At the New York Times' Room for Debate, one of my Spencer Fellowship advisors, Luis Huerta of Teachers College, has a smart analysis of how the GOP/Tea Party's focus on "parental rights" and homeschooling threatens President Obama's education agenda. In short–as I reported in The Daily Beast last month–focusing on the tiny population of homeschoolers draws the focus away from where it needs to be: tackling the inequalities and shortcomings of our public school system. Luis is right to call it a "culture war":
…the administration will need to confront efforts to co-opt its critically important national education agenda with a fabricated call to preserve parental rights. The culture war incited by a group acting to protect its private interest must be diffused by the preservation of a common good advanced by a democratic schooling system that serves nearly 90 percent of school-age children, and promotes the diverse perspectives and beliefs of a pluralistic democracy.
As Stanford political scientist Rob Reich notes, it's not that tax credits for homeschooling are necessarily bad policy–the problem is that the folks advocating so hard for the credits also resist any and all attempts to regulate the growing homeschooling sector. (It's kind of like how conservatives want corporate interests to benefit from federal tax breaks without any federal oversight.) But there's no doubt that more data-collection and regulation are exactly what homeschooling needs:
The sad and hidden truth about home schooling is that no one knows whether home schooled students are performing well or poorly. We have no shortage of anecdotes – home schoolers who end up at Stanford or who win spelling bees. Astonishingly, however, we know practically nothing about the academic performance of the average home schooler. The studies that grab headlines use a biased and unrepresentative sample of home schoolers.
Want a tax credit to home school? Accept a requirement to register your child as being home schooled and that the child take the same state tests as other public school students. Federal dollars come with strings attached, and these particular strings are in the best interests of children, anyway.