Once upon a time in American history home education was the norm, out of necessity if nothing else. In modern society, though, most families send their children to public or private schools.
There is an alternative to the local public school district, homeschooling, and about 3 percent of American families are part of the trend.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics there are an estimated 1.5 million students ages 5 through 17 (kindergarten through 12th grade) who are homeschooled in the United States. Let's look at the basics of homeschooling, beginning with why parents choose that path.
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Popular Reasons for Homeschooling
As found in a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll public opinion of homeschooling is changing. In 1985 only 16 percent surveyed though homeschooling was a good thing but by 2001 that poll number rose to 41 percent. How to educate children is a personal decision for every family, and some parents decide that the public and private education systems fall short of their needs. Motivations for choosing to home-school vary, but the most popular three reported reasons include:
1. Concern about school environment (such as drugs, peer pressure and safety)
2. The desire to provide religious or moral instruction and
3. General dissatisfaction or objection to what's being taught in school traditional school systems
Additional reasons for homeschooling include desire for more family time, finances, travel involved and school distance from the home.
Homeschooling has been legal in the U.S. since 1993 but the laws are state-dependent, so before beginning any home education program be sure to check out your state's rules and regulations.
Currently, six states have "high regulations". This means in those states parents are required to send notification of the decision to home-school and produce achievement test scores and/or professional evaluations. In addition, there may be requirements such as state curriculum approval and parental teacher qualification.
Ten states and two U.S. territories have no requirements. And in most states there are moderate to low regulations, which means those states may not necessarily require parental notification, test scores or professional evaluation of the student's progress.
Making the Grade
One of the most common questions about homeschooling is how students are graded, and whether or not they take tests. Yes, they do. And no, they don't.
Deciding whether or not to keep grades for homeschooled children -- and how to track those grades -- depends on the regulations of the state you live in and your child's educational ambitions. As mentioned in the last page, many states require that parents submit comprehensive updates to the state's department of education as part of the homeschooling process, which includes standardized tests and an annual professional evaluation of student progress in some locales. Homeschooled students may graduate with a home-school diploma or GED depending on the state.
Let's look at South Carolina law as an example. Notification of homeschooling, test scores and annual progress reports are required. Although state departments of education usually don't issue diplomas to students outside the traditional educational system, the parent-teacher may give the student a diploma.
There are many different philosophies and associated approaches to homeschooling, and the choice dictates the type of curriculum.
On one end of the spectrum: structured homeschooling, where many who are new to home education begin because it most closely resembles traditional classroom education. Structured homeschooling, (also referred to as "the school model") includes schedules, lessons and tests.
At the other end of the spectrum is the method of "unschooling", where the parent takes their teaching cues from the child. (Example: If your kid is fascinated by astronomy, the lessons focus on this interest.)
An estimated 70 percent of homeschooling parents choose to do so in order to provide religious or moral instruction as well. One such example is the Moore curriculum, which focuses on service to others and Bible study in daily lessons.
In all types of home education, parents use multiple routes to garner materials. In addition to trips to the public library, there are home-school catalogs and publications that can be ordered and lesson plans and text books are typically made available for purchase as well.
Otherwise, parents look to local bookstores, public schools, distant learning programs and churches for curriculum.
What Makes a Parent Qualified to Teach?
So do parents who want to home-school their child need teaching qualifications? Not necessarily. Parent-teacher qualifications depend on the laws set by the state you live in, but in most situations a parent does not need teaching credentials.
As of 2006, 42 states don't require parents who want to home-school to have specific credentials or qualifications. In fact, twenty-five percent of parents who home-school their kids have a high school diploma or less. A handful of states require a high school diploma or GED but the trend seems to be moving in the direction that parents qualify to teach their own children by the fact that they are parents.