Homeschooling Laws (or Lack Thereof) in New Jersey-Are Children Slipping through the Cracks?

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

There is no doubt that homeschooling has many benefits, including providing one-on-one instruction, individualized pacing, and the chance for the student to earn college credits before college begins. However, not every homeschooled child has the luxury of learning in an environment that fosters academics. In fact, some homeschooled students may not be getting an education at all.

The homeschooling requirements in New Jersey, specifically, are among the most relaxed in the United States. New Jersey has no statute that specifically addresses homeschooling and there is only one statute that even hints at a requirement - stating that a child have an "equivalent" education.1 But homeschooled students in New Jersey are not required to take standardized tests. As a result, the statutory language has no practical application to ensure that children are in fact receiving an adequate education. With the lack of any explicit statutory language addressing homeschooling, the absence of standardized testing of homeschoolers in New Jersey, and the non-uniform nature of learning environments that this creates, the conclusion is unmistakable - there has been a home-schooling free-fall in New Jersey.

II. THE LAW

New Jersey Statutes Annotated §18A: 38-25, states as follows:

Every parent, guardian or other person having custody and control of a child between the ages of 6 and 16 years shall cause such child regularly to attend the public schools of the district or a day school in which there is given instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools for children of similar grades and attainments or to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school.1

This relaxed language, without any quantifiable criteria, does not give any real guidance to parents, students, or regulators. Since not all formal schools are created equal, which New Jersey school should a homeschooled student look to as a model for this equivalent instruction? Does equivalent instruction mean simply to go over the same or similar material that the student would cover in a public school? How is the state ensuring the "equivalent" requirement is being met if there are no requirements in terms of subject matter? Whereas public school students have strict educational requirements to meet in order to graduate, under this statute, children who are homeschooled are lost. There is no definition of "equivalent," nor is there a method to check a child's status as to this instruction. As a result, it is impossible to ensure homeschooled children are truly receiving the education they deserve.

III. REQUIREMENTS IN NEW JERSEY: HOMESCHOOL V. PUBLIC SCHOOL

The discrepancy in academic requirements of a homeschooled student as compared to one who attends public school is astounding. To graduate high school, public school students are required to receive and pass the following: 20 credits of language arts, 15 credits of math, 15 credits of science, 15 credits of social studies, and 2.5 credits in economics.1 Public school students are tested and graded to ensure that they understand the subject matter. For homeschooled students, however, there are no required subjects and the statute simply "speaks in terms of instruction."4

Coupled with this lack of quantifiable requirements for homeschooled students in New Jersey, the absence of any formal standards for those providing this "equivalent instruction" only exacerbates the problem. A public school teacher must complete high school, earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year college, complete a student teaching placement, meet New Jersey licensing requirements, and pass the New Jersey licensing exam.5 However, a parent who wants to homeschool a child is not required to obtain a license or any degree at all.6

In the leading case, State v. Massa,1 the court reasoned, "perhaps the New Jersey legislature intended the word equivalent to mean taught by a certified teacher elsewhere than at school. …