Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The CT Commissioner Of Education Speaks About Homeschooling - And He IS NOT Homeschool Friendly

Mark McQuillan came to CT from Massachusetts to replace Betty Sternberg last year as Education Commissioner. Since the beginning of the year, 30 families who have withdrawn their children to homeschool them have either been threatened with, or have actually been, reported to DCF for educational neglect and/or truancy, and those families who have been reported to DCF for investigation have all ended up as either unsubstantiated, or substantiated and reversed or withdrawn.

There is documented proof that the CT Department of Education is encouraging school superintendents to report families who have decided to withdraw their children from government school to homeschool them. They are essentially breaking the law, as it is illegal to file a false complaint to DCF.

After listening to CT Education Commissioner, Mark McQuillan, on the Brad Davis Radio program on WDRC last week (the last 5 minutes of the interview was about homeschooling and the transcript is below), a few things became crystal clear regarding his comments about homeschooling:

1) He does not know or understand what CT law says
2) He would like to see CT homeschoolers be subjected to the same regulations that Massachusetts is saddled with.
3) He claims that he supports homeschooling - but what he supports is homeschooling under his agency's control.

Anyway, here is the transcript of the Brad Davis Interview from 8/15/07 where CT Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan talks about homeschooling (Discussion about Homeschooling starts at 9:10 into the segment of the audio – total segment is 13:07) :
Brad Davis: Commissioner, uh I have had an awful lot of complaints in fact I did a whole program one Saturday on it. uh I love homeschooling, I think this is tremendous and I have heard from parents, I’ve had some folks on the program who are very critical of uh your department of superintendents who give them, as one parent said, such a hard time when they withdraw their child from school for homeschooling and uh is this true? uh Are you satisfied with homeschooling?

Mark McQuillan: Well, as someone who administered a homeschooling program in Massachusetts I’ve found that uh um for the most part the homeschooling um parents are very conscientious about what they want to do. There’s an entire nationwide network uh that supports homeschoolers. They have a strong, very traditional curriculum um it’s faith based in many instances which is not consistent with public school, but it’s a homeschool choice that parents make. um I have seen extraordinary things that come about from homeschooling I think it’s again it’s an option for parents to pursue, and I think the only obligation that the state has in this regard is to make certain that the the quality of the program is in place and that a plan is in place so that the parents um actually do what they say they will do and it’s in instances when they don’t uh that we have to be worried that in fact uh there’s not the adequate education being provided to the student so at least from my perspective it’s uh from the regulatory authority of the state is simply to monitor what’s going on and in the instance if it’s, and I don’t think it is widespread, if there is an instance of a of a problem that that that the student isn’t getting enough time, or if after an assessment at the end of the year they’re showing that they are not making progress towards grade level then we may have to ask for a better look see at how the plan is being carried out and in some cases if it isn’t being carried out, then insist that the student be enrolled in public school. We have an obligation under the law to educate all children and I think we have an obligation to allow parents to to um carry out their their prerogative on homeschooling, but the issue that it’s kind of a small uh window of if its not doing well then we have to uh get involved.

Brad Davis: Then you’re not against, you’re not against homeschooling then.

Mark McQuillan: No I’m Not.

Brad Davis: Oh that’s that’s good you see that’s that’s why I am glad you are on the program to clear up some of these things.

Mark McQuillan: No, No, I’m actually not. I, I think that it’s a choice and I think that most of these issues like preschool and like homeschooling these are choices that parents make and I think the issue is that you get so much better results when parents are actively involved in their decision making around schools that that then they take uh special care to see that their children are getting the kind of education that you need. I do think that the the uh the evidence on homeschooling is that it’s very positive in most cases and I think that’s why I, I have no quarrel with it. I always think that the public schools can do as good a job, but not necessarily do the parents and I think they should exercise the right uh to to homeschool if they want. It’s a real uh I’ve often said to the families that have done it is that this is an extraordinary sacrifice that you’re making for your children and I support that uh commitment to your children that um having met with so many families who uh have had homeschooling, these are predominately military families when I worked in in Massachusetts, uh you know this is an extraordinary commitment and an act of giving I think that a mother would make, and in some cases a father would make, to provide that kind of structured program for their child all day.

Brad Davis: Commissioner of Education here in Connecticut, Mark Mcquillan our first conversation. uh Commissioner thank you so much for being with me this morning.

Mark McQuillan: ok thank you

So here is the story, much of which I said in rebuttal to the Commissioner's comments when I was asked to appear on radio on the Brad Davis show on Friday 8/17/07:

Currently homeschoolers in CT are free to educate their children. It is their duty and obligation to do so. They have been able to do that since the inception of Connecticut as a colony. According to the interview on WDRC, Commissioner McQuillan wants to insure that we submit education plans, that we are monitored and that our children are assessed at the end of the year. This not only stifles home schooling, and places unnecessary burdens upon parents and children but it interferes with parental rights according to current statute - and most of all it is a costly endeavor which will siphon more money away from public education just so the Department of Education can control, monitor, and assess homeschoolers. That is something they do not even do with private schools!

Homeschoolers in CT are excelling - and the system that we have in place is not broken. It works just fine and we have had no problems other than the Department of Education trying to increase their control and falsely reporting families to DCF for investigation (another huge cost to the state!). The CT homeschooling community does not want to have the people who are in charge of failing government schools tell us what we need to do. We take our current obligation to educate our children very seriously and we have a huge network of homeschoolers across the state to help any family accomplish their homeschooling goals.

We do not need to be like Massachusetts and we do not need regulations that are unnecessary and costly to the state and local governments. We know that once they start putting in regulations for one thing or another, there will be more regulations to come. Yet, the Department of Education does not even follow the laws that we currently have in place!

The Commissioner's claim is that the state needs to know how our children are being educated - yet they currently have a statute in place that allows them to identify how all children in any given district are being educated and they do not even comply with that statute! That's the Enumeration statute (CGS 10-249) which require boards of education to maintain a census of children in each school district and keep records of their identity, age and where they are being educated. Parents can be fined if they don't share that information when asked. The fine for not providing that information is $25 - not a referral to DCF!

Currently the Department of Education is treating the Notice of Intent form as a mandatory filing, which it is not. Filing the Notice of Intent form is part of a "suggested procedure" only. Parents have a choice to file it or not. Some parents choose to file it and others do not. That is as it should be. The Department of Education is coercing families to file this document under threat of a referral to DCF, and even some families who have filed an NOI have been reported to DCF anyway. It is also ludicrous to believe that filing this document, or any other document, will guarantee the education of a child or prevention of child abuse.

The Commissioner also claimed that he and his agency has an "obligation under the law to educate all children" Actually state law - our state Constitution - does not say that at all! What the state is mandated to do, as was brought out by the Sheff vs. O'Neill lawsuit, was that the state must provide an equal opportunity to receive an adequate education. That's it. Additionally, the state has nothing whatsoever to do with educating all children... only those enrolled in their system.

One thing is for certain - This commissioner is bad news and is not a friend to the homeschooling community, and thousands of homeschoolers in CT now know that.