So this PBS article is an exposé on how the state of Texas is cheating on its dropout numbers to the point of where some schools have listed zero dropouts. While this finding is understandably embarrassing to Texas education officials, and likely infuriating to Texas parents and students who have worked hard to have that diploma and rightly believe it should mean something, this brings up another issue closer to home for me: homeschooling is being used as the preferred method of cheating.

Obviously this is not okay. It’s a huge problem to have homeschooling serve as this kind of a loophole. It reduces credibility and sends too many “homeschooled” students out into the world who can both be expected to reflect badly on the concept of homeschooling, and consigns too many young people to struggle as human beings with a sub-par education.

It is unconscionable that underperforming public schools are being systematically hidden by this “private school” option in Texas. I wonder how many other states have a similar issue. Unfortunately I already know from personal experience and research that Texas is not alone in the problem of homeschooling not really being homeschooling. In general I find the widespread laws that allow homeschooling parents to register as a private school to be very suspect and I think they should be done away with. So many states need comprehensive homeschooling regulatory reform. So many kids need an outside person peeking in every once in a while and making sure learning is taking place. So many people need to recognize this problem is going on and it is good for no one. Cheating cheats us all.

Homeschools and private schools are like apples and oranges and the laws should reflect this reality. In some ways my strong feelings about this issue are because this is the loophole my own parents took advantage of in Louisiana. They sent in the private school paperwork and nobody ever checked on us again. This type of registration circumvented the state oversight and standardized testing procedures for homeschoolers, so plenty people who wanted less work used it. Nobody was checking in and there was no outside accountability, so we got maybe 2-3 hours of “school” time per week. I didn’t learn how to do multiplication. My sister didn’t even learn how to read. I washed a lot of dishes, did a lot of house work and babysitting, and answered phones and filed paperwork for my father’s home business. If my grandparents hadn’t intervened when I was 12 and my sister was 10, I wouldn’t likely be here writing this. I’d probably be working in a fast food restaurant somewhere, collecting food stamps, and maybe I’d have about 5 or 6 kids right now, raising them kinda like how I was raised. What a nightmare, right? It sure is for me and it’s a nightmare that’s true for way too many young people raised in such a neglectful homeschooling environment.

Thankfully I got out, but I should not have needed to have my Grandfather come in, threaten my parents, take over my education, and drill me ferociously on “catch-up” material. I should not have had to feel “survivors guilt” as I saw homeschooled friends and acquaintances struggle with having such poor home education that they couldn’t take the GED, much less succeed in college. It was a painful thing to witness because they were good people and I knew I was only a hair away from the same struggle. Maybe that’s why I put everything I had into getting an education. I was so scared of falling back and being stuck under my parents’ thumb, being in a situation like a couple homeschooled friends of mine who had no GED, worked at a grocery store, lived at home, and gave their parents their paychecks. Some homeschooled girls get stuck that way until they “marry out.” Others are even less lucky, in that their parents force them to be “stay at home daughters” and don’t even allow them to work.

That’s why I am a big advocate of a number of homeschooling reforms. This is the United States, the “land of opportunity.” We tell all these other countries that they need to educate their girls, they need to provide appropriate schooling for all children, they need to be prepared for the global economy and the digital age. Then we pull this kind of stuff in our own nation. We turn a blind eye to the havens for abuse and neglect that these poorly designed homeschooling laws and regulations allow. It is hypocrisy and we need to stop it. We need to practice what we preach and design our laws accordingly.

Dropout rates are an unfortunate statistic to collect, but they should be accurate. High rates are a signal that a school or school district is not doing what it takes to keep students engaged, learning, or looking forward to obtaining a diploma, and changes need to be made. We need to make clear that as citizens, homeschoolers, private-schoolers, public-schoolers, and employers that we want to be able to discern qualified graduates and quality schools, and that we will not tolerate school districts covering for their sub-par performance by using some “private school homeschooling” as a cop-out.

We need reform to where homeschooling laws mean homeschoolers register as homeschoolers and private schools register as private schools, and they both mean the student has a certain baseline level of knowledge and skills. We don’t need to be having loopholes that allow “fake education” and “diploma mills” for high school dropouts, and we don’t need to be having them for the kids in even one homeschooled family. We need standards. We need a public high school diploma, a private school diploma, and a homeschool diploma to all mean something. We need to recognize that because of the laws we have allowed to be passed, right now it often doesn’t. For all the kids who’ve worked hard for their diploma or never got the opportunity to do so, we need to make it right.