2019 Bill Watch – Kindergarten and Compulsory School Age

IAHE and IAHE Action continue to work with legislators to promote a parent’s right to educate their child at home and to act in the best interest of the child. We believe that all efforts to lower the Compulsory School Age should be stopped and with your help will make sure our elected officials in Indianapolis hear our voices.

Every year the IAHE and IAHE Action watch as legislators are asked once again to lower the compulsory school age. The 2019 session is no different.

Currently, in Indiana, the compulsory school age is seven. However, House Bill 1408 and Senate Bill 318 recommend lowering it to five. House Bill 1089 proposes allowing four-year-olds to attend school; however, it is not asking for mandatory enrollment at this age.

The IAHE and IAHE Action believe that parents are the best people to decide if a child is ready for formal education.

Many teachers and school administrators complain about the increase in student behavioral issues (ADD, ADHD etc.) and we can’t help but wonder if they should consider whether this is a result of formal education simply starting too early.

While this might appear to be a public school issue, experience tells us the government paves with a very broad brush, and these changes will eventually force home educators to start educating their children at an earlier age.

Just a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a member of the House Education Committee. He told me there was data suggesting some kids would benefit from an earlier start. But, the fact is that there is research on both sides of the issue.

A recent Harvard study highlighted many of the problems associated with early school enrollment: “researchers discovered that children who start school as among the youngest in their grade have a much greater likelihood of getting an ADHD diagnosis than older children in their grade. In fact, for the U.S. states studied with a September 1st enrollment cut-off date, children born in August were 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older peers.”

The first obvious problem is that kindergarten is already available for students voluntarily. That leaves a small number, maybe 7,000 children, across the state who aren’t enrolling in kindergarten already.

Fans of lowering the compulsory school age claim that 5,000 of these children are “at risk.” Now you’re probably wondering, what does “at risk” mean? As best we can tell it means they are being serviced by the Department of Child Services, Correction Services, Family and Social Services, or the juvenile justice system.

Proponents of lowering the Compulsory School Age claim that children starting school earlier leads to improved educational outcomes. However, an analysis by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute of a study cited by many advocates of lowering the age shows it relies on data from an “unpublished draft.”

This “data” cited by proponents seems to be a mirage.

Homeschoolers are often more relaxed in their approach to early education since they have a flexibility that is not available in the public school system. If a homeschool student is not ready for a concept, a parent can wait a bit and circle back to it at a later date. Parents know that by waiting to address an issue when the child is ready, they can learn the concept much more quickly. Waiting did not hurt but helped.

Our children are not “cookie cutter” kids. Some will be ready for a “formal” education earlier than others. We also see a more relaxed approach resulting in high levels of success in Finland’s school system. (((citation))) Compulsory school age is seven, playtime is beneficial, and the love of learning for learning’s sake is emphasized over assessments. Learning is (or should be) fun for young children!

IAHE and IAHE Action continue to work with legislators to promote a parent’s right to educate their child at home and to act in the best interest of the child. We believe that all efforts to lower the Compulsory School Age should be stopped and with your help will make sure our elected officials in Indianapolis hear our voices.

How can you help?

Let your legislators know that you don’t want to see the compulsory school age lowered.

Senate: Education and Career Development Committee

House: Education Committee

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What Do You Mean Kindergarten Isn’t Mandatory in Indiana?

Kindergarten isn’t mandatory in Indiana, but almost all children in Indiana already begin kindergarten at age 5. It is so common to start school at age 5 that most people assume that kindergarten is mandatory when a child is eligible.

Indiana educators are now pushing to lower the compulsory school age to 5. (It’s also being called “mandatory kindergarten,” but that’s a bit of a misnomer because most children who do not enter school at age 5 do not skip kindergarten; they just start kindergarten at a later age).

Currently, children in Indiana must begin school at age 7. The compulsory school age was set at age 7 for a reason, and lowering it now will not result in any educational improvement. Right now, parents can decide if their under-age-7 children are ready for school. If the compulsory school age is lowered, parents will no longer have that right.

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” – Mark Twain

You’ve probably heard variations of the above quote. I was reminded of it again and again during the years I was a public-school teacher. The quote refers to something that’s also called the law of the instrument. This truism states that there is a natural human tendency to be over-dependent on their narrow skill-sets and resources. In other words, if you’re used to using a particular tool, you’ll use it to solve any problem, even if another solution would be much better. That’s what happens in education time after time. 

The hammer of the public-school system is wielded as the sole tool of education.

That hammer has been in use for a hundred years, and for a while the people even largely forgot that there was any other way to become educated.

Comments and Actions Reflect a Strong Bias Against Parents and Parental Rights

Proponents of lowering the compulsory school age have a tool – the public-school system – and they view it as the only correct way to educate a child. They act shocked (“appalled”) that children are not already required to attend a brick-and-mortar school at age 5. Some of the comments made by those pushing this bill are disturbingly anti-parent.

“McCormick said the state needs to send a strong message that kids need to be in some sort of structured educational environment by the time they’re 5 years old.”

No evidence is offered for placing a child in a structured educational environment by the time they’re 5. As I will detail later, on the balance studies do not show a need for structured, formal education at age 5, and in fact there are many studies showing that structure can be harmful in early childhood development.

Exactly what do proponents of lowering the compulsory school age view as a “structured educational environment?” I doubt most home school kindergarten environments would qualify in the eyes of those who wield the hammer of the institution of public school. Many homeschooling parents make a distinction between “homeschool” and “school at home,” and intentionally avoid the latter.

Despite thousands of years of homeschool tradition, and hundreds in our nation, parents are no longer trusted with their natural ability to educate their own child – even parents of 4-to-5-year-old children. Comments from proponents of lowering the compulsory school age reveal their ignorance, dismissal, or contempt for the parent’s right and ability to educate their child.

It turns out that the evidence supports thousands of years of tradition – children who are with their parents and caregivers are better off.

“[C]ontrolled for child functioning prior to school entry, child gender, and measures of family and child care experiences through the first 4.5 years of life before we assessed the impact of entry age on child development….greater maternal sensitivity and greater child care quality predict better social and academic functioning in the early elementary school years;”

Who is in the best position to decide their child’s educational pathway? The parent.

But, against best evidence and tradition, the proponents of lowering the compulsory school age are ready to step in and force parents to put their child in school at a lower age. If your child’s educational model doesn’t fit into their view of what is correct, they’re willing to hammer your child down into place by forcing earlier compulsory schooling.

First pre-K was pushed. Proponents of lowering the compulsory school age use pre-K as an excuse to push for structured kindergarten, mandatory at age 5.

How long will it be until they are also forcing your children into whatever it is they deem a “structured environment?”

Shouldn’t we all be asking what’s really best for the child?

Are proponents of lowering the compulsory school age operating with your child’s best interest in mind, or are they pushing their own preconceived agenda? Who do you think is an in a better place to decide what a 5-year-old child is ready for – the child’s own parent, or a state law that applies universally to all children?

Is it better, on average, to begin formal school at an older or younger age? There are studies that support both sides of the debate, but the consensus is that there is a small benefit to entering school at an older age.

“In sum, over and above experiences at home and in child care, the age that children entered school showed some modest relation to school achievement, especially growth in achievement, with children who entered school at an older age progressing faster than children who started school at a somewhat younger age…”

This large, well-designed study is contrary to the agenda being pushed by proponents of lowering the compulsory school age. 

Proponents of lowering the compulsory school age should have a responsibility to properly demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between a lowered compulsory school age and long-term benefits for children into adulthood.[i]

They have not shown this evidence. So far, as stated above, the sum of the research shows the opposite: A lowered compulsory school age does not result in long-term benefits.

Why are educators so keen to force this on the people of Indiana without evidence to show that it will improve education?

The Problem is Vastly Overstated

There are parents who decide that it’s best to delay a child’s entry into public school. This happens for many reasons.

It’s wrong to automatically assume that a child who doesn’t attend public-school kindergarten when eligible will be “behind” if the child is subsequently placed into public school. There are many reasons why a concerned parent might choose alternative education, or to delay education altogether for a young child.

Some parents simply place the child in kindergarten a year later than the child is eligible. Most of those children would be placed in kindergarten, not first grade, as the idea behind delaying kindergarten was to allow a child to catch up to peers.

Some children attend private school for kindergarten. Private school tuition costs could be manageable for kindergarten, but once the price increases steeply for first grade, it becomes unaffordable for more families.

Some children are homeschooled for kindergarten.

Parents choose these options for many reasons, but part of it is in response to the changing nature of kindergarten. Parents are doing what they can do fix the problems that the education system is creating by forcing longer days and tougher curriculum on five-year-old children who are not all developmentally ready.

“It’s not just a question of when do you start kindergarten, but what do you do in those kindergarten classes? If you make kindergarten the new first grade, then parents may sensibly decide to delay entry. If kindergarten is not the new first grade, then parents may not delay children’s entries as much.”

No one knows how many parents are choosing the above options, or which options they’re choosing. Those who want to lower the compulsory school age have tossed out numbers from 118 to 7000. What is the real number? Common sense, history, and the fact that the overwhelming majority of Hoosiers (even lawmakers!) are surprised to hear that the compulsory school age isn’t already 5 tell us that the number of children is probably very small.

What to Do?

First, lawmakers need to understand that miracles do not accompany increased schooling.

I don’t think anyone is arguing against the fact that public schools are in decline. We’re all watching it happen.

Do we want more of a bad thing?

No, and it shows. Parents are increasingly demanding alternatives. We don’t want to use the hammer. We have better tools.

Our state has public schools to educate those children whose parents are unwilling or unable to do so. The state’s primary concern should be providing the education it is authorized to provide, and doing it well.

“Having expected miracles from increased schooling, the public has no choice but to live with the limitations of education. … [I]n seeking to free rather than imprison the child, promote growth rather than stunt it, and foster individual welfare rather than harm it, not only the quality of schools but also the quality of the society in which young people are growing up must be improved.”[ii]

Lowering the compulsory school age is a mistake. The state should focus its efforts on doing what it can to fix our public schools.

 

 

[i] Ray, Brian D. (2009). Is there any solid evidence for expanding compulsory school age? Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute.

[ii] https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED119389.pdf Katz, Michael S., A History of Compulsory Education Laws. Fastback Series, No. 75. Bicentennial Series. Phi Delta Kappa, Bloomington, Ind. 1976. Available at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED119389.pdf, last accessed December 10, 2017.

 

Lisa Yankey is a happy homeschooling mom of three, but she never expected to homeschool. Teaching runs in her blood – she is a former public school teacher, and her mother, father, and brother are all former public school teachers. During her childhood and as a teacher herself, she recognized many issues in public school. She went to law school at night in a long-term plan to help improve public schools. She used to believe that every child could receive a good and appropriate education from public school. She realized the error of this belief when she watched her own child suffering in public school. She began homeschooling shortly after her oldest child had a disastrous start to public school first grade, and she has never looked back.

Lisa serves as a member of the IAHE Action Government Affairs team. She kept her career as a part-time attorney and works for herself as a sole practitioner, with a practice area in immigration law. She is known particularly for her representation of victims of domestic abuse. She continues teaching adults as a speaker on immigration law at continuing legal education events for fellow lawyers. Lisa resides in Noblesville, Indiana (Hamilton County). with her husband, three children, two dogs, and a cat. 

IAHE ACTION is a 501c4 organization. Donations are not tax deductible. It is funded by our generous donors.

Lowering Compulsory School Age and Mandatory Kindergarten; Oh, my!

In the past week, the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, has called for legislation during the 2018 session of the Indiana General Assembly to lower the compulsory school age to six and to make kindergarten mandatory. The Democrats attempted to push similar legislation in 2015 that would have lowered the compulsory school age.

Are Your Children Missing?

She states that the government via public education is “missing a big chunk of kids.” We must never forget the original purpose for Common Schools (government-run schools). According to E.G. West, the author of Education and the State, public education’s purpose is to serve those who chose not to take responsibility for educating their own children.

As our sister organization, Indiana Association of Home Educators (IAHE), has noted on their blog, many are frustrated by the public schools and have decided to educate their own children.  Could these be some of the “missing chunk” of children?  IAHE has noticed what appears to be a large influx into the homeschool community as noted by calls and inquiries they receive about home education. They took a survey to see why parents had decided to remove their child from a traditional school setting to home school.

At-risk Families Put All Families At Risk

The Tribune Star article about the call for mandatory kindergarten states, [Indiana] “has 7,000 children who don’t take advantage of kindergarten, and of those, 5,000 are considered at-risk, she said. When they start formal schooling, those children face many disadvantages.” In case you are wondering the type of children who are “at-risk”, they may be children who are served by the Department of Child Services, Family and Social Services, the Department of Corrections, or the juvenile justice system.  

Unfortunately, if the compulsory school age is lowered and kindergarten becomes mandatory to force these families to put their child in school at an earlier age, it will affect homeschoolers, too. Government typically paints with a broad brush. Homeschoolers will be forced to begin formal education at an earlier age.

Homeschoolers take the view that education begins at birth, although they may not begin “formal” education until years later. Currently, in Indiana, that is age seven. A number of legislators have bemoaned the fact that there is a “gap” between pre-school and age seven and have hoped to close it.

Could Delayed “Formal” Education Actually Be Beneficial?

In a review of recent ISTEP scores, it appears a number of scores dropped between grades 3-8 and grade 10. Is it true in your area? Check out the results here. Could it be many students are burnt out with formal education and have lost their love of learning?

Homeschoolers are often more relaxed in their approach to education since they have a flexibility that is not available in the public school. If a homeschool student is not ready for a concept, a parent can wait a bit and circle back to it at a later date. Many parents have noticed that when the child is ready, they are able to learn the concept much more quickly. Waiting did not hurt but helped.  Our children are not “cookie cutter” kids. Some may be ready for a “formal” education earlier than others. We believe it is best to allow a fit parent to decide.

We see a more relaxed approach is used in schools of Finland.  It appears to be helpful to those students as well.  Compulsory school age is seven, and playtime is important. The love of learning for learning’s sake is fostered. There is not an emphasis on assessments. Learning is (or should be) fun for children!

In closing, IAHE keeps abreast of Indiana homeschool trends. They currently have a survey posted for those who chose to delay formal education until age seven. Check it out if this pertains to you.