The controversy over the quality of a homeschool education versus a traditional setting education has been around as long as homeschooling has. This school year, as some states have loosened the homeschool requirements, more parents are opting to educate their children outside of the traditional education system. They say the benefits their children receive are worth whatever it takes.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 3% of children ages 5-17 receive education at home, meaning not in a public or private school. In 2011-12 (the most recent data available) this 3% translated to approximately 1.8 million students, up from 1.5 million five years earlier.
Parents cite many reasons for opting out of a more traditional education setting. The common reason recently stated is to avoid the testing mandated by the Common Core standards now implemented in 40 states. (Homeschool parents are not the only ones opting out of the testing. For example, New York State testing refusals topped 200,000 in the 2014-2015 school year.) But less testing is not necessarily the most important reason homeschooling parents state for their decision.
In 2010-2011, 91% of parents stated their most important reason for homeschooling was a concern about the environment of other schools. Details cited bullying, class size, and authentic skill practice. Others have a desire for a religious based education, more quality family time, stronger academics, stability within transient families, giving special needs students more one on one time, providing a nontraditional education, and an opportunity to teach morals. The next three highest ranking reasons after school environment were dissatisfaction with academic instruction, the opportunity to provide moral instruction, and providing a religious education.
The traditional requirements in many states for a parent to homeschool a child often involve a confusing process including yearly registration with the local public school district, submitting a plan to be approved by the district (which varies from district to district and state to state), certifying in some states that no adult in the home has a criminal record, and often submitting a portfolio of student work at the school year’s end to be reviewed by traditional educators.
Rules and regulations vary by state. In many cases, the homeschooling parent must follow the rules of the state in which they are residing, even temporarily. This may be applicable in the case of a short term military or business move, people who travel for a living, people living on a boat or RV, and similar circumstances. In some cases following the rules of the state in which the boat or RV is registered is valid. Check for the rules of your state of legal residence.
Some states, including parts of the Midwest, Connecticut, New Jersey, Idaho, Alaska, Guam, and Puerto Rico, have very loose regulations including no requirements for parents to make contact with local districts. Much of the South and West require only that parents notify the state of homeschool practice. A wide variety of states require parents send notification, test scores, or other professional evaluation of student progress. A few states in the Northeast, require parents to send notification or achievement test scores and/or professional evaluation, plus other requirements (e.g. curriculum approval by the state, teacher qualification of parents, or home visits by state officials). Some states require the teaching parents to possess teaching credentials or a minimum level of education themselves as proof that they can adequately teach their children. Homeschool advocacy groups, such as Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), are available with advice for parents about the details and rules of their particular situation.
Curriculum requirements also vary by state. Utah last year removed academic subject requirements for home-schoolers. Other states require a stricter adherence to traditional subject matter offerings. But some families don’t particularly want a math or science heavy curriculum and try to find ways to embed these subjects in nontraditional ways, such as math through cooking and money use. In states where requirements for some subjects remain stricter, homeschoolers often network and creatively and cooperatively include subjects in authentic activities, such as Phys Ed with ice skating lessons, or science with hiking and hands on museum activities.
Homeschooling advocates cite that learning at home is not a nine month activity like traditional schooling is; home schooling continues year round with real life activities geared to the student’s academic level. Homeschooling is just a constant and natural way of life for many families where academics are promoted throughout the day and year as regular living progresses.
Also, homeschooling gives gifted students a better opportunity to excel at their talents, whether it is as a piano virtuoso or an academic whiz. Kids with a special skill that is nurtured and promoted at home may have greater success away from the pressure and distractions of a traditional school environment and time table. Students who are particularly interested in a subject, activity or topic can pursue it as long as they like on any day, not just a half hour at a specific time during five weekdays. For example, although homeschooled students make up only about 3% of the school age student population, they usually comprise about 10% of the finalists in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. Homeschoolers have won about 10% of the time, and some families have multiple winners.
Homeschoolers walked away in 2007 with top honors in four major academic competitions: The National Geographic Bee, the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, and the first GSN National Vocabulary Championship. These prizes come with cash awards, scholarships, and other perks besides the trophy and recognition.
This October Pennsylvania will be the latest state to relax home school requirements, recognizing that parents are committed to providing their children with a quality education, and they are capable of providing it. “We believe that because parents who make this commitment to teach their children at home are dedicated and self-motivated, there’s just not a real need for the state to be involved in overseeing education,” said Dewitt T. Black III, senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association.
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