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Tim Myers: Are there really that many home-schooled students in the SCV?

Posted: January 8, 2010 7:27 p.m.
Updated: January 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.
In the mid-90s the Republican-controlled House of Representatives held public hearings to "expose" the venality and cruelty of the Internal Revenue Service.

During my role at that time with the international accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche, I would frequently speak in front of audiences that comprised financial professionals working in the financial services industry (i.e., banking and insurance).

With the public hearings on their mind I would ask attendees how many people they thought worked for the IRS, and they would unblinkingly estimate somewhere between 25 million and 30 million people - roughly the equivalent of the population of the entire state of California and 250 to 300 times more than the actual IRS headcount of 120,000 personnel.

These anecdotes show how difficult people find contending with large numbers and the tendency to exaggerate, particularly when exposed to a recent event that makes the item seem outsized.

Consider the Saugus Union School District's recent concern regarding school enrollment and the probable closing of Bouquet Canyon Elementary School.

Utilizing the blogosphere, the Saugus district created a "complaint blog" for people to vent about potential closures. One commentator laid the blame of flat enrollment at the feet of the public educational process, with "tens of thousands" of students defecting to charter and home schooling to deprive the schools of enrollment and the correlative state funding.

Last week's column addressed the issue of charter schools and their challenge to public enrollment in the Santa Clarita Valley. But what about homeschoolers? How many youth of school age stand outside of the public and private system in the nebulous world of home schooling?

Unfortunately, the homeschooling population defies academic examination and rigor.

People not involved in the endeavor, or who do not know homeschoolers, derive their views from highly public but anecdotal stories, ranging from high-achieving 13-year-olds with their own patents to the semi-crazed family of Balloon Boy, who need the kids out of school and constantly available for hare-brained reality TV schemes.

Not surprisingly, the William S. Hart Union High School District possesses no data concerning the number of school-age children in the district currently instructed in a home school environment.

No requirements exist for registration or monitoring, and the Hart district actually seeks to accommodate homeschoolers by offering one-off courses in chemistry and mathematics through its alternative learning centers.

After speaking with district personnel, they provided a quasi-blessing for me to make the estimate using other methods.

So I made the estimate in the following manner: The population of the SCV stands at an estimated 275,000. Demographic data from the city of Santa Clarita indicates 25 percent of this population sits between the ages of 5 and 19 (school age).

From this, one can infer just under 69,000 school-age children reside in the SCV.

Each of the five school districts serving the SCV provides actual census data to the California Department of Education, and in the 2008-09 year this stood at just above 52,000 children.

The gross estimated school-age numbers, less the actual enrolled numbers, indicate nearly 17,000 children outside the public school system locally, or a home-schooling rate at slightly under 25 percent.

This is more astounding because the last attempt at a national census of home-schooled children, in 1999, estimated the national rate at slightly under 2 percent.

I questioned the efficacy of my calculation, but identical calculations made for the demographically similar enclaves of Simi Valley and Ventura yield larger-than-expected - but similar - home-schooling rates.

But what about trends? In 2000, the school districts in the SCV enrolled a little more than 40,000 students, and census data would indicate about 58,000 children of school age - meaning 18,000 outside of the public education system, for an astounding rate of 31 percent.

So the commentator on the Saugus district's complaint blog got it half right.

There are thousands of home-schooled children in the SCV, but since 2000 the absolute number fell by more than 1,200 (one to two elementary schools' worth) and the rate fell an astounding 700 basis points. This makes sense, since the population in the area grew by 17 percent during the period, and the public school population grew at the much faster rate of 30 percent.

So while many homeschoolers exist in the SCV, during the years in question the public institutions seemed able to attract more of them back into the public system, actually requiring more facilities.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. "Myers' Musings" appears Sundays in The Signal.


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