Eleven-year-old Cooper Durand practiced typing on the family computer in the living room, while his 6-year-old brother, Nick, sat on the nearby couch reading.
Did you know?
Home schooling is legal in all 50 states. Forty states have adopted specific home-school statutes.South Carolina is considered a state with moderate regulations, which means the state requires parents to provide notification, test scores and/or professional evaluation of students’ progress.South Carolina’s home-school law came into existence in 1988 and has been modified twice to expand parents’ options on how they can receive approval to teach their children at home.Twenty-four states require standardized testing or evaluation for families operating under their home-school laws. South Carolina is not one of those states.Home School Legal Defense Association
Their oldest brother, 12-year-old Aiden, played clarinet in his room, and 8-year-old Joseph listened to a book on CD.
By the numbers
The number of students home-schooled in the Lowcountry and across the state in 2011-12.Berkeley483 Charleston673Dorchester489State11,328**Twenty-six of the state’s 46 counties didn’t give the state Department of Education any information about the number of home-school students in their area.Source: S.C. Department of Education
This is what home-schooling sometimes looks like at the Durands’ home on James Island. Other times, it’s all four boys crowded around the dining room table doing math problems. Or, perhaps, it’s digging in the backyard garden, buying local milk from a Johns Island farm or learning about inventions at the Charleston Museum.
Some of that freedom seemed threatened recently by a new piece of legislation that home-school advocates say would limit what they do and how they do it.
Pushback from families has been swift and strong, and lawmakers behind the bill promise not to move forward with it. Still, they haven’t ruled out future changes to the state’s home-schooling law.
The situation has thrust home-schoolers to the center of the state’s education stage for the first time in years.
Home schooling in S.C.
Across the state, more than 11,300 students were taught at home in 2011-12, and that’s not counting more than half of the state’s counties that didn’t report figures. Previous years’ numbers were unavailable. The state’s public schools have about 700,000 students.
The state gives families three options for home schooling. They must be approved by their local school district, be approved through the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools or become a part of one of more than 30 home-grown home-school associations that are scattered across the state.
The Durand family chose the latter of those options, and that’s the most popular route, according to state Department of Education figures. More than 80 percent of home-school families in the state do so through local associations, which tend to be the least expensive and least-regulated.
Students who go through local groups must meet certain state requirements, such as attending 180 days of school, keeping a portfolio of their work, and having semi-annual progress reports of their attendance and progress.
But students aren’t required to take standardized exams, such as the state Palmetto Assessment of State Standards or the SAT college-entrance exam.
Susan Durand gives her sons tests in core academic subjects such as math and history, but they don’t take standardized tests that are commonplace in public schools. Durand doesn’t think it’s necessary because she knows her children’s strengths and weaknesses, she said.
“I can tailor the curriculum to each of my child’s needs,” she said. “I know this is what’s best for us.”
All of that would’ve changed under a new proposal. The bill would have prohibited families from being allowed to home-school through local associations starting in July 2014, and it would have required all home-school students to take annual state accountability tests.
That’s a problem for families who either don’t teach the same material mandated in public schools, or don’t teach in the same sequence as public schools. Home-school families say that would limit what and how they’re able to teach.
For example, South Carolina public school students learn state history in third grade, but Durand has chosen to teach the world’s history chronologically. If her children had to take the state’s accountability exam, Durand would have to change her lessons.
Wendy Graham is director of the Christian Homeschoolers’ Association of Southeastern S.C., which is a Summerville-based association with nearly 640 local students. She’s also taught her three children at home.
Many home-school families aim above the state standards, and their children are working at higher levels, she said. She called the proposed level of state oversight unwarranted and unnecessary.
“I see no benefit (in the proposal) whatsoever,” she said. “Our heart is in what’s best for children. Our curriculum choices may change, and we could lose the freedom we have.”
Rep. Doug Brannon, R-Spartanburg, was the bill’s primary sponsor. He said he plans to request that the bill remain in subcommittee without a hearing. He said he no longer supports the proposal and doesn’t want to see it become law.
“The problem (with the bill) is too many wonderful home-school families would be impacted to make (the bill) worth passing into law,” he said. “It’s too much of a punishment on everyone who’s doing it right for the relatively small number who aren’t.”
Brannon said his intention was to address cases of neglect that he often sees in family court. Parents will say that they’ve been home schooling their children when they actually have been keeping them at home without teaching them, he said.
He said he never had an issue with the lack of standardized testing for home-school students, but other lawmakers did. Brannon said legislative counsel drafted the bill with input from a number of legislators.
He knew what the bill contained when he submitted it, but he said, “I had no idea what an outcry it would create.”
There could be multiple bills in the future on the state’s home-schooling legislation, but any proposal of his would concentrate on being able to identify these students, he said. He thought it “very unlikely” that the current bill would receive a hearing or pass out of committee.
Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester, is another one of the bill’s sponsors, and she said her concern was the same as Brannon’s. It’s impossible to verify whether parents who say they are teaching their children at home actually are doing so, she said. If families are serious about home schooling, they would register their children as required by the state, but neither court nor school officials have a way to see whether that has occurred, she said.
“I just want to make sure that when someone says they’re home schooling, they’re complying with the law,” she said.
She said it’s reasonable to put in accountability standards for home-school families, but the community doesn’t want that.
Home-school families mobilized quickly in response to the bill. They formed a Facebook group to oppose it, and it’s grown to more than more than 2,500 members.
They’re planning to rally at the Statehouse, and they’re taking T-shirt and bumper sticker orders to publicize their cause.
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais has gotten behind the home-school community, saying he strongly supports their rights and doesn’t want to restrict those freedoms.
Scott Reeves is president of the state Association of Independent Home Schools, and his five children are taught at home. He called the proposal a “bad” one. No other state has the kind of registry lawmakers are suggesting, and he said that kind of database could create problems for home-school families.
He was most concerned with the potential elimination of the local associations. Parents shouldn’t be forced to choose between his association or their local school district, he said.
“I believe very much in a parent’s right to educate their children,” he said. “... Cutting out (that option) is wrong, unproductive and detrimental to home schooling as a whole.”
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.