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Alberta NDP gvmt on homeschooling: ‘We will be assessing how to move forward’

A remark by Education Minister David Eggen left some groups wondering about the NDP's intentions.
Thu Aug 25, 2016 - 10:44 am EST
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EDMONTON, Alberta, August 25, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Alberta Education Minister David Eggen has triggered concern and suspicion among the province’s homeschoolers with a seemingly chance remark that “research needs to be done to determine how well they do at the post-secondary level.”  

Though the one-line comment at the end of the Lethbridge Herald’s mostly upbeat interview with Eggen did not even merit a direct quote from the  minister, the newspaper’s paraphrase was enough to prompt Sheila Gunn Reid of The Rebel web-based news and commentary site into warning that the New Democratic government cannot be trusted to do impartial research.

“He’s looking,” she declared, “for a reason to curb homeschool funding and rein in families that homeschool. Clearly he wants to discourage it as an education choice. We know … that the NDP aren’t fans of parental choice in education.”

Nor is Gunn alone in her concern. Brian Coldwell, the chairman of the Christian school board that supervises 1,200 homeschoolers, believes “the New Democrats are so integrated with the Alberta Teachers Association they can’t help but be affected by the ATA’s desire to defund all private schools and create a monopoly for the public school system and their own teachers’ union.”

But did Eggen say, as Gunn suggests, that the Alberta government intended to study how homeschoolers do in post-secondary education? Patti Marler, the Alberta Home Education Association’s government liaison, told LifeSiteNews that she has heard no such thing. “This thing in the Lethbridge Herald is the first I’ve heard.”

But Marler added that the New Democrats also said nothing about changing the province’s permissive homeschool regime in the last election campaign, which brought it to power. What’s more, Eggen has assured homeschoolers he has no plans to change Alberta’s homeschooling regime.

LifeSiteNews asked Eggen press secretary Larissa Liepins if a study was in the works. She did no more than admit what was on the record. “We have not made any changes to the homeschool program or its funding. Minister Eggen has expressed interest in this topic and we will be assessing how to move forward.”

Coldwell told LifeSiteNews that the Lethbridge Herald was probably motivated to ask about homeschooling by public school superintendents in South Alberta (around Lethbridge) who “raise the issue every fall about whether the Mennonite homeschoolers are getting a good enough education.” Indeed, the Herald ran a story in June relating the concerns of two school officials about “Low German Mennonites” who are mostly farmers.

One public trustee told the Herald: “Many of them are being used for child labour for babysitting, or housecleaning, either at home or for other people. Some of them have jobs. I know some are employed by rural businesses in southern Alberta.” He added, “There’s no accountability whether they are getting any school work done. Or if they are getting it done, how well are they doing it?”

But Coldwell insists there is accountability with most Mennonite homeschoolers. “They are associated with local Christian school boards.” In Alberta’s liberal system, private Christian (or Muslim, Jewish or secular) private school boards can take supervisory responsibility for homeschoolers. In Coldwell’s board’s case, “We send out certified teachers on two visits a year” to some 1,200 homeschoolers.

But Coldwell is adamant that “there is already plenty of research indicating homeschool students do very well in post-secondary education.” As for Mennonites, “They are not very interested in that. They live conservative lives, are largely self-employed, and with good reason are very suspicious of secular colleges and universities.”

Paul Faris of the Ontario-based Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada told LifeSiteNews that “the research indicates homeschoolers do as well or better than public school graduates across a range of  measures such as socialization, community involvement, and academic success.”

Asked what the HSLDA is defending against, Faris said, “Ignorance.” First, people historically believed that homeschooling is illegal. Second, there is an attitude that homeschooling is inferior. The reason that homeschooling actually produces better results, Faris said, is that “homeschooling parents tend to be more intentional about their children’s education. The movies they take them to, the field trips, the friends they seek out for them, everything they do, they put more thought into.”

A U.S. study of 20,000 homeschoolers showed them to be achieving well above public school levels not only academically but in terms of socialization and community involvement. But participation in the study was voluntary and subjects were recruited from a subset of homeschoolers who submit to regular standardized testing, meaning the study could be skewed because those homeschoolers whose children were doing better would be more likely to participate.

A more recent Canadian study, comparing 37 homeschoolers with 37 public schoolers revealed an interesting distinction between those who followed a strict and standardized curriculum and those who called themselves “unschoolers” and avoided a fixed program.

The researcher, Sandra Martin-Chang of Montreal’s Concordia University, found the structured homeschoolers did much better than public schoolers, and “unschoolers” did slightly worse than public schoolers but not enough for the difference to be statistically significant.

A 2009 study led by Deani Van Pelt, Fifteen Years Later: Home-Educated Canadian Adults, compared 226 young adult Canadian homeschool graduates with the same-age group in the general population, finding a quarter as many dropped out before completing high school, a slightly smaller proportion achieved high school graduation or “some” trades experience, but a third more had some college education, 20 percent had qualified in a trade and 25 percent secured bachelor’s degrees. The same proportion of the two groups had graduate degrees.

According to the study, homeschoolers were more than twice as likely to be involved in sports or the arts and twice as likely to be employed in the social sciences or health fields while much less likely to be in sales and even less so in manufacturing, the hard sciences, or the resource industries.

Homeschoolers also were much more religious than the general population, twice as likely to have voted in a federal election, more likely to belong to a political party, and less likely to be a union member.

Homeschool incomes were about 10 percent higher than those of the same age group in the general population and homeschool grads rated themselves about 50 percent happier than their age peers in the general population.

Coldwell told LifeSiteNews that while all governments have to be watched, the New Democrats must be watched even more “because of their tie-in with the ATA. They want a monopoly. They never stop trying to defund or abolish any education that isn’t being done by ATA.”

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  alberta ndp, brian coldwell, david eggen, homeschooling, new democratic party canada, sheila gunn reid

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