Learning outside the lines: Home schooling in Kansas

Kansas home school laws open to interpretation

Rain Quinlan, 14, far left, and her dance classmates watch a videotape of their own performance from an earlier recital.  Home schooled, Quinlan attends 13 hours of dance each week.

Rain Quinlan, 14, far left, and her dance classmates watch a videotape of their own performance from an earlier recital. Home schooled, Quinlan attends 13 hours of dance each week.

May 13, 2007


Learning outside the lines: Home-schoolers appreciate flexible schedules

They get up, get dressed and go to school -- just like thousands of other kids in Lawrence. But instead of hopping in their car or on the bus -- Olivia and Emalee Fox just take the short trip to their dining room table. They're home-schooled. In tonight's installment of "Learning outside the Lines," Deanna Richards takes you inside their educational world. Enlarge video

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Learning outside the lines

Rain Quinlan spends a good chunk of her day dancing and reading Vladimir Nabokov novels.

She's not really into math or science, so she doesn't study them. She prefers to go to African culture lectures and museums.

She's home-schooled - more specifically, she follows a form of home education known as "unschooling," which doesn't adhere to a set curriculum and lets students determine what they study. It's working out well for her - she says her SAT scores were above average for a high school senior, and she's only 14.

"This is what good parents do during summer vacation and weekends," says Quinlan's mother, Sarah Sobonya. "We just do it all the time."

Kansas law is among the most permissive in the nation when it comes to home education.

Sabonya, like many advocates, says unschooling and other methods of home schooling are perfectly legal. But the law is open to debate and interpretation.

Kansas does not specifically recognize home schools. Technically, home schools are considered nonaccredited private schools, says Kevin Ireland, a Kansas Department of Education staff attorney.

Such schools are not accredited or approved in any way by the state, although they must register the name and address of their school with the Kansas Board of Education.

Home educators also must follow the state's school attendance laws. Those laws require children between ages 7 and 18 to attend a public, private, denominational or parochial school for about the same number of hours or days that public school is in session (at least 186 days of not less than six hours per day).

Parents who home school are not required to be licensed teachers. However, they must be "competent instructors," a designation which is open to interpretation by the courts. (Most of the parents interviewed by the Journal-World for this series have college degrees, and many plan to send their children to public or private school when the subject matter becomes too advanced for them to teach comfortably.)

Additionally, precedent established in a 1983 Kansas Supreme Court case dictates that instruction must be planned and scheduled, with periodic testing.

Thriving unregulated

There's a lot of flexibility built into these guidelines, though.

Bethann Mansur has been home schooling in Lawrence for 20 years. Her two older children are in college, but her 10-year-old daughter, Clarate, has learned reading, writing, math, science, history and government from her mother in the comfort of their East Lawrence home.

School's in session here year-round. So when Mansur and Clarate recently took off three weeks to help care for Mansur's ailing mother, they weren't worried about falling behind. She'd hate for stricter regulations to stifle the educational rhythm she has built with her daughter.

"The whole idea for me - and really how it got started originally - was so that you could educate your child as you wanted," Mansur says. "I mean, for me to have to do No Child Left Behind, I would hate it. I don't have to teach to a test. I can teach to the interests of the child."

There is no move under way in the Kansas Legislature to tighten oversight of home education. The last attempts to do so - committee recommendations during the 1984 and 1985 sessions that would have required home-schoolers to pass a minimum competency test - generated such backlash by home school advocates that they never gained momentum.

J. Gary Knowles, a home school researcher at the University of Toronto, says that's typical.

"One of the really unique things about the home education movement is they've lobbied like hell in a lot of contexts and essentially achieved the status they have now through social movements," he says. "Conservative legislatures see that home educators are a considerable force and have considerable voting power."

Creating citizens

She's not ready to sound a rallying cry yet, but state Rep. Pat Colloton, D-Leawood, would like to see the state pass laws requiring home schools to supply proof that they're providing a well-rounded education, complete with citizenship training.

"Remember, the whole concept of a democracy is that we will have an educated public who can then run our democracy, choose our elected officials, be tolerant, be informed," says Colloton, a member of the House Education Committee.

Robert Reich, a Stanford University professor of political science who has written about the need to regulate home schooling, advances a similar argument and also contends that children only grow into free and autonomous adults when they're exposed to diverse values and ways of life.

"Home-schooled children can be sheltered and isolated in a way that students in schools, even sectarian private schools, cannot be," Reich writes in his essay for the book "Home Schooling in Full View." "Parents can limit opportunities for social interaction, control the curriculum and create a learning environment in which the values of the parents are replicated and reinforced in every possible way."

To prevent such isolation, he says, states should require home schools to register, teach curriculum that meets minimal academic standards and introduces value pluralism, and test students periodically for progress.

That's more in line with requirements in states with the highest level of regulation - New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and North Dakota. Rules vary from state to state but include prior approval of home schools by local school boards, mandated subjects, detailed recordkeeping of attendance and progress, and standardized tests administered by certified teachers.

Lawrence Superintendent Randy Weseman says he supports parents' rights to home school but thinks there should be more supervision.

"Given the tremendous oversight applied to public schools, it does seem to be somewhat of a mystery as to why some oversight is not utilized," he says. "I imagine it is because of the cost. There are always benefits to some accountability."

Covering bases

Although Kansas law does not require home schools to maintain records, the education department recommends that home educators keep a log of their children's progress in case they choose to transfer to a public or accredited school, or apply for college.

It's also good to have those records on hand in case the county attorney or a case worker with the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services comes knocking on your door because your child has been reported as truant, says Rod Bieker, a KSDE staff attorney.

If a school official believes a school-age child is not attending school, they're obligated to file a complaint with SRS. That agency then checks with the state to see whether the parent is registered to provide home instruction, says SRS spokeswoman Abbie Hodgson.

A case worker might visit the home to check on the situation. If it appeared the child's safety were compromised, she says, the worker would file a child in need of care petition, and the courts would get involved. In extreme cases, the child could be removed from the home.

Best and worst

Charlotte Ostermann, a home school parent from McLouth, is among those who are happy with the current state regulations.

"If they had more oversight, we'd have to say, 'How do you know you're providing a good education for students in public schools?'" Ostermann says. "It creates an adversarial role."

Paul Getto, a policy specialist with the Kansas Association of School Boards, agrees that without more research into the effectiveness of home schooling, much policy change would be unlikely.

"Home schooling is a legal option," Getto says. "I think the best schools in Kansas and the worst schools in Kansas are home schools. There's no supervision or regulation, so there's no way of telling which is which."


KS 11 years ago

Sounds like the school districts are starting to raise their ugly heads. Missing out on state money because of home schooling. The cat is out of the bag as it relates to this. Originally being against home schooling, I have changed my mind after seeing what kind of "----" goes on in the public school system. Go Moms! Do what is best for your kids.

boy_genius 11 years ago

If our democracy requires government ensure an educated public as Rep. Colloton says, why does the democracy pre-date compulsory education? The founders of that democracy had no problem with leaving everyone to educate themselves.

tolawdjk 11 years ago

I met about half a dozen homeschooled students when I was in college. Yep, they were smart. They couldn't socialize for crap though. All but one of them dropped out by their sophmore year and the last one disappeared her junior year.

Bubarubu 11 years ago

boy_"genius" sez: "The founders of that democracy had no problem with leaving everyone to educate themselves."

Go read up on some of Jefferson's education proposals. Some highlight: "Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation." --Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806.

"This [bill] on education would [raise] the mass of the people to the high ground of moral respectability necessary to their own safety and to orderly government, and would [complete] the great object of qualifying them to secure the veritable aristoi for the trusts of government, to the exclusion of the pseudalists... I have great hope that some patriotic spirit will... call it up and make it the keystone of the arch of our government." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813

"The less wealthy people,... by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government; and all this would be effected without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821

"We fondly hope that the instruction which may flow from this institution, kindly cherished, by advancing the minds of our youth with the growing science of the times, and elevating the views of our citizens generally to the practice of the social duties and the functions of self-government, may ensure to our country the reputation, the safety and prosperity, and all the other blessings which experience proves to result from the cultivation and improvement of the general mind." --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1821

Yep, the founding fathers didn't give a flip about educating the people, you're right there.

Wilbur_Nether 11 years ago

boy_genius wrote "The founders of that democracy had no problem with leaving everyone to educate themselves."

Universal education has always been one of the United States' goals, going back to colonial times. The Massachusetts Bay Colony required "proper" education as early as 1636, and in 1785 Congress passed a Land Ordinance to reserve portions of townships to be used for education. The United States' founding fathers believed a liberal arts education was necessary for a society to self-govern. A voting citizenry must necessarily be literate, understand rhetoric, and be able to reason through decisions necessary to elect appropriate representatives. (Note the small "l"--liberal arts being a combination of mathematics, science, logic, language, history, philosophy, literature, music, and so on; not to be confused with the political "Liberal" connotations of the 21st century).

George Will once wrote "The term 'liberal arts' connotes a certain elevation above utilitarian concerns. Yet liberal education is intensely useful."

KsTwister 11 years ago

Have to agree with KS on this one. What a shame kids are actually excelling compared to their public school counterparts. Time to make home schooling a part of your religion if its working. I know home school children who socialize a thousand times better than most of the ones in school. They have the time to socialize while they are involved with activities that don't keep them confined to a building for 8 hours a day. That's a myth and a pathetic one at that. If the state wants to take on home schools they will get a battle from congressmen and others who educate their children in this manner.

rockchalk77 11 years ago

My personal experience in college was the same as tolawdjk's - the home schooled children I met were quite intelligent, but couldn't handle the social atmosphere at all. On occasion I would act as an orientation facilitator for incoming engineering students and even amongst the stereotypical "nerdy" engineering crowd you could still spot the home schoolers a mile away. The sad part was that their parents ALWAYS insisted that their children were well adjusted and good with social skills, and this was NEVER true.

Yes, they are very polite, respectful and interact well with professors and administrators, but they don't do well at all with the unstructured nature of interacting socially with their peers. I think there is a tendency for some of these parents to think that structured social situations such as dance classes and little league are an acceptable substitute for time that would be spent with other kids in school. Unfortunately, those environments are just that - structured, where most social interactions in college are not.

It's sad to see a kid getting a 3.8 GPA in Engineering, but going home every weekend to spend time with his parents because he doesn't know how to make or keep friends on his own.

cdc 11 years ago

wow, isn't it amazing how well they seem to be educating their children! If a child can test well in a traditional setting (SAT) that shows they are being educated for success in life.

This is as opposed to those crazyconservativeChristians who homeschool by ignoring key facts of life such as evolution and global warming. I've met about six such kids. they can't spell, they can't write, they end up uneducated. The one older one I know didn't even go to college, got married, and has no job.

a_flock_of_jayhawks 11 years ago

As a former school board trustee, I can tell you that for every good home schooled student that we saw enter the school district there were at least two that were well below grade level, mainly due to lack of a well-rounded curriculum in their home schooling experience. Their parents usually became combative when their children were placed at a lower level, but after a few tests it was clear that their kids would have struggled if they hadn't received the recommended placement.

boy genius, you are way off the mark. Public education institutions in America have been pursued long before the United States were formed. Think about it; in many of the countries that our forefather's came from, education was only for the privileged in the society. They had a strong desire to change that. A change of that nature could not take place overnight, however.

As far as public school funding, people should review those items that schools were responsible for 50 years ago and what they are responsible for now. The list of what the public expects grows every year. Try trimming those programs and witness the outcry that results. Granted, there may be reason to feel that the funds are not being used with utmost efficiency.

Being a life-long supporter of education and a life-long student, I can say that my tenure on the school board was very enlightening and gave me a greater appreciation for the job they handle for our society. To the critics, I would urge them to get involved, study and understand the issues, and help improve it. They've obviously shown some level of interest by complaining in the first place.

TheOriginalCA 11 years ago

My father-in-law is quite uneducated in regards to Kansas State Standards for formal education. He also has more common sense than anyone I have ever met and is an absolute genius when it comes to politics, history, finances, and economics. The pressure that society places on people who don't have the apptitude to learn as quickly as others is immense and takes its toll on kids, parents, and families. Myself, I am sick and tired of teachers and principals who condemn parents of children who have something that affects their ability to learn and keep up with their classmates. In a Chicago school district, they dare to issue parental report cards. Teachers and schools have way too much power these days and have reached into family issues that are none of the teacher's freaking business!

After saying all of this and getting htese things off my chest, I have to say that I think that home schooled kids need to pass standardized exams so that the state can track their progress. Some kids are home schooled because they have special needs that the local district isn't satisfying or doesn't have the ability to satisfy. I think that they should have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) filed with the state for those home schooled students just like you would at a public school.

blueviolet 11 years ago

It's ironic that we use undemocratic means to supposedly prepare children for living in a democratic society. Of course all people should have access to education, but making it compulsory is at odds with the individual's right to a self-determined life. Why should the state have the right to decide for all what their educational life should look like? Further, why assume that the state's chosen methods of education are ideal? There is an appalling amount of adult illiteracy in our country amongst those who've been schooled all their lives; the schools are clearly failing in this respect and many others.

Homeschooled children statistically do better than their schooled counterparts. How to explain, then, the above observation that children entering school after having been homeschooled are often behind grade level? It's simple: they haven't been doing the same things at the same times as the kids in school. It doesn't follow that they are therefore not being appropriately educated; to the contrary, the education they have received is more appropriate, because it is tailored to them as individuals. It is a mistake to assume that a school's schedule and subject matter are objectively most beneficial.

blueviolet 11 years ago

As to socialization, I find it laughable that anyone would regard school -- being shut up all day, against one's will, with only people of one's own age, your actions dictated, monitored, and judged by a single authority figure -- a completely artificially contructed environment that is opposed to any notion of "freedom" -- as being ideal. Further, those who've been unimpressed by homeschoolers' social skills in college have to realize that there are several factors involved. First, their own bias against homeschooling as "weird" and their own inability to be able to be inclusive of those who've grown up in a different kind of sub-culture than they. Second, egocentrism: believing that high school sub-culture is the normal default that everyone should be part of; adults who have been out in the real world for some time and go back to school are also often singled out in the same way as "not belonging" in a social context. Third, the face of homeschooling has changed dramatically in the past decade. While in the past it may have been true that most homeschooled kids had little experience in the larger social world, this was because most homeschoolers were intentionally isolationists due to their religious beliefs, or unwillingly due to the lack of supportive community and resources. The latter is no longer true, and there is a growing movement of homeschoolers who decline to send their kids to school because they want for them a more varied, more positive, and less artificial social life. They want their children to be comfortable interacting with friends and acquaintances of all ages in many different contexts. They want them to be an active part of the real world from the beginning. These children may still not "get" the adolescent generation-gap-fueled mindset of the typical high-schooler turned college-student, but only because they've already moved beyond it.

Perspective, people. Widen your horizons. Start looking at the issue critically, as opposed to emotionally. Compulsory schooling may be all you know; that doesn't mean it is the only valid way (or even a particularly effective way) to create a rich, fulfilling life.

dlkrm 11 years ago

I agree with the last couple of posts, but even more important than providing a haven for kids with special needs, home schools provide encouragement for those who have the ability to succeed beyond the level of their peers. Public schools do not encourage high achievement, in fact, they actively discourage high achievement. In public school, one of our kid's teachers didn't even take the time to teach him how to hold his pencil properly. My wife started home schooling our kids this year and they have soared well beyond their grade levels.

RonaldWilson 11 years ago

I cannot believe the bigoted comments I've read on this website about homeschoolers. Sweeping accusations of social retardation, in-ept parent/teachers and poor curriculum by the education nazis is par for the course in their socialist utopian view. Isn't "choice" the mantra of the left in so many situations? Not when it means getting your children out of their social experimentation camps, their indoctination centers. Public education has less to do with education than preparing children to be proper little members of the commune that do not think for themselves, defend themselves, or do anything in an individual way that would lessen the importance of the commune. Refer to Ayn Rand's Anthem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthem_%28novella%29). Why would anyone defend the right of someone to kill their unborn child and at the same time attempt to deny a parent to educate a child as they wish. Does anyone not see a conflict in that way of thinking. Choice only exists before the child becomes a potential Democrat voter. Once the child is born, it no longer belongs to the mother. It is property of the commune. It must be programmed to side with evil over good, wrong over right, and promote the behaviors that lead to failure over success. Why else would the lefties care so damn much who educates the child. They know if too many children grow up in the real world, they will learn real life lessons and see that there are principles that are true and never changing, the way the world really works and has always worked. This is counter-productive to their true cause, to create a nationless, religionless utopia with no violence or discrimination. They, however, cannot reach this goal without discriminating. Which just proves the hypocracy and impossibility of their goals. Liberals, socialists and communists (I know, a bit redundant) have no natural way to recruit new members without coerced 'education' (i.e. state schools, public schools, head start, etc.). Left to any other situation, children will naturally on average become individualists, conservatives, and freedom-loving people. The one time I am aware of, when communism was tried on this continent, it failed miserably in less than three years and was abandoned. (http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/3507051.html) It was not abandoned by mandate of the state, but by the discrimination of intelligent free people that were beholden to no one but nature and its laws. Public education needs homeschooling and private schools to provide competition and balance to encourage improvement in the public school system. To paraphrase Mark Twain, "I never let (public) schooling interfere with my education."

KsTwister 11 years ago

I had it correct the first time,Val. Everyone here on this forum seems to think "my way or no way" in the terms of education. But just to open a viewpoint here: Why was the alternative high school started in Lawrence to begin with? Because from both sides of the spectrum it could answer the call to keep the frustration of students to a minimum to keep them in school. Public schools don't work for everyone, and everyone should be able to determine what best serves their child. I have seen "smart kids" and struggling students in this one building go onto to high positions and become pillars of their community. I know home schooled successes and high school drop outs, and public school scholars that could not survive in a high school. Experience is not spin but don't burden me with your reasoning for placing every kid in the same mold you deem compromising. It depends on the child's ability, the access to information and the parents involvement with their education. And now, the internet makes the education even more accessible, especially when your child wants to experience calculus outside a 6th grade curriculum. Just because you want that almighty dollar for each child who attends public schools is no reason to place kids in an environment that you choose to label as engaging.

KsTwister 11 years ago

I don't see students hanging out at a local watering hole as rounding out their social education either.

Bubarubu 11 years ago

blueviolet sez: "Of course all people should have access to education, but making it compulsory is at odds with the individual's right to a self-determined life. Why should the state have the right to decide for all what their educational life should look like? Further, why assume that the state's chosen methods of education are ideal?"

Compulsory education is only for those who are too young to make decisions on their own. Your argument about compulsion would apply to all schooling, not just public schooling.

Now, your open-ended implicit arguments about the state choosing educational models are slightly more interesting. The state does not have the "right" to educate, partially because individuals have right and not governments, but more importantly, because the state has an affirmative obligation to provide an education. Article 6 of the state constitution mandates the government to provide public education. The state has to make some decision about how that education will be structured. Does it mean their decisions are always right? Of course not, which is why the state also allows people to opt-out of the state's educational structures provided they still educate their children.

Which gets to the crux of the issue. One can pull one's child out of public schools, and indeed out of traditional private schools, but since education is provided for the benefit of the whole and not just the individual, one has to ask how homeschooling serves the larger concern. If you want to pull your children out of the school that provides a public good, then you should have to demonstrate that you will better fulfill that good than the public mechanism. In other words, one should have to reasonable prove that one is better at educating their children than the public schools. "I don't like what they teach" or "I don't want my kid to ever learn anything I disagree with" does not bear on the question of a public good, and should thus be rejected as a justification for homeschooling.

On the other hand, "The public school cannot handle my child's high aptitude, but I can" or "The public school cannot handle my child's inability to learn in a large environment, but I can handle it at home" could both serve as sufficient justifications. blueviolet's characterization of schools as undemocratic is silly, since schools are managed by officials elected locally. Don't like what the schools are doing? Try to change it through democratic means rather than pulling yourself and your child out of the public sphere. For most people, homeschooling is a tacit refusal to participate in that public sphere rather than engaging in a constructive way.

I know some fool is going to come along to call me a liberal or socialist and think either is sufficient to end the debate. The simple truth is that public education, at all levels, exists to serve the public good. Once you choose not to engage in the public good, what good do you do?

Kathy Theis-Getto 11 years ago

Bubarubu - well said. "Once you choose not to engage in the public good, what good do you do?"

Engaging in the public good sometimes means compromise, not to be confused with conformity, and those that chose not to engage, burden.

KsTwister 11 years ago

You mean burden like drop-outs from a public school system?

Kathy Theis-Getto 11 years ago

Twister - fits your spinning logic. Read the sentence again and try to comprehend this time around.

boy_genius 11 years ago

Bubarubu says that Thomas Jefferson says: "Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise."

Thank you. I'll be here all night.

Wanting all people to get educated is very different than telling them what they have to learn to be considered "educated." Offering subsidized education, as was the original point of most public schools, is very different than requiring attendance.

Why did Karl Marx think universal education with mandatory attendance was one of the ten requirements for the workers' revolution? Because it's a lot easier to control what people's kids learn than it is to convince each person to believe a particular viewpoint.

stargazerq77 10 years, 9 months ago

I am impressed by my little sister, as well as her mother upon reading this article. You are going to become an amazing woman, and you have had an amazing teacher. Well done. I just hope you keep me posted with your endevors. Love, your big sis, all the way in indiana (stargazerq77@yahoo.com) amaris

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