“If my parents had been unable to write off the validity and necessity of subjects based on theology or gender, if it had been harder for my parents to circumvent the rules, if I had been required to have an evaluation done by a teacher unrelated to my family, I think I would have had a better chance at a decent and well rounded education.”
I support effective oversight of homeschooling because it’s so easy for people like me and my family to fall through the cracks—to find all the loopholes and do as little work as possible in the way of educating, keeping it about convenience and theology instead equipping children for adulthood.
My home state, Florida, required an annual portfolio review by a certified teacher. We had one portfolio review done by a teacher who was a neutral third party, and she started asking me questions about my education that year. My mom became upset and we never went back. Instead, one of my relatives who is in the adult education field and has been a certified teacher for as long as I can remember “reviewed” our portfolios for us. I say review lightly, because no thorough review was expected or given—if that had been the case, my math and my siblings’ writing and reading comprehension skills would have been noticed. Instead, we presented our portfolios, and they were signed off on without a glance.
My parents told me that I was done with my education when I was 15, though I continued to finish up what remained of my books until “graduation” the following May when I was 16. I thought this was odd, because I had been doing the calculating myself and thought I was behind. For example, my parents had completely given up on my math under the reasoning of “well, you’re a girl, you won’t need algebra anyway, you’ll be running a home.” With the responsibility of my education off of their shoulders once I “graduated,” I was then “free” to fully dedicate my time to the raising, care, and education of my siblings and the maintaining of the house.
If my parents had been unable to write off the validity and necessity of subjects based on theology or gender, if it had been harder for my parents to circumvent the rules, if I had been required to have an evaluation done by a teacher unrelated to my family, I think I would have had a better chance at a decent and well rounded education.
I feel somewhat responsible for the lack of education my siblings are receiving today as a result of the lack of oversight and all-too-easy loopholes that my parents continue to take advantage of. I want homeschooling to have effective oversight so we can help make sure that siblings like mine actually have an education appropriate to their level of understanding instead of being held back because of convenience or shot forward because of their age like I was (which I suppose is also about convenience).
Kierstyn Darkwater was homeschooled in Florida in the late 1990s and 2000s.For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“I will never forget the time at a homeschool gathering where I overheard several mothers talking about how they were not teaching their daughters algebra because it wasn’t necessary for girls to learn higher math. Where I got the opportunities that allowed me to thrive, those girls had their options cut off before they even had the chance to dream.”
I support oversight of home education not because I had a bad homeschooling experience, but because I had a good one. I’ve seen how wonderful homeschooling can be when it works because I’ve lived it. When I hear the stories of homeschooled students who experienced educational neglect or abuse, or the formerly homeschooled adults who are struggling to overcome the deficits in their education, it saddens me to know how much the system failed them. The educational method that gave me wings to soar is the same one that left them hobbled and struggling. It doesn’t have to be that way, it shouldn’t be that way.
My education was filled with pile upon pile of history and science books from the library, microscopes, telescopes, the local museum and planetarium practically a second home for many years. I was taught to be curious about the world around me and given the tools to explore that world—tools that included not just access to materials, but the strong foundation in math that enabled me to pursue a computer science degree with confidence.
Yet, even as I write about my own education in math and science, I will never forget the time at a homeschool gathering where I overheard several mothers talking about how they were not teaching their daughters algebra because it wasn’t necessary for girls to learn higher math. Where I got the opportunities that allowed me to thrive, those girls had their options cut off before they even had the chance to dream.
I could tell other stories, but there are so many. The kids whose parents stopped bothering to teach them anything after 3rd grade and had to struggle to overcome that educational neglect well into their twenties. The ones who had to figure out a way to get to college after their parents withheld their records and refused to sign their FAFSA to allow them financial aid. The child who, in one of the worst cases of abuse and neglect in my hometown, was starved, locked in a room and forced to live in filth and squalor, before being beaten to death, his short life made into hell on earth by parents who escaped detection by homeschooling.
I know many parents who did a good job of homeschooling and produced well-adjusted, successful adults, but the success stories do not negate the real harm that some children experienced and continue to experience into adulthood. The very educational option that was so wonderful for me is what enabled those children to be left behind. I support oversight because every homeschooled child deserves to have the experience that I did. Without oversight, there is no way to ensure that all homeschooled children are protected.
At its best, homeschooling opens up a world of possibilities and gives children the tools they need to be successful in whatever path they choose. All homeschool children deserve to be given that experience.
Kathryn Brightbill was homeschooled in Florida in the 1980s and 1990s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“All of the things my parents did—creating curriculum plans, putting together annual portfolios, having us tested—they did in an effort to homeschool us effectively and responsibly. My parents would not have found oversight of homeschooling an inconvenience or burden because they already voluntarily did everything effective homeschool oversight generally requires.”
I was homeschooled from kindergarten through 12th grade, from 1992 to 2005. I received an excellent education and went to college on scholarships. So far, four of my siblings have similarly graduated and headed off to college on scholarships as well. A fifth sibling will graduate this spring and already has college all lined up. History, art, accounting, engineering, computer science, nursing—my parents have launched five, and almost six, homeschool graduates who are successful and productive adults by essentially every measure.
I was homeschooled in Indiana, a state with no oversight of homeschooling. My parents did not even have to file notice, which meant that as far as the state knew, we did not exist. All of the things my parents did—creating curriculum plans, putting together annual portfolios, having us tested—they did in an effort to homeschool us effectively and responsibly. My parents would not have found oversight of homeschooling an inconvenience or burden because they already voluntarily did everything effective homeschool oversight generally requires.
At the beginning of each year, my mother planned what subjects my siblings and I would study and created a curriculum plan for each of us. She poured over homeschool catalogs, browsed curriculum at homeschool conventions, and consulted with my father and my siblings and me. She sought to take each of our desires, needs, and interests into account. At the end of each year she created a portfolio for each of us. It included that year’s curriculum plan (revised if there had been any changes midyear) and samples of our work on each subject. Much of what was included was creative work, along with worksheets, tests, and exercises. At the end of sixth and ninth grades my parents had us tested using the Iowa test in order to see where we scored compared to other children our age and ascertain what subjects needed extra work.
One of my younger sisters has Down syndrome, and my mother diligently put in the research and found therapy for her. My parents joined a support group for parents of children with Down syndrome and participated in the local Down syndrome community. My mother worked with various service providers to draw up developmental plans and goals for my sister, according to her own needs and abilities, and regularly assessed where she had made progress and where she had more work to do. She is ahead of her therapists’ projections for her.
There was more that contributed to our success, of course, including numerous cooperatives and enrichment activities. During high school, my siblings and I took AP tests at a local high school and courses at a local state college. There were children’s choir, music lessons, music groups, and ballet and gymnastic classes. Over the years we were also involved in a variety of homeschool co-ops and activities. Especially memorable to me are a music and arts co-op and homeschool speech and debate, both of which I participated in throughout high school. More recently, number of my younger siblings have been involved in Civil Air Patrol.
Good homeschooling, the kind that produces productive and successful adults, is not something that happens automatically. It is something that takes effort, work, and tireless dedication. My parents were well-educated and financially stable, which gave them access to resources and social capital that also contributed to our positive experience. Further and perhaps most importantly, my parents placed an incredibly high value on education and took their responsibility very seriously. My mother worked with my siblings one on one, and my parents have been receptive to feedback from their oldest children as well. When several of my siblings and I told our mother some time after we graduated that learning advanced math independently out of a textbook had been too challenging for us, she responded by finding math tutors or online programs for the middle and younger children. My mother also recognized that each child was an individual with different interests, learning styles, and educational needs. When one of us had difficulties in a given subject, she sought out resources and looked into new teaching strategies. Today, my mother speaks at regional homeschool conferences on subjects like getting started homeschooling, homeschool record keeping, and homeschooling through high school.
Growing up, I assumed the other homeschooled children I knew were receiving the same solid education I was, and perhaps they were. My friends and I generally bonded over things other than our schoolwork or academic pursuits, and I lost touch with many of them when I moved away and went to college. When I was first in graduate school, however, one of my brothers got me in touch with a friend of his who was in an abusive and neglectful homeschooling situation. I wanted to help, but there wasn’t much I could do because of the laxity of Indiana’s homeschool law. After I talked ot her and heard her story, I called child protective services, the only agency that deals with educational neglect in homeschool settings in our state. When I got back in touch with her some years later, I learned that child protective services had indeed visited, and that they had helped. I also learned that her parents had moved to Tennessee, and that as a result of that state’s more thorough oversight of homeschooling, her younger siblings’ education had improved. When I told her that I had called child protective services, she responded by saying “Thank you for caring enough to call.”
Better homeschooling laws would have improved my own experience in some small ways. Some of my siblings were interested in sports, but were barred by law from participating in the state’s public school leagues, which severely limited their options. Also, a homeschool law with specific subject requirements for high school would have helped my parents better plan my high school years. When my mother went to put together my high school transcript, she found that in order to award me a “Core 40” diploma I would have to meet certain subject requirements. She had not known this, because the lack of any homeschool law meant it was not specified anywhere. I did not meet the requirements, and that sent my mother scrambling to pull things together. She did not have this problem with the middle and younger children, but only because she had belatedly learned what was needed when graduating me from high school.
While my homeschool academic experience was overall very positive, my interaction with my brother’s friend revealed to me just how badly homeschooling could go wrong, especially where there is a lack of accountability. I am an advocate of homeschool laws that provide homeschool parents with guidance and accountability and offer homeschooled students resources and safeguards. I believe that every homeschooled child should have access to a basic education, and I would contend that even dedicated homeschool parents like mine stand to benefit from effective oversight and good homeschool laws.
Rachel Coleman was homeschooled in Indiana from 1992 to 2005.For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“As a licensed civil engineer, I would not think twice about my superior evaluating me. It simply wouldn’t be safe for the public if I were to design something without that design being checked by my superior. I think about accountability and oversight of home education in the same way.”
I am the parent of four daughters, and I have been educating them at home for ten years. During our decade of home education, we have lived in Illinois, Florida, and, within the last three months, Georgia. For the stake of protecting the identity of my daughters, I’m writing this testimonial under a pseudonym. My daughters did not grant me permission to use them as examples, nor would I ever put them in the position of asking them to be poster children for home education. That said, I am not in the least bit shy about providing my opinion, and should anyone reading this want to correspond with me privately, please contact me through the CRHE board.
Before I share my thoughts on oversight and accountability, I think it is necessary to provide some reasons why I home educate my children. I don’t home educate because I am scared of the public school system. I don’t home educate because I want my children to see the Ten Commandments hanging on the wall of their classroom. I don’t home educate because I am afraid my children will hate God if they read a science text on evolution. I don’t home educate because I want flexibility to travel. I don’t home educate because the thought of “unschooling” seems like a great way to provide academic rigor. I don’t home educate for religious reasons, though I unabashedly love the Jesus of the Bible. I don’t home educate because I want to validate my stay-at-home-mom status.
I do home educate because my specific children with their specific backgrounds and their specific needs are better able to learn in the academic environment I provide in our home. To provide such an environment, I have traded a six-figure income career that I loved and miss for part-time work from home as an engineer. I have willingly sacrificed money, relationships, and time in order to home educate. I work tirelessly to meet the academic needs of my children so that they receive the best possible education. It is an opportunity for which I am immensely grateful.
When I first began home educating, my family was living in Illinois. At that time, there were no home education laws regarding oversight or accountability. I did not have to tell anyone I was home educating, nor did I have to submit any documentation to that end. This seemed strange to me. I had worked hard to choose learning methodology and stellar curricula and I remember feeling disappointed that I couldn’t show anyone what I had done. When my oldest child was a second grader, we moved to Florida where the home education law requires parents to register with their county’s superintendent and submit documentation to the school district at the end of each year. To meet that requirement, I chose to have my children evaluated by a certified teacher at the end of each year. I have paid for various teachers to do this at the end of every year for the last eight years. It is money well spent.
During these evaluations, the teacher spends nearly the entire day at our house. She individually evaluates each child (without me in the room), and gives my students various tests to see where they are with regard to the county’s standard for that child’s specific grade. She thoroughly reviews the work my students have done throughout the year. She then sits with me for an extended period of time and talks with me about the academic progress of my children. Frankly, I enjoy showing off the hard work that I’ve done as a teacher throughout the year. Most importantly, I am able to receive information about any holes that the teacher sees in my teaching. I am then able to take that feedback and fix what needs to be fixed.
As a licensed civil engineer, I would not think twice about my superior evaluating me. It simply wouldn’t be safe for the public if I were to design something without that design being checked by my superior. I think about accountability and oversight of home education in the same way. For the safety of my children’s education, I want a professional looking at what I’ve done. I welcome her insight. I want to hear her criticism so that I can make changes if any are needed. I want her to tell me where I’m pushing too hard or not hard enough. I want to know if my students are testing at grade level as compared to their peers in the public school system. Why wouldn’t I want that kind of accountability for the children I love more than I have the words to express?
Opposition to oversight and accountability within education seems foolish. If parents educating their children at home are educating their students well, they have nothing to fear when it comes to oversight and accountability. Why wouldn’t every home educator welcome the opportunity to receive feedback on the job they are doing? Why wouldn’t every home educator desire to show how many days of school they’ve completed in a year? Why wouldn’t every home educator support, for the sake of those children in situations where they aren’t being educated well, oversight and accountability? If a home educator bristles at any of those questions, that educator needs to evaluate the motives and quality of their home education.
It’s time for home educators to speak up about what quality home education should look like. It’s time for home educators to urge their fellow parent-peers to seek out reviews of their teaching work, whether their state requires it or not. And it’s high time that home educators stand up and advocate for reasonable oversight and accountability guidelines for every student in every state. The future of children’s lives is at stake.
Amanda Smith has homeschooled her four daughters for over a decade in Illinois, Florida, and Georgia. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool parents, see our Testimonials page.
“The homeschool community should be leading the way in demanding accountability in home education. We who are not abusing our children, we who are providing a quality education, we who want to be accepted participants in community life, should demand politicians put in place a process that differentiates between quality home education and child neglect, and in the worst cases, abuse.”
I believe firmly that home education is a viable option for parents, but that the current legal environment for home education is way too lax. I home schooled in the state of Florida for nine years beginning in 1995, and I was in full compliance with their home education laws. I believe the accountability in the home education statutes of Florida made me a better home educator. I then moved to North Carolina where I continued to home school for another seven years, until I graduated my youngest in 2011. The minimal regulations in North Carolina are, in my opinion, scandalous.
Florida’s home education statutes required that a home educator keep a daily log of learning activities, a list of all texts and materials used, and be able to supply those records along with samples of a student’s work upon two weeks written notice from the local school districts superintendent’s office. As a home educator who takes education seriously, I appreciated the professionalism involved in keeping meticulous records. It kept me on my toes, as I made sure that my children’s education would be shown to be challenging them “commensurate with” their individual “ability”. I touched on every subject every school day, and probably put more effort and creativity into projects and field trips knowing that at the end of the year, a licensed school psychologist would look at my records and evaluate my program. After moving to North Carolina, I continued to keep records for my own benefit, but I must confess they were not as detailed as I kept in Florida, because no one would ever see them. I merely used them to reference dates and projects for my children’s college applications.
In both states I met families that were more concerned about religious indoctrination and compliant behavior than education. In Florida, those not intending to provide a quality education for their students would join “private schools that allowed for home education”. All these schools required, as far as record keeping, were days in attendance (which has got to be the most ridiculous requirement for a home education program ever!) and that the school have on file birth certificates and vaccination records or an immunization waiver. In the private school umbrella programs I witnessed, students also had to take a nationally-normed standardized test at the end of each year. Ironically enough, these are the same requirements that all home educators meet in North Carolina. In both states, there are no penalties for low scores on these tests, only a requirement that students take them.
In this environment of no oversight, it is easy for the less conscientious parent to get by with little, poorly executed, or even no education. I have seen with my own eyes a ten year old child who couldn’t read the panel on the Mario Brother’s video game asking a player to choose between one player or two. Illiteracy is a curse no parent should put on their child. Beyond that, though, I have met homeschool graduates in recent years that were victims of medical neglect, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse and spiritual abuse. I know personally graduates who received great academic educations, but whose parents deny them any proof of high school. There are home education graduates whose home birthing parents even denied them birth certificates, without which one can’t even prove citizenship. These home school graduates are consigned to a minimum wage existence, as they can’t attain any higher education with no birth certificate or proof of high school education. This is unacceptable to me.
The homeschool community should be leading the way in demanding accountability in home education. We who are not abusing our children, we who are providing a quality education, we who want to be accepted participants in community life, should demand politicians put in place a process that differentiates between quality home education and child neglect, and in the worst cases, abuse. Honest and capable home educating parents have nothing to fear from accountability. If they are of the Christian faith, that goes double, as we are supposed to “live such good lives among the pagans that they . . . may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits (I Peter 2:12, NIV).” No one lights a candle to hide under a cover, but to put on a stand for all to see, so Jesus told us (Mark 4, Luke 8, Luke 11). Christian home educators, above all kinds of home educators, should welcome accountability and seek it out!
Home educators claim to love children, and many of them claim to be disciples of Jesus, who also loved children. How then can the homeschool community shrug off the child deaths at the hands of abusive home educating parents? It seems to me that if we love children as we say we do, we would gladly submit to any level of accountability in order to protect the few who are languishing in bad homes because of the current lack of meaningful accountability. As soon as I heard the story of a homeschool graduate who suffered medical neglect, I thought to myself, “If only that child had an annual school physical, that serious health problem would have been discovered!” I am now 100% in favor of annual school physicals for home educated children, as well as daily logs of activities, lists of texts and materials used in education, and annual portfolio evaluations by a licensed school psychologist, as per the state of Florida home education requirements. Children deserve these protections.
I am in favor of closing all the loopholes, including the awful private school clause in the state of Florida. I see no problem with basic education requirements such as reading comprehension, basic math literacy, and minimal composition requirements as well. Annual school physicals, that include hearing and vision tests, should be minimum requirements. Anyone incapable of keeping a daily record of activities (Even unschoolers can do this! All of life is learning, right?) is in my opinion not competent to be in charge of a child’s education. The key phrase in Florida’s statutes, that learning is taking place “commensurate with his/her ability” means that while there would be no minimum score on a nationally-normed standardized test, all children should show progress from year to year. If a child cannot show progress, then the state should offer helps and interventions, such as evaluation for learning disabilities or teacher workshops offered to parents who want to improve. After two years of no progress, a parents right to home educate is forfeit and the child must be placed in credentialed education program that meets in a building with classrooms, run by trained professionals. A private school “that allows for home education” should not be an option.
I think that more exposure to the bright light of accountability will be good for all home education programs. My own program, while it is academically rigorous and in many ways an excellent choice for my children, had its weaknesses. For example, my son was not aware that he had ADD until he enrolled in community college and had trouble staying focused outside of class. Since we focused on academics every day until the work was done, with no set class times, how could he have known? He had no homework; it was all homework technically. Perhaps if I had continued to have those annual year-end evaluations, it may have been apparent to a school psychologist eventually. My daughter also had issues that a trained professional might have seen and been able to help us with. My religious proclivities had me seeing everything as a moral issue when biology and genetics were making adolescence especially difficult for my student. An extra pair of objective eyes looking at the family dynamics might have saved us a lot of grief.
To be plain, I am saying that the only way my home education could have been better was if I had access to professional accountability all the way through graduation, as I had in Florida. It would likely have made things much easier on my teenagers. Annual portfolio evaluations and annual physicals would be a help, not a hindrance, to home educating families. As responsible adults, we home educators should welcome accountability that will win praise for those doing well, assistance for those floundering, and exposure for those who are harming the children in their care.
We can have accountability that improves the quality of home education rather than hinders it. It is humanly possible to write regulations that refrain from dictating pedagogy and merely evaluate results on a periodic basis. It is possible to have cooperation between the home education and professional communities, such as annual school physicals, learning disability screenings, and teacher workshops, that work in the best interests of all homeschooled children. It is not enough for home educating parents to only care about their children, and not those children whose abusive parents use home education as a cover for their crimes. We need to work within our civic communities to make sure every child that can be helped is identified and offered help, while every healthy home schooling family is recognized and rewarded for pursuing excellence. It’s the least we can do for the least of these our brethren.
LaDonna Sasscer homeschooled her two children in Florida and North Carolina from 1995 to 2011. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool parents, see our Testimonials page.
“Christian … was allowed to explore reading, math, history and science at his own pace and to develop a great passion for learning. However, he worries that this may not be true of all homeschooled children. He especially worries for the girls he knew that were being told as young as five that they would not go to college because their duty was to be a good wife and mom.”
I home schooled my son Christian in Florida from 2004 to 2009. I was, perhaps, a unique homeschool mom in that I had never actually intended to homeschool my son. Instead, we chose to do so as he began reading at a very young age and was so very curious about things he simply would not get a chance to dive into in a traditional public school setting.
In the state of Florida, we were required to file a letter of intent to home educate. Subsequently, each year we were required to provide the county with either a letter stating that he had passed a standardized test or that he had a portfolio reviewed by a certified teacher.
While home schooled children had the option of taking the state test at no charge alongside their public school peers, we never even considered using this option. The FCAT was a dirty word among homeschoolers. We did, however, test annually. Unlike many of my friends who bristled at this requirement, I welcomed testing. It was proof that my child was thriving—that my decision to educate in this manner was working. Each year, he did exceedingly well on whichever test he took. I was always so proud of these scores.
I did have other friends who also tested. I imagine most of the kids who did were also succeeding academically. However, I did know some who upon underperforming on a test then turned to the portfolio review. Others only ever considered the portfolio review. Can this type of review be done effectively? Perhaps. From what I could tell, though, these “reviews” often consisted of very little beyond finding a sympathetic teacher who was willing to sign your form and perhaps showing them some of your child’s best work. How else can I explain the sixth grader who could not read the word “house” or the high school student who struggled with basic math concepts but whom both always had their portfolio approved?
When Christian got older, it became apparent to us both that his passion for math and science was outpacing my ability to instruct or challenge him. In addition, we were troubled both by our difficulty finding unbiased curriculum and by social challenges presented by the heavily evangelical homeschool population in our area. He enrolled in the local public school in 5th grade. My decision was not welcomed by those I had considered friends for years. I was considered a traitor to the movement. A sinner. Christian was shunned entirely.
We worried about the transition. We had spent the last many years hearing such horrible stories about public schools. Imagine our surprise when Christian loved it. While a little bored initially, he was placed in increasingly challenging classes all the while earning perfect grades and near perfect test scores. His biggest fear the first year was the dreaded FCAT. He was so surprised to find that it was actually quite simple compared to tests he had taken previously and he struggled with the notion that so many feared it.
Christian believes homeschooling did benefit him. He was allowed to explore reading, math, history and science at his own pace and to develop a great passion for learning. However, he worries that this may not be true of all homeschooled children. He especially worries for the girls he knew that were being told as young as five that they would not go to college because their duty was to be a good wife and mom.
For this reason, Christian would like to see all homeschoolers in the state of Florida take the FCAT. We both believe that unless fundamental math and reading skills are lacking it is very unlikely that a homeschooled child would have difficulty with the exam. We believe that homeschoolers should be held to the same standards as their public school counterparts. A proper education is so important for our children—regardless of how they are educated. Neither Christian nor I can see how ensuring that a minimum bar of achievement is met constitutes an intrusion on parental rights. If anything, it is parents’ duty as parents to ensure that our children receive the best education they can.
Lara Condor homeschooled her son in Florida from 2004 to 2009. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool parents, see our Testimonials page.
“I always felt very fortunate with Iowa’s homeschooling laws. I homeschooled my children in Iowa for fifteen years, all the way up until my youngest graduated three years ago. I’m writing because Iowa’s homeschooling law benefited my own children in a real way, and I want present and future homeschooled children in Iowa to have these same benefits.”
As a Christian homeschooling parent of four, I always felt very fortunate with Iowa’s homeschooling laws. I homeschooled my children in Iowa for fifteen years, all the way up until my youngest graduated three years ago. I’m writing because Iowa’s homeschooling law benefited my own children in a real way, and I want present and future homeschooled children in Iowa to have these same benefits.
The Iowa homeschooling law has allowed parents to choose one of several options to satisfy the Competent Private Instruction requirement. There is the annual assessment, which means results from a standardized test, either taken through the school system or provided in some form by the parent, or this could be satisfied by a teacher assessing a portfolio of the child’s work. Basically either one needs to show some kind of progress being made. The other option is a supervising teacher who meets with the family every 45 days. The family can choose dual enrollment where the school receives funds and then the child can access textbooks, classes, extracurricular activities, and standardized testing. Or a family can choose, if the school district makes it available, to sign up for a homeschool assistance program where the school receives funds to provide the supervising teacher. Most of the homeschoolers I knew chose dual enrollment for the access to the school library, field trips, sports, and extracurricular activities like choir, speech, and drama.
During our 15 years of homeschooling, we used both the standardized test assessment option and the supervising teacher option through the homeschool assistance program our school district provided upon our request. The teacher we worked with was incredible, and our children preferred meeting with her over the testing option, since test taking was difficult for them. The teacher helped us acquire school textbooks when we found them suitable and loaned us a large number of reading books. The children developed a relationship with her over the years, and she still takes an interest in their lives. She also helped us connect with teachers in the school system who could give me advice on dealing with specific learning issues. Other friends who used the supervising teacher option have hired certified teachers in the school system or have found certified teachers who were currently homeschoolers.
Because Iowa allows for dual enrollment, my kids could participate in extracurricular activities in the local school system. Our school system has a tough policy concerning grade requirements in those activities. You could be the best person on the speech team but with one bad grade, you’re out. Since all the coaches knew the kids had a supervising teacher who was overseeing their schoolwork and who would let them know if their schoolwork dropped below the acceptable level, all four kids were active in extracurricular activities, including speech, drama, show choir, and sports. The sports led two of them to college scholarships.
Even more importantly, I found that Iowa’s regulations gave standing to my children’s academic qualifications when it was time for college. Ultimately that meant they went to college and are on their way, successfully, to degrees. For two of my children, you see, college was not an interesting concept, but they desperately wanted to play a college sport. Fortunately, they were each recruited to play their freshman year, which as kids who found academics difficult and who are terrible test takers, was the only way they were interested in college. Their athletic ability was also their only route to scholarships since their ACT scores were never going to get them there.
The NCAA, however, has certain regulations as to who is eligible to play their first year, one of which is high school graduation. With my older son, the coach had a lot of doubts about how to work homeschooling into those requirements. My son was a great recruit for him, but no coach wants to go back and forfeit a bunch of games because he or she made a mistake about eligibility. While I was able to create a very pretty transcript of his high school classes and a wonderful diploma, it was not sufficient because it could not by itself be fully verified.
Eventually, the college eligibility office decided that because we had chosen the supervising teacher option and she could therefore verify that we had indeed taught the necessary core courses, and because the school system had received her evaluations and our paperwork on a timely basis, my older son was eligible. The school superintendent simply crafted a letter testifying to these events, and that eligibility requirement was met. That set a standard then for the younger son, and for other homeschool kids who wanted to play sports their first year at that college.
If we hadn’t had excellent homeschool standards in Iowa, my children would not be where they are today. I hadn’t anticipated they would be good enough to play a college sport, since those qualities did not emerge until later in high school, and so I would not have been foresighted enough to have a supervising teacher, or to make sure they met those NCAA core requirements for classes. Both boys now say that it’s not sports that keep them in school. It’s the learning and what it will do for them in the long run. But without that firsthand experience of how it could work with their learning requirements and without that lure of playing a college sport, they would never have had the passion to pursue a degree. As I see their pride in their accomplishments, I thank Iowa for their concern for my children and for the state’s high education standards, of which we Iowans have always been proud.
As I look at the pending repeal of Iowa’s homeschooling law, I am appalled. It’s not like the paperwork is all that difficult, and the assessment is in the best interest of the child. Having been part of very large homeschool groups, I can honestly say I never heard anyone complain about the requirement. We always looked down on those states without the standards we had. I’ve called Governor Terry Branstad and asked him to line item veto Division XI of House File 215 so that current and future homeschooled children can have the same excellent experience as my own children.
Jackie Cordon homeschooled her children in Iowa for fifteen years. She wrote this essay in 2013 following the repeal of Iowa’s homeschool law. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool parents, see our Testimonials page.
“Space does not permit us to discuss the many more positive benefits homeschool parents and their children receive by having accountability procedures in place. Following a few requirements is not burdensome and provides protection for both the parent and child and ensures a successful homeschool experience for all. Remember, the goal is to prepare our children to be educated, moral, productive members of society.”
As veterans of 18 years of homeschooling we are strong believers in accountability to ensure a child receives a quality education. All four of our children were homeschooled K-12, and then went on to college and earned bachelor’s degrees. Two hold master degrees, one is completing work on his doctorate, and one will be awarded her Juris Doctor in May.
We homeschooled under the covering of an umbrella school, and served on the school’s board of directors for at least 15 years. Requirements for school membership were closely fashioned after the state homeschool statute requirements. Parents were required to keep daily attendance records, (180 days, the same as the state public school statute) keep a daily log of lesson plans, keep a portfolio representative of the student’s work, and have an end of year evaluation using one of three methods: (1) standardized achievement test (2) Evaluation by a certified teacher or, (3) any other method mutually agreed upon by the parent and the board. The student must show yearly progress commensurate with his/her ability.
These requirements were not at all burdensome and were designed to help parents ensure that their child received a quality education. Not only were parents accountable to the board, they also received and welcomed valuable support as they embarked on the educational choice of homeschooling.
During our 18 years of homeschooling we witnessed many successful students go on to become happy, productive members of society. But, we also witnessed some homeschool failures as parents did not provide an adequate education for their children. The parents did not hold themselves accountable, either under an umbrella school as allowed by law in our state, or by following the state law requirements for homeschooling. They were accountable to no one and their children did not learn. They could not do the basic 3 R’s of reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. They could not get into college nor could they find gainful employment.
Another important issue is that without accountability in place there is the strong potential that child abuse will go unreported. A young boy in our community died at the hands of his adoptive parents who were ostensibly homeschooling. They had not adhered to existing homeschool laws. The repeated abuse went undetected because the parents hid the abuse in their home and had no contact with the outside world. Both parents were convicted of the abuse and murder of their son and are serving life sentences.
We strongly urge parents who choose to educate their children at home to make themselves accountable by following existing homeschool laws, keep good records (important for transcripts to get your child into college), and support homeschool laws that have reasonable oversight to protect children and ensure they receive a good education.
Space does not permit us to discuss the many more positive benefits homeschool parents and their children receive by having accountability procedures in place. Following a few requirements is not burdensome and provides protection for both the parent and child and ensures a successful homeschool experience for all. Remember, the goal is to prepare our children to be educated, moral, productive members of society.
Kieth and Gail Brightbill homeschooled their children in Florida in the 1980s and 1990s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool parents, see our Testimonials page.
“If there had been more regulations on homeschooling in the states in which I lived I would have been more aware of my success or failure as my children’s primary educator. We are taught as homeschoolers to protect our privacy at all costs. But so much stress would have been alleviated with more oversight.”
I was the homeschooled kid (K—12th grade) who grew up to become a homeschool mom; what they call “second generation homeschoolers”. I was homeschooled in North Carolina from 1983 to 1996. Homeschooling was all I knew. My parents were upper middle class most of my childhood; mother was a college trained educator and my dad was a successful business owner. Both were strongly religious and home life was strict but loving and happy.
My early homeschool experience was ridged, disciplined, and could only be described as very thorough. My mom planned, researched, and organized during every evening, weekend, and the entire summer; researching new curriculum, writing articles for our state homeschool lobbyist group, and shuttling us to lots of extra curricular activities. My only brother and I were getting a fabulous education and were quite well socialized. While my mom lived under constant misgivings over her ability to give us the best out there nonetheless, there is no question our education was stellar, causing our family to attract media attention and we were featured in TV and newsprint articles on several occasions about the emerging homeschool movement in America.
By the time, the 90’s came, the Christian Homeschool Movement (CHM) was gaining speed and branching out. No longer were all the conferences and magazines solely focused on educating your child at home. Steadily the focus shifted to “shaping minds and hearts”. Radical ideas on parenting from over a generation ago were being recycled with shiny new names like “Quiverful” and “Godly living” and “Courtship”. Suddenly, it seemed, homeschoolers were militant about attacking societal norms. And my family was right there with them.
My mother got a tubal reversal and had two more children in quick succession. Suddenly my jeans and shorts were replaced with jean jumpers and skirts. We started attending smaller and smaller churches. The extracurriculars ended. We moved out of the city and my dad sold his business. Our home and home education became a stifling and controlling thing. Michael Pearl books entered our house and regular beatings with them. I was 14 now and my life felt over. But even still, I was the pretty, demure little homeschooled girl behind the curriculum table, the perfect poster child for home education. Every few months when my family manned booths at Christian Homeschool conferences around the country. I convinced nervous moms that anyone could homeschool. I extolled my unique and exciting education and proudly used big words many of those moms didn’t even know. By the time they left my table they were sold, running off to drag their own little girls over to meet this “exemplary young lady”. It was all a lie. I was miserable and dying inside. But as long as nobody knew I felt my life could go on. I desperately wanted to be who I was expected to be! I never would be but I wanted to so badly!
Then suddenly I was grown and the man who had filled my dreams since I was 16 finally met with my dad’s approval and a quick and crazy, topsy turvy “Courtship” ensued. We were married when I was barely 19 and we were pregnant a month later. There was no space between raising siblings and having kids of my own. It all happened so fast.
I had been battling depression since I turned 13. I thought being blissfully happy and so in love would make me stop feeling depressed and maybe it did for a few years. But with the discovery of my 3rd pregnancy in less than 4 years everything fell apart. I didn’t want another child. At all. I could not understand why it HAD to be God’s will for me to be pregnant continuously, as I had been raised to believe. I was doing fine with my 2 kids before my second wedding anniversary, but 3? This was more than I could take. And with each passing day of my pregnancy I was more and more angry and more and more depressed. When my beautiful daughter was born the anger vanished, but in its place settled the darkest depression I had ever experienced. Honestly I barely remember that year.
When I was finally diagnosed with Postpartum Depression, my life was in shambles. Medication literally saved my life but within 2 years another baby joined our family. By now I thought something was wrong with me. I didn’t want to be the “quiverfull” ideal I had been raised to believe was my purpose!! I was terrified of pregnancy and desperately wanted to stop having babies! I tried all kinds of “Christian approved” barrier methods but I kept getting pregnant. Baby number 5 was the tipping point. I was now homeschooling my 2nd, 1st and kinder grade students (I began homeschooling the first in 2003, when we lived in Kansas). I stumbled through my days feeling like everything I did I failed at. My oldest could barely read despite being a brilliant child, my second child did nothing I asked her to do, and my third was so bright and constantly begged for more school work to do. All I did was put them off by throwing little workbooks books at them while the expensive curriculums I bought collected dust. I lived in constant fear that someone would realize how poorly I handled everything.
I hated every single thing about being a homeschool mom. I constantly looked for a way out. A way out of having babies, a way out of homeschooling, a way out of the isolation and depression that by now was never far from me. But the fear kept me rooted to the spot. I was at least pleasing God, right? I had that “full quiver” I was supposed to have. I kept them home with me and oh so safe and sheltered. We didn’t have cable TV. I frequently heard from other homeschool moms, “Don’t worry! You are doing the right thing. Even if your kids don’t learn the 3 R’s everyday, at least they are learning character!” . . . whatever the heck that meant. What, “character” like putting off an education is always an option? Or maybe “character” like having children around all the time makes parents constantly miserable so I have to “take care” of them in order to not feel like a burden?? What, like THAT kind of “character”?
Fear of public schools and “kids out in the world” was always in the back of my mind. When I finally hit rock bottom and couldn’t function anymore and went and enrolled my kids in our local public school I thought I would throw up their first day of school. It was the fall of 2007; we now lived in Missouri. I dropped them off and panicked the entire day. I paced. I cried. I watched the clock. When I finally picked them up I was shocked at how happy and excited they were. “BEST DAY EVER MOM!!!” they shouted as soon they yanked the car door open. I couldn’t believe it. They bonded with teachers, they made friends, they got to choose their own food in the cafeteria! It was all magical to them! Was it perfect? No. But slowly I began to heal. I began to come alive again. For the first time in many years I was finally making dinner, I was getting out of bed in the mornings, and for the first time ever I was on birth control! I felt like I had a whole new lease on life!
But the fear nagged, and the lack of control over our schedule, and knowing several mid-school year moves were coming up, made us go back to homeschooling after that year. I thought after a year break I was healthy enough to manage educating my kids again. But each year I had more on my plate. Even at my best, each child was only getting about 3 days worth of their curriculum done a week. No matter how we did the schedule I was constantly behind. There were no weekends. No real holidays. No summer breaks. No, all we did was try to get something done . . . every. single. day. I was back to hating my life and before long, stopped getting out of bed again.
Finally, after 3 years of homeschooling again, during the summer before my oldest turned 13 years old, he came to my room one day, clutching some papers in hand. “Can I talk to you Mom?” What he said rocked my world. He hugged me first, then said, “I think its time for us kids to go to real school. I love being home with you Mom and I know you try hard but we need to learn more. And I don’t think that’s going to happen here at home with you.” I gulped. He was right. Tears filled my eyes as I stared at my hands. “I’ve been doing some checking. There is a school not far from here. My friend from church goes to school there. Will you please check it out? I bet they have a website,” he said hopefully. As soon as I found the website, in big bold letters across the top it said “TUITION-FREE, CHARTER SCHOOL.” I read everything on the site in the next few hours and read reviews elsewhere online. By the time my husband got home I was ready to enroll them. It was 2011; we now lived in Texas.
It was a great year. A year that changed my life. I became a totally different kind of mom. By this time all 5 kids were school age and I bit my fingernails for weeks waiting to hear they were too far behind for the grades I placed them in. But instead they brought home good grades. They struggled a little but this school had lots of former homeschoolers so the teachers and staff knew what to expect and how to help them adjust. The youngest ones had no trouble at all and the oldest mostly struggled with a few holes in their education but for the most part rapidly caught up. When we moved again at the end of that school year I was committed to never educating at home again. And we based our search for a home more heavily on the school district. We settled in a place with great public schools and our kids again, thrived.
My world opened up. I went to my kids sports games and met other parents. I volunteered to help with decorations for parties, and became friends with my kids teachers. They were so much more knowledgable than I was and they found my kids strengths and celebrated them and helped them work hard on their weak areas. Slowly it dawned on me that my kids were going through the same things socially I was with adults in my life. The kids in public schools weren’t some mutant life form. They were just people; real, raw, growing people. And my kids were learning to love and accept people who were different than them and to stand up for themselves too. They were finding out about the world around them. And I was right there to be apart of that. My relationship with each of my children deepened. My depression ended. The weight lifted from my shoulders.
I am aware that some parents can and do homeschool well, like my mother did in my early years as a homeschooled child, when we lived in a large city and had a robust and thriving homeschool organization to be involved in. But as a parent, I wasn’t myself able to provide that or be involved in that. I am proof that not everyone can homeschool. And not everyone should.
If there had been more regulations on homeschooling in the states in which I lived I would have been more aware of my success or failure as my children’s primary educator. We are taught as homeschoolers to protect our privacy at all costs. But so much stress would have been alleviated with more oversight. Resources from the local school district would have been helpful, or at least having a state hotline where I could ask questions and find out about support groups in my area would have been good. Requiring testing every few years (as most states do for public school students) would have helped keep me accountable to stay on track with the curriculum. Plus would help identify weak areas in my students.
Pushing the government out of home education completely does not help the cause of homeschooling or the parents who attempt to do it. And it certainly doesn’t better protect children. Accountability and greater transparency can only improve the situation for everyone. It doesn’t limit rights, it simply brings to light those who are thriving and allows those who are struggling to get help. For me, letting go of a fear of our American school system and realizing that my personal involvement in my children’s education didn’t mean my only option was to homeschool was a huge relief! And opened a whole new world of educational opportunities for my children. I still believe homeschooling can be a wonderful option for education, but in order for its success to be known, we must be more open to accountability and minimal standards must be met.
Jane Morgan was homeschooled in North Carolina from 1983 to 1996. She homeschooled her own children from 2003 to 2011 in Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni and homeschool parents, see our Testimonials page.
“Today as a public school educator, I advocate for strict oversight of homeschooling not only because of my horrible childhood, but also because I have been that typical homeschooling mom trying to do the best she can with little resources and support around her to daily keep her motivated.”
As a homeschooled student, I needed a system that would help hold my parents accountable for the type of education that I was receiving. Neglect and abuse reigned in our home because there was a lack of accountability. If educational standards had been in place and annual testing mandatory, it would have become apparent that my parents needed support to address the holes in my understanding. The abuse and neglect would have been addressed and my educational quality (as well as quality of life) would have improved.
As a homeschooling parent, I was aware of the holes in my education to a certain extent. I felt that I could do a better job and still give my son a sound education while avoiding the pitfalls. What became apparent was that my son was not going to get an education as I lacked the accountability of a structure to keep him doing school daily. I didn’t realize the issues that I was having in motivating my son to do his work were not his fault and slowly I found that “homeschool” was morphing into one long, never ending snow day.
After expressing concern, my husband and I placed our oldest son into public school. Not only did he thrive, we also discovered a key component to helping him succeed in life and that was his Asperger/ADHD/SPD diagnosis. Without the support and resources of the public school, our son would not be at near the level of achievement that he is currently.
Today as a public school educator, I advocate for strict oversight of homeschooling not only because of my horrible childhood, but also because I have been that typical homeschooling mom trying to do the best she can with little resources and support around her to daily keep her motivated. Further oversight and accountability are necessary to help these vulnerable children succeed. But they also are necessary because they provide the family with help, tools, and support when things don’t go as planned. Oversight and protections are a necessary part of all educational systems to ensure teacher and student success. Homeschools should be among them. For these reasons and many others, I support further regulation of home education.
Chandra B. was homeschooled in Missouri from 1986 to 1999. She homeschooled her own children in Missouri in 2008. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.