By San Antonio Express-News
The tragic case of Mark Anthony Conditt, the 23-year-old serial bomber who terrorized the Austin area for weeks before committing suicide, has brought close scrutiny of his short life and his education as a home-schooled student.
While it has prompted some unwarranted finger pointing, the incident has brought about a much needed public conversation about home-schooling education and its lack of regulation in Texas.
The notion that Conditt’s education had anything to do with motives that resulted in two deaths and four injuries is unmerited. There are well over 325,000 home-schooled students in the state and an estimated 1.7 million home-schooled students across the country. An entire population cannot be painted with one broad stroke.
Some argue that if there were more regulation and oversight for home-schooled students, maybe a teacher or a medical professional would have spotted warnings signs of his anti-social behavior, but there are no such guarantees.
We’ve done no tally, but we’re betting that a substantial number of killers — mass, or not — emerged from traditional public schools. Shall we blame their schools for their misdeeds? No.
Home schooling, as with all education, has its pluses and minuses. Any derision Conditt has brought on home schooling is undeserved, yet we nonetheless welcome the attention this incident has drawn to this type of private education. It is far too unregulated.
The Texas Home School Coalition takes pride in Texas being one of the least-regulated state in the country, the Express-News reports. Regrettably the fact parents are responsible for curriculum does not mean it is all good.
The state imposes only three requirements for parent seeking to provide their children with home schooling. The law mandates that instruction cannot be a sham, it has to be visual with the support of books or video monitors, and the course of study must cover reading, spelling, grammar, math and good citizenship.
That provides much discretion and flexibility on instruction time and rigor. There are no minimum educational requirements for those providing the instruction and there is no state testing to ensure students are learning.
In choosing home schooling, many parents cite student safety and a desire to keep their children away from drugs and negative peer pressure. Other factors include a dissatisfaction with the quality of public school instruction and wanting to provide a curriculum that includes moral and religious instruction. And sometimes the reasons for home schooling include a desire to provide a nontraditional education for a child with special needs or mental health problems.
Certainly, there can be quality home schooling. This generally includes membership in a network made up of those who provide home-school instruction. Members of these networks provide support for one another and opportunities for enrichment activities through sports, clubs and other activities. Some home-school education may also include online classes.
The exact number of Texas children being home-schooled is unknown. The lack of state oversight means there is no official tracking of students being home-schooled — or their completion rates.
We hear many of the success stories regarding home-schooled students who excel in national student competitions and go on to earn professional degrees. But who is holding accountable the parents who fail to provide their children with the education to prepare them for a post-high school education or to enter the workforce?
The appeal an almost totally unregulated private school education option has for some parents is understandable, but playing fields are not always level.
Some minimum checks and balances are necessary to ensure all Texas children receive the education they deserve — even in home schooling.