Testing, Best Practices and Other HS Evaluation Efforts

25 02 2008

Yep, it’s the silly season again — not just for presidential campaigning but for independent family education as a state legislative target.

“Maybe with oversight we’ll find out there are no problems out there and it’s fine and dandy. I hope that’s the way it is, but it’s our responsibility.

Those kids should get an education in this state” . . . Schimek said she just wants quality control checks, she doesn’t care how they’re done.

As Kay and Dana and other hardworking home education advocates face renewed legislative meddling attempts in their own states, I thought I would offer this perspective, FWIW.

It was 2005 and a legislatively awakened mom was asking me — as an old education policy pro now happily homeschooling — about data collection and evaluation attempts aimed at home education. Her state department of education had created a professional position for same, and she was wondering about its potential to help or harm:

“The position requires that
the individual for this job be able to:

1) comprehend and remain current in research and best practices in
home schooling

I would like to know what you think of the term ‘best practices’
being used with homeschooling?”

Here’s how I responded for her, and for our “parent-directed education” list:


First a riff about “best practices” as a concept and then homeschool-specific thoughts.

Nance is right, “best practices” is education jargon. It’s meant to be fuzzy yet generally understood and accepted, like social norms or manners or grammar.

In the past 25 years, public schooling has made a new specialty out of collecting and promulgating “best practices” because imo, it’s a way of seeming helpful and expert without any generalizable research or enforcing regulations; it’s more like writing an advice column or suggesting recipes.

In benign form, “best practices” are anecdotal and non-binding, so there’s just nothing to argue about — best practices are ideas that have helped some folks somewhere move toward the “good” end of some widely accepted continuum. Best practices are proffered routes to take you where you say you want to go.

Neither law nor formal teacher preparation defines homeschooling best practices, that I know of — they barely acknowledge homeschooling’s existence and learn nothing about us, just assume schooling is superior!

. . .Which has always been a bone of contention with me. School laws that charge ps personnel with evaluating homeschools armed with nothing but schoolish best practices as their measure.

That’s why I write as I do here and at the NHEN forums, about the many, many ways in which homeschooling is naturally “best” as a learning environment for kids even using schoolish best practice frameworks — individualized instruction, multiple learning style accommodation, natural peer tutoring across age groups, small class size or even one-to-one teacher-learner ratios, independent study, intrinsic motivation, less tyranny of testing, great flexibility.

Not to mention completely integrated, free, voluntary parent involvement! 😀

I remember Linda Dobson was writing a self-help type book for parents a couple of years ago, meant to show mainstream parents how they could apply some “best practice” homeschooling at home, even without homeschooling.

[It did come out and here’s the info,“The Learning Coach Approach” if you think you’d like to pass it along to your own
state department for their “best practices” research!]

But as far as I know, the very first serious national “textbook” about homeschooling for mainstream teachers (not parents) has just been published. Scott Somerville helped the editor find various hs perspectives (Nicky Hardenbergh wrote a chapter, for instance) and it sounds like something you might want to insist this state hs consultant should read and live by. 😉
See NHEN forum topic for more.

Nicky wrote at the forums:

in full view — a Reader”

Edited by Bruce S. Cooper, Fordham University

This, a first full-scale edited book, is a reader that describes, discusses and analyses homeschooling from an array of different and international perspectives. We portray the energy of this movement in this volume, looking at the history of “education writ large,” in a larger social, political and religious context, one for placing homeschooling in perspective. Like most movements in education, this one is both a reaction to the problems and inadequacies of existing schools, and a new direction in schooling that stands on its own.

As you can see [from the table of contents] the article (a revision, actually) I wrote for last April’s AERA workshop (discussed extensively on these forums) is in the Reader. My participation came after Scott Somerville introduced me to Bruce Cooper, the editor, who liked my article. As you can also see, both Michael Apple and Rob Reich have contributions, as well as many others who will be familiar to those who read this NHEN forum.

. . . homeschooling is a topic of great interest to students of education. We know from the number of inquiries homeschool groups get from students investigating homeschooling. But far as I know, this is the first Reader/Textbook on homeschooling that is not aimed at homeschoolers themselves. Will be interesting to see what kind of reaction it gets. I’m excited to be in print!





17 responses

25 02 2008

Thank you for sharing this! Schimek’s proposal bothers me particularly because as a senator, she is supposed to research a problem or issue and present a solution to said problem. Not invent solutions to problems she herself says she is not actually aware of.

People keep asking me, “But will it affect you?” What difference does it make?

The basic trust in our standardized tests runs a little too deep in this country. There is actually an interesting book I read last year, Standardized Minds, that explores this and related issues. I wrote about it a little while I was reading it:


25 02 2008
Nance Confer

Does Nebraska have lots of extra money? Does this legislation include funding for any standardized testing it might require and enforcement?

Or is it just time for some pandering?


25 02 2008
Nance Confer


Or maybe Nebraska doesn’t have to worry about it.


25 02 2008

That is a tad hilarious. From every teacher and homeschooler I’ve ever spoken to what the best practice is would differ. How can laws be made based on an adaptive art rather than an exact science? Thanks for the links too.

25 02 2008

By George, I think Kim’s got it! 😉

25 02 2008

The whole NHEN website (not just the forums) seems to be down today; I dropped a board member a quick heads-up and I’m sure it will be back soon.

25 02 2008

The bill would require homeschoolers to reimburse the state for the cost of oversight….but at the moment it doesn’t look like it will pass. Close to half of the senators are opposed, others are opposed in its current state. Few seem to be fully supportive.

Unlikely to happen this session, but I can’t help but think “they” are testing the waters.

25 02 2008

And “they” would be this woman and her husband, the teacher union lobbyist, yes? (Kay did some checking and found that in a news story.)

25 02 2008

***I think the NHEN website is down because the webmistress, Teresa, is working on some fixes.


“The bill would require homeschoolers to reimburse the state for the cost of oversight . . . ”

***Because paying once to support the ps system is just not enough?


***Is he the husband? I thought I had read they were dating. Does it matter? No, but my version is spicier. 🙂


26 02 2008

I posted about the “six-word story” the other day and related to the Democratic candidates’ latest debate. You can pack a whole world of meaning into six words.
In fact, it can be done with half as many — see for example my in-depth policy analysis of THREE innocent and clear-seeming words, “Large Dogs Welcome.”

In my (costly and most painfully acquired) legislative and policy experience, every single word is fraught with meaning and must be considered in context from all sorts of storylines, certainly including who the sponsor is as a person and who he or she may be in bed with literally, ideologically and in terms of cold, hard cash; what other states have been up to historically and contemporaneously in this education policy area (because legislative proposals tend to clump up like iron-filing beards on those old magnetic face-drawing toys); leadership priorities and ambitions; socioeconomic and electoral demographics; back-room deals on things that seem completely unrelated to your issue, but really are driving the whole process roughshod over what most folks including you care so much about; and on and on.

It’s an intentionally adversarial process and meant to be played out tactically like war games, with all sorts of manufactured alliances and enmity, extravagant diversions, betrayal and occasional mortal wounds. Everybody’s words and promises and relationships are coded and don’t mean what the dictionary says, and without capital in your pocket (money and/or influence) you don’t mean a thing.

Personally I think learning to think and understand communications and culture this way, is the best benefit that comes out of immersion in the legislative process (because it sure isn’t the legislation!)

26 02 2008

More about how I see the process, combining comments I made at Scott’s now inactive blog Somerschool.

Scott wrote:
“. . .just don’t think they can see this madness for what it is. We never see the log in our own eye–only the speck in someone else’s.”

JJ responds:
Utterly “Deranged” Motes Escaping Notice
Truer words were never spoken! As the nonpartisan and admitted intellectual I am, I see most of what passes for speech and debate (even actual legislation and policy) as madness, and wonder why I’m so lonely in the noticing and fretting about it.

I was trying to explain to my always unschooled little boy about “politics” the other day as we drove to his dance class, so I used a ballet metaphor to describe the “Body Politic” for him, with the “left” and “right” fingers taunting each other and calling for digit-chopping to begin, while the core muscles that were the strength and life of the whole Body kept all the systems operating, the temperature right and the blood flowing to the brain (which also is in the CENTER) and sighed as it wished the silly fingers would hush up and do something useful!

Anything that’s wrong for the left hand to do is wrong for the right and vice versa, true?

He agreed of course. They are both wrong and if we had to chop them both off to get some peace, the body politic could go on. They are just fingers after all, not the heart or the stomach or the mind or the spirit.

Fingers with the luxury of being very far away from where the real work that supports both sides is happening. Fingers that the brain tells what is right or wrong, not consults to see what is right or wrong. Fingers that in the end cannot make the core muscles do anything and will have to go where the body politic goes, whether they like it or not!

This worked for him and he saw it easily, but then he doesn’t lean left or right. He is not a one-sided finger trying to express its own self-importance by attacking its fellow fingers as foreign objects conspiring to take over the whole Body.

Scott, I left a comment to your “Sinful Sock Puppets” thread that applies here too, about lying to ourselves and each other in politics to the point of public dysfunction.

I quote an upcoming NYT column about blurring the lines between reality and show business, and suggest that red or blue, staging sock puppetry might not be a drop in the bucket of our overflowing temptations to lie to ourselves and each other about human reality.

I’ll be really interested to hear your thoughts on the larger cultural impact of sock puppetry and related deceptions that hurt us all – assuming of course, that this is really you and me talking! 🙂

26 02 2008
More Than Self-Governing, Social Networks Are Self-Creating « Cocking A Snook!

[…] preferences and boycotts, religion, politics, free will and choice in all things large and small? Homeschool advocates working in the legislative process, for example, could certainly benefit from understanding it through this […]

26 02 2008

Read Dana’s prepared testimony for her legislative committee hearing here.

1 03 2008


Just an FYI — the behind-the-scenes noodling around seems to be finished at the NHEN site. It is up and running again.


1 03 2008

Cool — though I see whatever they were “fixing” didn’t help the way forum-reading has been set, where you have to open the folder and then click “printer friendly” to get all the posts showing in sequence. I had hoped maybe that was what she was addressing.

1 03 2008

I only knew about some email addresses that weren’t forwarding correctly. Sorry, no exciting inside scoop. 🙂


3 03 2008

From Ravitch/Meier blogging, re “best practices”:
“Frederick Taylor was the best-known proponent of scientific management and efficiency in the early part of the 20th Century, and he had a wide impact on American society, and certainly on American education. The best book on the subject, in my view, is Raymond Callahan’s “Education and the Cult of Efficiency,” which was published in the early 1960s. Taylor emphasized that there was a best way to do everything and that the determination of the “best way” should be taken away from workers and put into the hands of the managers.

As you acknowledge, Taylorism was thought of in its time as progressive, because it was supposedly “modern” and “scientific.” And certainly anything that was scientific was considered to be a great advance over traditional methods.

I tried to show in my book “Left Back” that John Dewey’s ideas resonated more with affluent school districts and elite private schools than regular public schools, while Taylor’s ideas had a profound impact on the public schools that most children attended. In addition, the I.Q. testing movement that burgeoned after the First World War was embraced in virtually all schools, even by leaders of the progressive education movement because it too was considered “scientific” and was promoted by the top pedagogical experts of the time (such as Edward Thorndike of Teachers College).

We don’t seem to be able to escape our history, so it seems awfully important to study it, to know which coils have wrapped themselves around our brains, which ideas undergird our assumptions. . .”

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