Republican presidential hopefuls quietly turning homeschool policy into a real issue?

Mickey Muldoon

????On his presidential campaign website, Ron Paul describes his policy positions on twelve different issues, including abortion, health care, and the economy. Education is not among the headings. But ?homeschooling? is.

Michelle Bachmann homeschooled her children. So did Rick Santorum. Herman Cain appeared at a Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators conference with Paul and Bachmann this March. Mitt Romney is on the record as a supporter.

Does this mean that homeschooling is finally going to get the education-policy attention it deserves? I hope it does.

Consider the fact that in the United States, there are almost exactly the same number of students being homeschooled as there are in charter schools (about 1.5 million, as of 2009). Why do the charter kids get all the attention? The obvious reason is that like private-school students, homeschoolers don't really interact with the government. They don't receive money, and they occasionally have to take basic tests to prove they are learning something. That's about it.

But there are plenty of reasons to believe that state governments should seriously consider making it easier for parents to homeschool their children. The first is a simple fact of labor efficiency: Thirty-three percent of adult men and 44 percent of adult women in America are not working. Certainly, many of those people are disabled, incarcerated, and otherwise disqualified from teaching kids. But if we could reasonably put just a fraction of that labor pool?especially parents, friends, and relatives?to good work in a homeschool environment, it could be a huge ease on school-district budgets and a source of satisfaction and fulfilment for the adults and kids alike.

The second reason is that high-quality educational materials are becoming exponentially more accessible and less expensive. Khan Academy?the free lecture-and-exercise portal?is the most obvious example. If we can trust such resources, we need to rely less on the traditional lectures, homework assignments, and activities that teachers are trained to deliver. (Of course, as Khan himself repeatedly emphasizes, great teachers will always ?supercharge? even the best materials). In many cases, parents without deep academic expertise can still be enormously helpful by simply providing support, keeping kids on task, and helping them get assistance where needed, online or elsewhere.

Ron Paul supports a $5,000 tax credit for homeschooling families to purchase tutoring services, books, computers, and other supplies. To anyone who is serious about the ?school-choice portfolio? concept of education: Take Paul's proposal as a starting point. Tell him why it's misguided. Or support it if it isn't. But let's not ignore this important policy issue altogether.

?Mickey Muldoon

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