Did you know? 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. 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 school system has proven 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"?
Let us explain.
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 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. We won't even get into the whole aspect of whether the kids are learning anything or not, which is really supposed to be the goal and intent of it all together.
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? Even in a local middle school where they may "team teach" - even though the social studies/history curriculum may be the Civil War, you may have one team focusing in on the slavery aspect and another team focusing in on the battles and another team talking about the politics of the war...all three teams are teaching the same subject but the kids are clearly getting different education in this subject. Is this "equivalent instruction"?
Sheff v. O'Neill
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 earlier this year (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.
Know The Code
In Connecticut, our statutes require the state to provide "equal educational opportunities" for all children in the public school. The law does not provide that all children in the public school are required to be provided with "equal education." Read your state statutes carefully for what they actually do require. Don't believe what someone else tells you that they mean, especially if the person telling you what they mean is a public school official.
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.
There are some states that are trying to put in place a standardized, one size fits all
curriculum. Rhode Island is one such state. Although it will not be mandatory, state educators
say most school districts will embrace a common curriculum because they are desperate for
guidance. Even so, in this article they admit that the curriculum will not be equivalent across
the board. This article is further proof of what we have been saying.
R.I. learning plan to be put to test
One Size Doesn't Fit All
What we are trying to point out here is that 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.
The end goal of any educational system should be for the child to be a well rounded, well informed, able to think, independent being. Equivalent instruction does not and cannot exist. Material always has and always will be taught and presented in different ways and absorbed in different ways. No child will learn everything and certainly no one can teach everything.
Parents who instruct their children at home do so in order to design individual curricula, set goals, and allow the children to master what they can according to their individual needs and abilities. Almost any public school teacher will concede that a method of instruction that is specifically designed to meet the needs of the child and that is provided by one on one instruction is vastly superior to a method of instruction that is designed to meet the needs generically of twenty to thirty members of a classroom who are all taught at the same time in a group by a single teacher. That certainly cannot ever be deemed to be equivalent to the instruction provided by parents in the home.
An additional argument regarding "equivalency" is also offered below. You might try to use it when speaking with anyone who advocates compelling parents to provide "equivalent instruction."
Comparison - Class v. Individual
Which method do you think is better for providing education for the student?
|Column A||Column B|
|One teacher per one student||One teacher per twenty-six students|
|Students choosing reading material to suit their interest||A teacher choosing reading material that must be read by all students|
|A curriculum that is designed to meet the needs of the individual student||Individual students who are required to meet the needs of the curriculum|
|The ability to immediately discard a textbook that does not explain the material effectively for an individual student's learning style and to immediately replace it with a textbook that does explain the material effectively||Waiting from one to five years to have the ability to discard a textbook that does not explain the material effectively for an individual student's learning style and to replace it with a textbook that does explain the material effectively|
|The ability to obtain different textbooks for different students at the same grade level who have different learning styles||Students with different learning styles at the same grade level who are required to use the same textbooks|
|The ability to study at time when the student is most well rested and motivated to learn whatever the time of day or night||The student being required to learn at pre-scheduled times of the day whether or not the student is well rested or motivated|
|The ability to continue studying a subject uninterrupted until the student has completely absorbed the information and the student's interest has peaked||The student being required to halt studying the subject after 43 minutes or a similarly pre-scheduled time whether or not the student has completely absorbed the information or the student's interest has peaked|
|The ability of a student to study several subjects during the day or night for as long a period as the student needs in order to absorb the information||The student being required to study several subjects during the day for only 43 minutes per subject or for some other pre-scheduled time|
|The ability of a student to interact with people of varying ages, intellects, and abilities throughout the day in varying locations within the community||The student being required to interact primarily with other students of the same age throughout the day in only one building|
|The ability of a student at any to enhance his educational by accessing resources in the community including museum workshops, internships, and college courses for as long as the student desires||The student being required to be of a certain age and/or grade level to access resources in the community for only limited periods of time and only after approval by administrators or committees|
|The ability of a student at any age to pursue in depth the courses of his interest without interruption||The student being required to study courses in which he has no interest and possibly no ability|
|The ability of a student at any age to advance as quickly or as slowly from grade to grade as his individual needs dictate||The student being required to advance from grade to grade at the same time as others of his same age despite the student's individual needs|
|The ability of a student to obtain individual instruction in an area of weakness for extended and unlimited amounts of time until the weakness is ameliorated||The student being able to obtain only a limited amount of individual instruction to ameliorate a weakness|
|The ability of a special needs student to immediately obtain special education and related services that the parent chooses as appropriate for the child||The ability of a special needs student to obtain special education and related services only after approval by a committee as the committee deems appropriate for the child|
|The ability of a student to learn the moral values of the student's family while being educated in academics||The student being required to learn the values of those in charge of adopting the curricula for the students and learning the values of peers without adult input|
|The ability of a student to have bullying behavior halted immediately by supervising parents and the ability of the student not to further associate with the student who committed the bullying||The student who was the victim of bullying having to undergo peer mediation and having to continue to associate with the student who committed the bullying|
|The ability of a student to behave as religiously or as patriotically as he desires while learning||The requirement that a student does not express his religion or patriotism while learning if it is not considered politically correct|
Which of those methods would you prefer for your child - the methods in Column A or the methods in Column B? Which of those methods is more likely to increase the success of an individual student? Which of those methods is superior?
If you chose Column A, you chose the method used by parents who instruct their own children. Parents have used this method since time immemorial. The parents of our founding fathers used this method. It has a proven track record of success. It also makes sense. Additionally, parents today simply have more resources to access than in years before, and this fact makes it an even more effective method of education.
The method used in Column B has been used only since the 1800's. It is the method used by the public school system in this country. It was imported by people who observed the Prussian education model. (For more information see John Taylor Gatto's book, "The Underground History of American Education")
This method has a proven track record, too. Only the proven track record of this method is not success. The proven track record of this method is failure. Everyone knows the public school system in this country has failed students. Public school system advocates each year continue to fix the failure with a variety of methods, most of which involve more taxpayer dollars, more standardization (not individual flexibility), and more government regulation.
So far, the additional money, standardization, and regulation have been of no avail. Reforms that have been made which include aspects of column A have had some success.
As a small proof, try this for a test:
Take the following words to the local public school and ask in what grade the vocabulary and spelling of those words would be taught:
After they tell you, you may or may not want to let them know that those words are taken from the New England Primer, the first textbook printed in America, introduced in Boston in 1690. For the first 100 years after its introduction, the New England Primer was the beginning book for students from which the founding fathers and all students began to learn to read. In other words, those words would have been taught in what we now call kindergarten or first grade.
So why then, all over this country, do parents continue to submit to the illogical thinking that they must be required to have parental instruction become "equivalent" to public school instruction?
Why should parents who already are providing a superior education to their children bow to the pressures of those who have so miserably failed in operating the public school system and succumb to providing "equivalent instruction"?
"Equivalent instruction" in reality is "inferior instruction" for parents who have chosen to instruct their own children. Why should parents stand for this?
Parents have been conditioned into thinking what the purveyors of public schooling have wanted them to think - that those in charge of the public school are the only ones who know how to educate children successfully. Therefore, parents necessarily provide inferior instruction, must be overseen by public school authorities, and must be made to provide education that is "equivalent".
Don't be duped anymore.
The education the public school purveyors provide should not be emulated. It should be eradicated. Public 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 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 school instruction is not superior. Public 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?
We need to stop this illogical mindset from its pervasiveness in our society. We need to stand up for what is right and for what makes sense. Take Column A and Column B and educate all those in positions of power. Educate your legislators, educate your pediatricians, and educate the professionals that the public schools rely upon - the psychologists and psychiatrists. Educate as many people as you can.
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.
Director of Research, NHELD
Posted November 11, 2004