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Published March 23, 2011, 09:30 PM

ND Home School Teachers Want Less Monitoring

Home-school advocates asked the North Dakota Senate's Education Committee on Wednesday to keep a temporary law that says a qualified home school teacher only needs a high school diploma.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Home-school advocates asked the North Dakota Senate's Education Committee on Wednesday to keep a temporary law that says a qualified home school teacher only needs a high school diploma.

Lawmakers set the minimum qualification in 2009, while ordering the change to expire in two years so the Legislature could review its impact. The proposed bill would make the change permanent.

After a hearing Wednesday, the Education Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full Senate approve the bill to keep the law.

Before the change, parents were required to hold a college degree or pass a national teachers' examination to teach their children at home. Otherwise, the state required them to meet with a monitor one hour a week for two years.

The monitor had to be a licensed teacher, who reviewed the home-schooler's curriculum and reported his or her findings to the school board in the district where the family lived.

Parents had the option of hiring their own monitor — the cost is about $25 an hour, a state Department of Public Instruction official estimated — or using one provided by the local school district.

Karol Kapelle is among the home-schoolers pushing for the minimum qualification to home-school. She has taught all four of her children at home and believes she's qualified to do so, despite not having a four-year college degree.

"All this monitoring wastes the state's money, and it's never proven to have any effect at all," said Kapelle, who's on the board of directors of the North Dakota Home School Association and lives in Tolna, a northeastern North Dakota community about 50 miles southeast of Devils Lake.

"We're trying to save the schools money," she said. "They don't have to feed our children, bus them or pay for their sports. We're not asking for anything but just to be left alone."

The Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit group based in Purcellville, Va., that advocates for parents who home-school their children, considers North Dakota a "high regulation" state. Rules are less stringent in neighboring Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana, the association says.

Opponents say relaxing the rules put students at risk of getting a substandard education.

Gwyn Marback, the assistant director of school approval and accreditation for North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction, said it is already difficult for districts to know if a child isn't being taught properly.

Some parents don't have the expertise to teach difficult topics, and without a monitor, schools can't do anything about it, Marback said.

"I have a master's degree and I wouldn't feel comfortable teaching high school algebra, and there are parents out there doing that," Marback said. "There needs to be more monitoring and higher standards placed on qualifications of home educators."

She added that parents are taking on an "enormous responsibility" by home-schooling their children, and the state should make sure a parent can handle it.

Another Tolna resident, Leslie Gleason, said she home-schooled her two children and hired her own monitor for the required two years but saw no improvement.

"You have to be there day to day to know what's going on," Gleason said. "How do you step in for four hours per month and have any idea what's happening?"

The bill originally exempted home-schooled students from standardized testing, but that provision was removed. Supporters of the bill said it was a good start, but that they'll press for less oversight.

"Monitoring has done nothing to ensure quality education," said James Bartlett, the Home School Association's director. "It's a totally unnecessary interruption to the family and interruption to the state. This bill doesn't get totally get rid of it, but hopefully someday it will be removed completely."

The House approved the bill earlier on a 75-19 vote. It is HB1211.