoxious way to educate youngsters. I found the home environment to be the worst environment in which to teach youngsters: distractions, phones, televisions, crying babies, deliveries, etc, etc. What about proper heating? What about proper lighting? What about materials? Parents don't have the materials available to them that are available in schools. Those are our main concerns.
Rep. Cowell: Thank you. Are there questions? [300 HOMESCHOOLERS IN AUDIENCE RAISE HANDS] Hey, this is not audience participation. [AW!]. Don't forget, he has to get to the door though! [LAUGHTER]
Rep. Leh: Just one comment. In defense of the parents' ability to teach -- I don't happen to believe that knowledge guarantees wisdom. [CHEERS]
Rep. Tigue: John, your answer to this question may determine my vote. Were you educated at home?
John Fitzpatrick: No, I was not.
Rep. Tigue: OK! [GENERAL LAUGHTER and APPLAUSE]. No further questions!
Rep. Cowell: Any other questions? John, thank you very much for your testimony. We appreciate it.
Let me at the conclusion thank everybody, especially those who have offered testimony. This has truly been a learning experience for us. We have learned a great deal more about this bill and about this concept of homeschooling. I hope, particularly, the students have learned a little about what we do in this capitol in terms of considering issues and making laws. And to all of you, to students, parents, and testifiers, and all of you who have just sat and patiently listened, we thank all of you for your participation.
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