Friday, March 23, 2007

For Homeschoolers - The Myth Of Equivalent Instruction

This post is an excerpt of the article originally written by NHELD.

Many states use the term “equivalent instruction” in their education statutes especially as it applies to homeschooling.

Did you ever think to ask why? Equivalent instruction is a myth. There is no such thing and there can be no such thing. Even if it were possible to reach the goal of equivalent instruction, why would parents who instruct their own children according to their individual needs, want or be required to instruct in a manner with methods and materials that are “equivalent” to the public school system when the public/government school system has proven in many ways to be such a dismal failure? Why should parents be compelled to abandon a superior method of individualized education in favor of a mediocre method of proven failure? Isn’t it time that parents stop engaging in the argument about what laws are best to assure equivalent instruction and start engaging in efforts to eliminate from all laws any reference at all to “equivalent instruction”?

What does Equivalent Instruction mean?
Some states have statutes which say something like this:
"Equivalent Instruction" shall mean a program of instruction approved under the requirements of the compulsory attendance law as an equivalent to attendance at a public school or an approved private school.
Equivalent instruction is an idea that is very difficult to prove or to emulate even within a public school system from district to district, from school to school, from class to class. How, then, can homeschooling parents be held to employ “equivalent instruction” when the very government imposing that rule cannot define it?

For example, Even if you say one should teach math as a subject ... equivalency, in that instance, means nothing – as there are many subjects in math. Any one school may be teaching math in a very different and unequivalent way than another, even within the very same school district! But even if you pick a specific subject like multiplication, that can also be taught numerous ways.

If one school teaches Miquon Math and another teaches algebraic concepts, is that equivalent instruction? Both schools are teaching “math”, but yet the content is in no way equivalent, so how can that subject being taught by those two schools be equivalent? Even if they are teaching the same information, the way it is delivered may also not be equivalent. If one school uses Saxon and another uses Scott Foresman texts, are they still providing equivalent instruction? So how can instruction be equivalent? Perhaps the outcome can be deemed equivalent: you either learned how to multiply or you didn’t.

How can anyone buy into the whole “equivalency argument” especially when in any given local school system, where supposedly they are all teaching the same things, the curriculum, materials, and methods are really unequivalent from school to school and class to class?

In Connecticut, there was a major lawsuit brought against the State Department of Education. In 1989, lawyers for an interracial group of urban and suburban children brought suit against the state. In that case, Sheff v. O'Neill, they argued that racial segregation in the Hartford region violated their state constitutional guarantee of the provision of an equal education. The courts agreed and ordered the General Assembly to create plans for achieving equal educational opportunity. This case was not only about desegregation, but about making equal education opportunities available to all students everywhere. Although the plaintiffs won, and the State was charged with making changes to remedy “unequivalent” education, to date little has really been achieved. Civil rights groups were back in court to again to sue the state in 2004 after concluding it hadn't met a chief goal of a 2003 settlement resulting from the landmark case -- integrating Hartford's public magnet schools. Many magnet schools and charter schools have been designed to be more inclusive and diverse, but one will clearly still get a much different education in Bridgeport (an urban area) than in Simsbury (a suburban area). The problem is not a lack of funding; it is the absurdity of the notion that every school can offer the same education to all children.

So what does this particular public school squabble have to do with homeschoolers? Well, here, again, is the whole notion of equivalency. If the public schools can not even get themselves to have equivalent instruction throughout their state districts and even within some districts, then how can homeschoolers be held to the task of meeting “equivalency”?

If the government is trying to hold parents to a standard of “equivalent instruction”, ask yourself, can the government even define the standard to which they are trying to compel you to meet? Chances are they cannot. What, then, is the result? The result is to leave it up to the “discretion” of the public school official in charge of overseeing the “equivalent instruction.” We know what the results of that is – arbitrariness, inequality, and, all too often, abuse of authority.

If there were such a thing as equivalent instruction there would be one textbook company, one method of delivering information, and one curriculum for all. Perhaps that may exist in a Communist regime, but for the time being it does not exist in a free society such as ours.

Education cannot be homogenized and made into a one size fits all or one product that can be consumed by all. Education must be unequivalent to meet the needs of each child, and how they learn. In reality, education even within the public school system already is and will continue to be unequivalent. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.

Additionally, why should homeschooling parents who already are providing a superior and individualized education to their children bow to the pressures of those who have so miserably failed in operating the public/government school system and succumb to providing “equivalent instruction”?

The education the public/government school purveyors provide should not be emulated. It should be eradicated. Public/government school purveyors can see the success of parental instruction. They see the numbers of parents who are instructing their children continue to grow. They see an ever-increasing threat to their existence. They see that parents with no formal teaching credentials are raising and educating children in a far better manner than people who claim expertise in the field of education. This is precisely why organizations like the National Education Association and their affiliates are so squarely opposed to homeschooling. They need to maintain control over parents to stem the tide of a mass exodus from the public schools. They seek to maintain this control by manipulating the minds of parents and of government leaders. The public/government school purveyors have been successful so far at this. They have succeeded in convincing government leaders into adopting laws that require parents to show “equivalent instruction”. For the most part, they have succeeded in convincing parents that their argument about “equivalent instruction” is a valid one. Parents have fought the adoption of laws requiring “equivalent instruction”, but have not fought the basic premise behind the laws. The premise is false. Public/Government school instruction is not superior. Public/Government school instruction is far inferior to that individualized flexible instruction a parent is able to provide. Why, then, should parents who are providing superior instruction be compelled to forsake the superior instruction in order to provide the inferior “equivalent instruction” of a public school?

If your state law requires you to show “equivalent instruction”, work as hard as you can to get it changed. Tell your legislators that you don’t want to be forced to provide inferior instruction to your child. Let them know that the concept of “equivalent education” is a myth.


Laura said...

Great article!!

We have 5 children actively learning here at home (in the sense of being educated), and we sure don't have "equivalent instruction"! From one child to the next, they have different interests, learning styles, and desires for life. All of these things work together to determine what is important for each of them to learn as individuals, and at what times, and with which methods.

Thanks for posting this, it will help me express myself better to anyone I know who doesn't get it yet.

Susan said...

Interesting. I didn't ever think about equivalent instruction in that way, but your concerns make sense.

The gist of the IL statute that homeschoolers need to follow is this:
where children are taught the branches of education taught to children of corresponding age and grade in the public schools, and where the instruction of the child in the branches of education is in the English language

Myrtle Hocklemeier said...

I have no idea how the statutes in my state read on this issue. Guess I should find out.

Susan brought up an issue that has always bothered me: The mandate to deliver instructionin the English language

Here is one public school that does deliver instruction in a foreign language: The Inter-American Magnet School.

Not to mention that in some places schools exist that are entirely in a foreign language, such as the many French schools in New Orlreans, and I think there is now a Spanish immersion school in Dallas.

When I moved to North Carolina there was a similar prohibition against homeschooling in another language. At the time an Austrian friend of mine was insterested in homeschooling and in making sure that her children spoke German, wanted to teach them in German. She was disappointed to find out that this was illegal....I guess the government's plan was that if they were to learn German it should ONLY happen in high school and only in a one hour per day class unless of course you afford the private school in which they get immersion.

Every time I see an employee of the government celebrating the joys of bilingualism I think about the hypocrisy.

jugglingpaynes said...

And to truly be equivalent, I need to have at least twenty more kids. I'd better get cracking, my biological clock is ticking. Of course, they should really all be the same age, so we're talking one doozy of a multiple pregnancy.
This is of course, one of the reasons you can't even compare homeschooling to public schooling. If I were to use the same textbooks, we would be lost, since the texts are geared toward a large classroom, not one on one--or even one on ten--instruction. I believe this is why many parents who try homeschooling through a public school based program get frustrated and give up. (It happened to a friend of mine in Arkansas) We're try to make apples and oranges equivalent.
Excellent post!

Anonymous said...

DOES Connecticut require homeschoolers to provide "equivalent instruction" to their children? My understanding is that the equivalent instruction is required of the private schools, not the home educators.

Anonymous said...

Will you comment on the last Comment post, Judy? My understanding about the wording of CGS 10-184 from Attorney Stevenson is that the "equivalent instruction" applies to the private schools and not the home instructed children. Is this your own interpretation of the CT. law? I don't think it is the interpretation of everyone, however, including some other education law experts.


Judy Aron said...

Attorney Stevenson has written:


The following summarizes the historical review of the statutes and attempts to answer some often raised questions in order to help all who are interested in becoming more aware of their obligations and their choices under state law and suggested procedures.

The following information is taken from state statutes and from documents produced through the research of the State Department of Education.

1. Ludlowe’s Code of 1650 is this state’s earliest written codified law. Expressly stated in that code, is the requirement that parents bring their child up in some lawful employment and instruct them. In other words, the earliest written policy of the state is that it is the obligation of parents to educate their own children.

2. The Connecticut General Statutes further codified that policy in Section 10-184. The applicable title of §10-184 is, “Duties of Parents.” The first sentence of §10-184 clearly identifies the duties of parents, “Parents shall bring up their child in some lawful employment and instruct them in ……(the statute lists certain specific subjects.)”

3. That first sentence of §10-184 is what is known as the state’s “compulsory education statute.” That is, all children must be educated, but importantly, it is the duty of parents to educate them.

4. From 1650 until 1872, this was the only policy of the state regarding education. For over two hundred years, this basic principle remained unquestioned and unchanged.

5. It was not until the industrial revolution, in a time when parents began to shirk their duty by allowing their children to work in factories instead of educating them, that the state made an addition to its policy.

6. In 1872, the state amended §10-184 to add the second sentence, which provides that children between certain ages “shall attend” public school “unless they are able to show that the children are elsewhere receiving an equivalent instruction.”

7. This second sentence of 10-184 is what is known as the state’s “compulsory attendance law”. In other words, if the parents are not undertaking their obligation as described in the first sentence of §10-184, then the second sentence of §10-184 applies wherein parents must send their child to a public school unless they are able to show that the children are elsewhere receiving an equivalent instruction. Children could receive an equivalent instruction in earlier days by being an apprentice to a master, or, as now, by attending a private school.


Judy Aron said...

8. After nearly a two year long study by the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and a task force consisting of superintendents and homeschoolers, the result was the adoption of a policy acknowledging the right of parents to educate their children at home and the adoption of the C-14 Guidelines as a “Suggested Procedure” only. It was believed at that time, that while the Guidelines were not a perfect document, they were sufficient to assist those who chose to follow them as one reasonable way of instructing children at home.

9. The C-14 Guidelines represented a renewal and an acknowledgement of what had been the state’s policy since the inception of the colony, i.e., it is the duty of parents to instruct their own children. But it also represented a rejection of a short-lived set of “guidelines” issued by the State Education Commissioner, Mark Shedd, in 1982. The “Shedd Guidelines” essentially replicated many of the requirements that the superintendents are seeking to impose by way of Bill 5535. That is, the “Shedd Guidelines” suggested that parents be required to have a high school diploma, that superintendents and boards of education approve a homeschooler’s curricula and materials, and that homeschooled children undergo assessments. By adopting the C-14 Guidelines in 1990, the state Board of Education soundly rejected those “Shedd Guidelines” requirements”, and renewed the state’s long-standing policy of parental authority in education.

10. Shortly after the C-14 Guidelines were adopted, a few superintendents who remained dissatisfied, spurred a legislator into proposing a bill that, again, incorporated many of the requirements listed in the “Shedd Guidelines” seeking to make those requirements statutory law. That bill was soundly defeated in the Education Committee through the hard work and lobbying of homeschoolers throughout the state.

11. Still, some superintendents were alleging that homeschoolers were truant.
a. Truancy does not apply to homeschoolers.
b. The truancy statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-184, specifically provides that “children who are enrolled in public and private schools” and who receive a certain number of “unexcused absences” shall be considered truant.
c. Homeschooled children, by definition, are not “enrolled in a public or a private school”, and in a homeschool, there is no such thing as an “unexcused absence”.
d. Truancy is, by its nature, applicable to “compulsory attendance”, not to “compulsory education.”
Just to make the meaning of the truancy statute perfectly clear to superintendents, CT’s C.U.R.E. requested Senator Kevin Sullivan to propose an amendment to that statute. He did so and the legislature adopted it. That amendment is now known as Conn. Gen. Stat. §198a(e). It states that the provisions of the truancy statute “shall not apply” to those children receiving equivalent instruction in accordance with Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-184.

12. On two other occasions since that time, on behalf of homeschoolers, State Representative Arthur O’Neill proposed amendments that would strengthen parental authority concerning home education. Representative O’Neill succeeded in persuading the legislature to adopt those amendments. They are now known as §10-184a and §10-184b. Their importance to this discussion is only to show that the policy position of the Connecticut Board of Education, the Connecticut Department of Education, and the Connecticut General Assembly, for hundreds of years, as reinforced as recently as this past decade, has been that parents have the obligation and the authority to educate their own children. That policy should not be changed.

Judy Aron said...

I might also add that the second sentence of 10-184 - the compulsory attendance law - is the sentence which allows private schools to exist in CT, by expressly stating "children are elsewhere receiving an equivalent instruction" since elsewhere applies to something other than parents educating their own kids (as per sentence number one) or sending them to public school (as per the beginning of sentence two).

Judy Aron said...

Also - with regard to Equivalent Instruction.... how exactly can that be proved or shown? I (and Atty Stevenson) contend that it can't.

If the public schools can not even get themselves to have equivalent instruction throughout their state districts and even within some districts, then how can homeschoolers be held to the task of meeting “equivalency”?

There is no one way - one text - one curriculum that is used by all.
Private schools are not equivalent to public schools. Every teacher teaches something different. Public schools are not even equivalent to one another! Not even within the same school district!

Read this: or

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for taking this great amount and of time and effort respond to my question about "equivalent instruction". I will read the links you have provided, but I am still not convinced (and, oh, how I want to be!) that this equivalent instruction law doesn't apply to home educated children after all!

As an unschooling parent (of free and incredibly happy children)I feel concern now about CGS 198a(e) because it states that truancy does not apply to children receiving "equivalent instruction" in accordance with CGS 10-184!! This sounds like homeschoolers, not private schoolers!


Anonymous said...

I want to add to my last comment that while I understand that "equivalent instruction" may be impossible to achieve or prove, my concern is that we (our family), as homeschoolers (unschoolers), might get into legal trouble by someone who is bound and determined to have us taken to court to prove our equivalent instruction of our children. I know that HLDSA (I think that is what it's called) interprets the law very differently than you and Deborah Stevenson do, and they are BIG in their influence on CT. homeschoolers; I know many people who believe they must provide equivalent instruction to the public schools according to the law--AND ALSO submit to a year-end portfolio review of their curriculums, whether they sign a NOI or not. DCF told me (in writing) that we are bound by CT. law to provide "equivalent instruction" to the local school district! What do CT. judges think? What kind of outcomes are coming out of the courts? Somebody knocked on my door last Monday and told me they were there to look over the materials we used in home educating our children this past year (I turned them away). My husband, for the first time, read CGS 10-184 and he said it is very clear to him that the law requires us to provide "equivalent instruction", and he is fairly freaking out!

Anonymous said...

Here (above) is something else I found which is very disturbing to me.

Why is it that there is so much disagreement as to the interpretation of this education law? I'd love to know your opinion on that.

What does the beginning of the second sentence in CGS 10-184 mean: "Subject to the provisions of this section and section 10-15c..." ? Subject to the provisions of.. ??

I remain VERY confused.

Thank you.

Judy Aron said...

I strongly suggest that you contact Deborah Stevenson. The fact that someone came to your door to scrutinize your education materials and that you are receiving threatening letters is very disturbing and should not be ignored.You can either be afraid or do something pro-actively to uphold your rights.

HSLDA doesn't have the power that you think it does here in CT.

Anonymous said...

I have spoken with Atty. Stevenson. She made me feel better, told me what to do in different case scenarios, but then I go online, or speak to other homeschoolers, have people knocking on my door, and feel very nervous once again. I have not found one other person, besides you, who agrees with Deborah Stevenson's interpretation of the CT. education law.

I just wish I could be happy with my children and stop finding myself looking forward to the day my nine year old turns sixteen so I don't have to worry any longer.

Thanks for everything, Judy. :o)