November 13, 2018

Home Education FAQs

For several years running, I had the privilege of welcoming into my home small groups of business people for the purpose of sharing with them about home education.

I was the homeschool representative for an annual program sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. And the visit was a highlight of my year, because, as I told my guests, I thoroughly enjoy educating people about and advocating for homeschooling. Some of my fellow home educators prefer to keep their anonymity, and I completely respect their choice; in fact, I staunchly guard my children's right to privacy. But my personal conviction is that those of us who do feel comfortable with publicity can help to dispel the unfortunate stereotypes about homeschoolers by giving "the public" an opportunity to meet and interact with real, live homeschool families. Thus, as long as it does not jeopardize my children, I will be one who puts myself "out there."

And all of my experiences with the business people through that program were quite positive. I did have to explain why we shouldn't have to do just what "the system" does and disavow my guests of some myths, and one year one man actually wondered if I am depriving my kids of the "opportunity" to be bullied by keeping them home. But, generally speaking, my visitors were very interested in learning more, and even expressed enthusiasm about what we do.

I also put together an FAQ document to share with them. They really appreciated the summary and, though some answers are specific to my state, I thought you might, too.

What is the law regarding home education?

Homeschooling is protected from federal interference by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution and is, thus, governed at the state level. It is legal in every state, but requirements vary greatly across the country. Some states have very demanding, draconian laws and others have no legal requirements at all, leaving authority (where it belongs) with each child's parents.

As one example, those who homeschool in Wisconsin - a relatively “low regulation” state - are required by statute to:
  • Provide at least 875 hours of “instruction” per year for each child between the ages of six and 18 (or until high school graduation requirements are met). Parents - not the state - determine what "instruction" looks like and entails;
  • File an annual notification form (NOTE: This is explicitly not a “permission” form, as parents have an inherent right – supported by state statute since 1984 – to decide how to pursue their own children’s education; the notification simply informs the state of the parents’ decision);
  • Deliver a “progressively sequential curriculum” (using whatever materials a parent deems appropriate) in “reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health;”
  • Be privately controlled (which means that those enrolled in public “virtual schools” are not homeschooling according to state law because, though children enrolled in such entities study at home, public virtual schools operate under a wholly different state statute and are chartered under the auspices of public school districts; thus, virtual school students are counted as public school students).

Why do people homeschool?

The reasons are as varied as there are homeschooling families, but some of the oft-cited reasons are to:
  • Take personal responsibility for our children’s education;
  • Meet each child’s individual learning needs (i.e., getting beyond the standardized education offered in institutional school settings, whether public or private);
  • Provide a faith- and/or values-based education different from that which is offered in public/government schools;
  • Protect kids from bullying, peer pressure, and other manifestations of negative socialization;
  • Spend more time with our children because we enjoy being with them.

Who homeschools?

The short answer is everyone! Homeschooling is not limited to white, suburban, middle-class, evangelical Christian families even though that is the stereotype. More and more African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American parents are choosing home education – and there are even specific nationwide support groups for these populations. People homeschool in rural areas and in the heart of the inner city. And parents of any educational background and income level can homeschool if they want to. In addition, there are homeschoolers of every faith background – and none at all. Simply put, we really do not fit any stereotype.

How many children are home-educated?

This is difficult to determine since reporting requirements vary from state to state. But a 2012 U.S. Department of Education survey reported that 1.78 million children (about 3.4% of the national school-aged population) were homeschooled in 2011, an increase of 17% since 2007. The National Home Education Research Institute reports even higher numbers.

In Wisconsin, the state agency responsible for enrollment data reported for 2017-1that 2.16%of the school-aged population was homeschooled, though the percentage was significantly higher in some areas and was actually 30% in one community. For that same "school year," percentages as low as 1.12% and as high as 2.63% were reported in communities in my county. Annual membership in the largest organized local homeschool group in my area has usually averaged about 200 families (500-600 children), though for 2016-2017 the group swelled to over 250 families. Another group has 50-75 families, and a third averages 50-70 families. There is some overlap between the groups, but there are also a number of homeschooling families not affiliated with any organized support group.

How do we choose materials and resources?

In some states, public schools can provide resources by request, though that is illegal in Wisconsin.

But because we are aiming for a different kind of education for our kids, most home-educating parents prefer to find our own materials and would not take government school material if it were offered. We do this by:
  • Discovering our children’s learning styles and our preferred teaching style;
  • Researching the options (using resource guides, internet sources such as The Homeschool Resource Roadmapand the advice of other homeschoolers);
  • Making sure we’re covering foundational subject areas as well as individualizing for each child;
  • Experimenting and being willing to make adjustments whenever necessary to optimize our children’s learning.

How do we teach subjects in which we are not experts – and insure that our children receive a quality education?

This is generally not a problem because those who really are homeschooling (as opposed to the few who say they are but are actually just trying to circumvent compulsory attendance laws) care so deeply about our children that we are hyper-vigilant about meeting our children’s needs. And, as a result, we:
  • Use tried-and-tested materials recommended by experienced home educators;
  • Join co-ops where each parent can offer up personal areas of expertise;
  • Utilize community resources for specialty courses;
  • Enroll our children in private-pay online classes;
  • Take advantage of dual-enrollment opportunities at local colleges;
  • Teach our children to become auto-didactic (self-directed) learners so they can take responsibility for their own learning by the time they reach adolescence and also desire to be lifelong learners.

What about “achievement testing?”

Requirements vary from state to state. Wisconsin has no requirement for testing.

Of course, some parents choose of their own accord to have their children tested using well-known tests (Iowa Basic Skills, CAT, etc.), but any requirement for homeschoolers to take the tests mandated for public school students would be meaningless since homeschool laws do not (and should not) require that homeschools utilize government school curriculum, upon which the tests are based; additionally, because we are protected by the 10th Amendment from federal control of any kind, we are not (and should not become) subject to any notions of "national curriculum" or "national testing." And that is as it should be. After all, since homeschools are private, independent institutions and receive no taxpayer subsidies whatsoever - in fact, we pay property taxes to support government schools but receive no "benefit" from that for ourselves - there is no reason for us to be "accountable" to the state.

That said, research shows that homeschoolers who do take the tests average in the 86th percentile, versus the median 50th percentile for the general population. Evidence also demonstrates that homeschoolers who never take "achievement tests" are wholly prepared for adult life.

What are the high school graduation requirements?

In Wisconsin and in nearly every other state, high school graduation requirements are not based on government school requirements; instead, they are decided by each family, based on each child’s individual post-secondary plans (i.e., joining the work force, enlisting in the military, attending college). Parents have the authority under a state's homeschooling law to produce a legally-binding diploma and transcript for each child.

Of course, we don't decide upon our requirements for graduation in a vacuum. We utilize well-researched resources to determine courses of study for particular post-secondary “tracks." And - for our children interested post-secondary education - we contact colleges in which a child is interested and base a high school plan on those requirements.

What about college admissions?

  • Homeschooled students are not only accepted but are often pursued because of their unique life experiences and demonstrated intellectual ability;
  • They can attend any college if that school’s admissions requirements are met;
  • They can obtain financial aid (private and federal) since they have legally-binding high school diplomas;
  • The average ACT score is 22.5 (vs. 20.8 for the general population), and the average SAT score is 1092 (vs. 1019 for the general population).

What about “socialization?”

In terms of “socializing – having their kids spend time with other children in age-appropriate activities – homeschooling parents are very diligent about involving their children in activities of interest (within homeschool groups and community organizations) according to each child’s particular needs (not an institution’s schedule).

In terms of the various definitions of “socialization (as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary):
  • “[Placing] under government or group ownership or control” – We reject this idea on its face, since the government has no constitutional authority over anyone’s children and we, thus, see no need to subject our children to it;
  • Making “fit for companionship with others” – We spend a great deal of time and energy on character development, and we have more flexibility to allow our children to interact across generations and cultures since they’re not “stuck” in classrooms with same-aged peers for eight hours a day;
  • “[Converting or adapting] to the needs of society” – Research shows that homeschooled kids do not stand out as “awkward” in a roomful of same-aged peers and that they do extremely well as adults, too (more involved in community groups than the general population, self-report as being happy, etc.) so they’ve obviously adapted well.

What issues/challenges do we face?

  • Determining which resources to use from among the myriad (3,500+) possibilities;
  • Adjusting to our children’s varied learning needs over time (and for each individual child);
  • Sacrificing income and covering costs associated with specialized classes (though most consider this a small price to pay);
  • Paying out-of-pocket for special services (i.e., speech therapy, etc.) because of the difficulty in obtaining services from the public schools and/or a desire to avoid entanglement with them;
  • Misperceptions about being “unsocialized” and “undereducated” (despite all the research and multi-generational research to the contrary);
  • Unwarranted criticism from extended family and acquaintances, and bias from public school bureaucrats (who tend to think they have the authority to be the final arbiter of what’s “best” for all children and often reject alternatives such as homeschooling);
  • Attempts from state and federal governmental entities to expand regulation and control over homeschools despite the evidence that no such oversight is needed.

What do we need and appreciate from the community at large?

  • Acceptance of and support for our right to continue directing our own children’s education as guaranteed by the Constitution and state law, without interference from governmental bodies at any level;
  • Acknowledgement that we are providing real education, not some “poor substitute” for that which is offered in the government-sponsored schools. In fact, we’re actually on the cutting-edge of leadership development among the next generation since, by its very nature, home education is innovative and challenges the status quo;
  • Advocacy for our right to equal access to community resources (i.e., libraries, sports clubs, 4H, business apprenticeships, etc.). Most of us have no desire for involvement with government schools (i.e., a "right" to play on public school sports teams, etc.) because we realize that we will lose our privacy and academic freedom in that gambit. But we appreciate support for our ability to access non-school-based community organizations.

Where can we find more information?

Advocacy and Support for Home Educators:

Research on:

Selected Articles of Interest:
Selected Books of Interest:

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