January 12, 2012

Home Education FAQs

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of welcoming into my home four local business people for the purpose of sharing with them about home education.

This is actually the fourth year I've done this, serving as the homeschool representative for an annual program sponsored by my local Chamber of Commerce. It's 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 respect their desire for privacy. But my personal conviction is that the only way to dispel the unfortunate stereotypes about homeschoolers is for those of us who feel comfortable with "publicity" to give people the opportunity to meet and interact with real, live homeschool families.

And all of my experiences with the business people through this program have been very positive. I've had to explain why we shouldn't have to do just what "the system" does and dispel some myths, and last year one man actually wondered if I am depriving my kids of the "opportunity" to be bullied by keeping them home. But, generally speaking, they've been very interested in learning more, and have expressed enthusiasm about what we do.

I prepared as usual this year, and I also decided for the first time to put together some FAQs based on previous years' questions. My guests really appreciated this summary and, though my answers are specific to my state, I thought you might, too.

What is the law regarding home education?

Homeschooling 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.

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 “cookie cutter education” offered through institutional school settings, whether public or private, and being able to allow each child to learn at his own, God-given pace);
  • Provide a faith-based education (i.e., other than the secular humanism-based education offered in government schools);
  • Keep kids out of low-performing public 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 - and some don’t require any reporting at all. But the estimate is 2 million children (about 4% of the school-aged population), with an average 7% growth rate each year.

In my state, the average is 2.25% of the school-aged population, though it’s as high as 12% in some communities. And for the 2010-11 "school year," the state agency responsible for enrollment data reported percentages as low as 0.29% and as high as 6.02% in communities near where I live.

How do we choose materials and resources?

In some states, public schools can provide resources by request, but that is illegal where I live.

Most home-educating parents prefer to find our own materials anyway, which we do by:
  • Discovering our children’s learning styles and our preferred teaching style;
  • Researching the options (using resource guides, the internet, and the advice of other homeschoolers) for the styles we believe will work;
  • Making sure we’re covering mandated subject areas;
  • 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 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; the state in which I live has no requirement for testing.

Of course, some parents choose of their own accord to have their children tested using well-known, nationally-normed tests (Iowa Basic Skills, CAT, etc.), but any requirement for homeschoolers to take the tests mandated for a state's public school students would be meaningless since state laws do not require that homeschools utilize the curriculum of the government schools, upon which the state tests are based. 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 public schools but receive no benefit from that for ourselves - there is no reason for us to be "accountable" to the state.

However, research shows that homeschoolers nationwide average in the 86th percentile on achievement tests, versus the median 50th percentile for the general population.

What are the high school graduation requirements?

In most states, they’re 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). We utilize well-researched resources to determine courses of study for particular post-secondary “tracks." And we contact colleges in which a child is interested and base a high school plan on those requirements. Parents in every state have the authority to produce a legally-binding diploma and transcript for each child. "Accredited" programs are not required, nor is complying with public school graduation requirements (unless specified under a particular state's homeschool law).

What about college admissions?

Homeschooled students are not only accepted but are often pursued as a “diverse population.”

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 all the possibilities;
  • Adjusting to our children’s varied learning needs over time (and for each individual child);
  • Sacrificing income for one parent to stay home with the children (though we consider this a small price to pay) and to cover costs associated with specialized classes;
  • 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 anecdotal evidence to the contrary);
  • Bias from government school bureaucrats (who tend to think they have the authority to be the final arbiters of what’s “best” for children’s education and often reject alternative means of delivery).

What do we need and appreciate from businesses and the community at large?
  • Support for our right to continue directing our own children’s education as guaranteed by natural law, the United States Constitution, and state law;
  • Acknowledgement that we’re providing real education, not some “poor substitute” for that which is offered in the government-sponsored schools;
  • Equal access to community resources (i.e., libraries, sports clubs, 4H, etc.);
  • Understanding that 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.

Where can we find more information?


Selected Articles of Interest:

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