Reading, Writing and Refrigerator Raids

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So in 1986, before her organization was founded, Goossen and fellow home-schooling parent Rory Schneeberger decided to do something about it. "We drafted a proposal for the state legislature, but it failed in 1987 because no one would take responsibility for answering questions about home schooling," she recalls. "Then, in the fall of 1987, Senator Al Meiklejohn called me and Rory and said he wanted to carry the bill, and it passed in 1988."

But not without a fight. Every educational organization in the state spoke out against it, including the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Executives, Goossen says. "They see our kids as dollar signs, so they didn't like the idea of losing public-school money to home schooling. It's also a control issue -- they cannot control the education of children if they're not in public school."

Some opponents had legitimate concerns about the socialization of home-schooled kids, but others merely made incendiary charges. "We had a lot of opposition from the Senate Education Committee," Goossen says. "We were called child abusers. People said we wanted our kids home to act as babysitters for younger kids so us moms could go out and party. They said our kids would be on welfare and that we were committing educational abuse. We got hate calls at our homes. It was ugly. All we wanted was to home-school our kids. You'd think we were committing the unpardonable sin."

Between 300 and 400 parents packed the legislative hearing rooms where the bill was being debated and ended up convincing lawmakers that they weren't ogres seeking a way to evade the system. "It was the bill of the year," remembers Goossen, whose organization continues to monitor legislation affecting home-schoolers.

The new law turned Colorado home-schoolers into their own entities. No longer did they have to get permission from their local school district; instead, they merely had to file a notice of intent with any district in the state. Parents used to have a list of only ten curricula from which to choose, but the new law allowed them to use any curriculum, including those of their own design. In addition, children no longer had to take the same standardized tests as their public-school counterparts, such as the Colorado Student Assessment Program. (They do, however, have to take a national standardized achievement test of their parents' choosing every other year to measure their progress.) And students could graduate from their home school with a high school diploma.

By 1996, all states had home-schooling laws, and, according to Goossen, Colorado's is one of the best. "There are some states where you still have to report to the superintendent. New York is tough. And then there are the states like Oklahoma, where you don't have to tell anyone you're a home-schooler; if you just never show up in public school, they don't have a clue. In Texas, home schools are set up as individual private schools, so there's no accountability to the state," Goossen continues. "The idea of absolute freedom is enticing, but I'm not sure that would be so good. In states where there are no regulations, there's usually more activity in the social services area. So we have people from New York who come here and kiss the ground, and people from Texas and Oklahoma who don't like it. I like what we have here, because there are minimum regulations, but there's just enough to know we're accountable."

Now that home schooling is allowed in some form in every state, support groups have popped up everywhere, including in Colorado, where Goossen estimates there are several hundred. Nationwide, there are Internet-based support groups open to Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, pagans and Quakers, among others; there are also Native American and Afrocentric home-school associations.

And home schooling isn't a mostly Christian movement anymore; a third wave of mostly secular home-schoolers has come about in the last few years; old-schoolers refer to them as "mainstreamers." A survey conducted by Goossen's organization a few years ago showed that at least 40 percent of Colorado home-schoolers are secular or practice a non-Christian religion, and she guesses that the percentage is even higher now.

According to Dobson's book, the number of home-schooled children in this country has been growing by 15 to 20 percent a year for the last fifteen years; she estimates that there are currently at least 2 million home-schoolers in the United States, representing 2 percent of all school-aged kids.

Colorado isn't far behind the national trend. In the fall of 1998, there were 8,827 home-schooled kids here; that number jumped to 9,719 by the fall of 1999.

Many home-schoolers attribute the surge to the "Columbine effect." Goossen says she's heard from numerous parents who chose to pull their kids out of public school because of the April 20, 1999, rampage at Columbine High School. And in fact, there was a 5.5 percent increase between 1998 and 1999 in the number of home-school students in the Jefferson County School District alone.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon

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