As a parent, you have a lot to think about before you begin homeschooling. First of all, there’s financial stability, time, and the pros and cons of forgoing a “normal” education. Now, if you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you’ve considered these and decided to take the plunge. That leads us to the next step – figuring out how to (legally) DO it.
The first thing you need to know is that homeschooling is not a federally regulated practice. Laws and requirements vary greatly by region. Cross a state line, or even a city limit, and suddenly you can find yourself in a whole new world of rules.
In fact, state laws differ so much that few, if any generalizations, can be made. Homeschooling parents have their work cut out for them, from poring over state websites and Department of Education materials to devising regulation-happy curricula. Unfortunately, I can’t do this for you. However, I have made your job a bit easier by outlining the five most fickle aspects of home education law.
Who Can Teach?
This is the very first thing you’ll need to know. In some states, parents can teach their children without special paperwork. Other states require that you obtain official certification prior to starting. Still others require that a credentialed teacher or tutor, separate from the parent, be involved in the child’s education.
You can find out your state’s requirements via the Department of Education website–Google “[your state] Department of Education.” Conduct all your research there to ensure you get accurate information.
This is one area in which regulations vary wildly. In Ohio, for example, parents who wish to homeschool need to obtain approval from the superintendent of their local public school system via an intricate, lengthy process.
However, just across the state line in Pennsylvania, no such “permission” is needed. Parents instead must fill out an affidavit certifying that their plan is in compliance with state law. Up in Alaska, the system is looser still; parent-educators don’t even need to register with the state or their school district.
The age range of compulsory education also varies. In Ohio it is 6-18, while in Pennsylvania, it is 8-17, except in Philadelphia, where it starts at 6. Over in Alaska, the age range is 7-16; New Mexico gets very specific, stipulating that a child must be “at least five years of age prior to 12:01 am on September 1 of the school year.”
Some states don’t prescribe any curriculum for homeschoolers. Others have very specific requirements. Below are a few examples of contrasting subject requirements:
Washington: Occupational education, science, math, language, social studies, history, health, reading, writing, spelling, and the development of an appreciation of art and music.
Pennsylvania: Regulations differ for the two levels of education. Elementary-aged children must study English spelling, reading, and writing, arithmetic, Pennsylvania and U.S. history; civics, health/physiology, physical education, music, art, geography, science and safety education, including fire safety.
Children on the secondary school level must study English language, literature, speech and composition, science, geography, civics, local, national and world history, algebra and geometry, art, music, physical education, health, and safety education.
Some state requirements are a little bit “out there.” Massachusetts, for example, requires that homeschoolers study “good behavior.” New York demands that children be instructed in “substance abuse and traffic safety.” Be sure you review your state’s requirements carefully, and research any questions that pop up.
If you’re ever unsure what is meant by a subject’s name, your best bet is to check with your state’s Department of Education. Helpful resources can generally be found on their website.
Common Core Standards: The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are suggested educational standards for public schools. They were launched in 2010 by the National Governor’s Association. They are not mandatory; however, they have now been adopted by every state except for Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia.
The CCSS do not apply to private schools, charter schools, or home schooling curricula. However, due their popularity, they may affect the content of standardized tests such as the SAT. It is therefore important that you review these standards and tailor your curriculum to cover their bases.
This way, your child will not feel lost when testing time rolls around. Details on can be found on the CCSS website.
Homeschooling your children doesn’t let you off the government hook. Some states keep quite a watchful eye on homeschoolers’ progress. Depending on where you live, you may be required to submit any of the following:
- Regular standardized test results
- Regular assessments of your child’s progress by a psychiatrist and/or certified teacher
- Examples and/or assessments of your child’s portfolio (projects, essays, etc.)
It is crucial that you do your research and go through the proper channels. Be sure you are getting your information from a reputable source. Some homeschooling advocacy groups, such as HSLDA, offer helpful comprehensive breakdowns of state regulation on their websites.
However, since these are not “official” sites, they may provide limited, biased or outdated information. Your number one resource for home schooling facts is your state website. Just look up “[your state].gov home schooling” and click the link that leads to the Department of Education.
If you homeschool through the high school level, you’ll want to consider the next step, college.
Application requirements for homeschoolers vary by college. State schools in particular may have some caveats, as they are often influenced by state law. The University of Massachusetts in Amherst stipulates that:
Home-schooled students who are admitted are required to provide the university with proof of graduation in one of the three following ways:
- An official final transcript from the local school district.
- An official final transcript from a home school association or agency.
- An official GED score report. (1)
Compare these to Pennsylvania State University’s “proof of graduation” requirements:
Proof of graduation: high school diploma, diploma from an organization governed by a State Board of Education, or Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED)*
Since some students in homeschool programs do not follow a traditional high school curriculum, we ask that all homeschool students provide us with complete and detailed documentation of their high school coursework and evaluations of progress from an approved homeschool evaluator or supervisor. (2)
Both schools base their rules upon state laws. UMass requires that some sort of institution be involved, whereas Penn State uses slightly more relaxed language. Futhermore, UMass applicants must obtain the approval of their local school district or a specialized agency.
Penn State applicants can use any organization “governed by a State Board of Education.” State laws vary, and thereby so does the attitude of state schools toward homeschoolers. This is something to keep in mind, particularly when your child is selecting schools to apply to.
All colleges will require your child’s high school transcript. A basic transcript summarizes the student’s overall scores throughout his/her highschool career. It include grade level, courses taken, credits earned and scores/grades given.
Homeschool transcripts work just like regular school transcripts. However, it’s a good idea to make your child’s transcript look official. Remember – it’s going to be rubbing shoulders (or corners) with important-looking charts topped with school crests. Look at it this way – even if your home classroom is Casual Friday, your transcript needs to be black tie.
A Note On Grades
Some home schooling families dislike grades, for a number of good reasons. However, the hard truth is that schools value grades and scores. Using them to record your child’s progress improves college admission odds and also eases the transition into a “traditional” environment.
You will be basing your child’s transcript on high school records. Regardless of your child’s future plans, you need to maintain complete records of his/her education. Your child may not plan on attending college right now, but nobody knows what the future holds. As with most things, it is wise to prepare for any eventuality.
Tip – Seek Out A Homeschool Advocacy Group
These days, homeschooling is still controversial, and every so often a bill is proposed that threatens homeschoolers’ rights. In order to protect your interests and those of your children, consider joining a homeschool advocacy group.
These groups work hard to educate parents, schools, legislators, and the general public about the benefits of homeschooling. They also provide resources for parents who may be facing legal hurdles.
There are tons of groups out there – do a Google search for “home schooling advocacy groups [your state]” and see what pops up. Bear in mind that these groups vary greatly in terms of political and religious bents. Be sure you choose a group that fits your beliefs.
Most homeschool groups are pretty small-scale in nature – town or county rather than state-size. Your best bet is to review a number of groups in your area and give yourself plenty of time to decide. Below are some helpful links and databases to get you started.
www.hslda.org – Perhaps the biggest homeschooling advocacy group in the U.S., the Homeschool Legal Defense Association has been defending homeschoolers’ rights since 1983.
http://www.home-school.com – The web home of “Practical Homeschooling Magazine,” Home-School provides thought-provoking articles, a worldwide online forum and a list of homeschooling organizations around the globe.
www.secularhomeschool.com – Many homeschooling organizations are religious in nature; this website is a great resource for non-religious homeschooling families. Provides links to support groups in your area, as well as sets of suggested curricula.
John’s Homeschool Resources – Straightforward, and well organized, this website provides links to homeschooling groups as well as information about state homeschooling law.
Mary Chandler is part of the team at formswift.com, which is designed to make it easy for everyone to put together legal forms without the need for a lawyer. FormSwift offers free legal documents for a variety of uses by individuals, families and small businesses.