If you’ve ever wondered whether your local school is right for your child, you’re not alone.
More and more families are considering homeschooling for their children. A little over three percent of U.S. students are homeschooled today — and the number is growing. Some families opt to homeschool to exert greater control over what their children learn; others do it to avoid the regimen of state assessments; and still others seek to incorporate experiential learning and travel.
Like other school choice options, homeschooling requirements vary by state. If you’re considering homeschooling for your children, you’ll want to know what your state’s rules are for this educational option.
Homeschooling is legal in all fifty states, but the rules and regulations vary. Because education in the U.S. is largely controlled at the state and district levels, a patchwork of requirements and regulations has taken shape all across the country.
States have three primary means of regulating homeschooling, though not all states rely on all three mechanisms. In fact, some states don't impose any regulatory requirements at all. Of those that provide some measure of oversight, you can typically expect to encounter one or more of these means for ensuring that children are being adequately educated at home:
1. Parent notification
In states that impose this requirement, the parent must notify the child’s school district of the intention to homeschool. Some states require you to send a certified letter to the superintendent or district office, while others, like New York State, require that families complete an additional form provided by the district to explain their “individualized home instruction plan,” or IHIP. States may have deadlines by which this documentation must be submitted, as well as requirements that families renew their notifications annually.
2. Test scores and/or professional evaluations
Some states require families to provide test scores that are evaluated by a district representative. Among states with this mandate, each has its own set of guidelines for testing and reporting scores. A2z Homeschooling provides a state-by-state overview of testing requirements, but you’ll also want to check with your local school district or department of education to be sure that you have the most up-to-date requirements.
In many cases, families are required to have a qualified person or school district representative administer the exam. Some states require the family to pay for the cost of testing, while the local school district will cover the testing expenses in others.
States that require testing have a list of approved standardized achievement tests provided by different testing service companies. Some of these assessment providers will specialize in one exam, such as the PASS test, while others offer a variety of standardized tests, including the IOWA, TerraNova, Woodcock Johnson, and BASI.
Additionally, some districts may require an evaluator to assess a portfolio of your child's work in order to determine if she is meeting grade-level standards. Such assessments may be instead of standardized tests or may complement these evaluations.
3. Additional requirements, such as curriculum approval, parental qualifications, or home visits
In some states, the parent's educational qualifications will be assessed, though most localities only require a high school diploma. That said, in some cases you may need to demonstrate content mastery in a particular subject or grade level, such as high school chemistry. In addition, some states require that parents submit their curricula for approval by district representatives. States may even send an evaluator to assess the homeschool environment during regular home visits.
If you’re teaching your child a subject that is also new to you, read this guide to teaching subjects that you’re learning yourself.
State Learning Supports
Typically, parents have significant latitude in designing their own curricula. Most states will provide a range of learning supports, as well. These may include one or more of the following:
If your student would benefit from part — but not all — of a public school's curriculum, she'll usually be able to attend some classes at her local school.
Online or virtual classes
Many states have an online or virtual school system whereby your child can take single classes or follow a comprehensive virtual program of study.
Resources and education for students with disabilities
Some states offer education tax credits to cover approved homeschool expenses, including materials, curricula, or tutoring. Check with your state education department to learn more about which expenses qualify.
If you’re looking for an overview of educational choices in your area, Noodle’s state-by-state guide provides information on school choice options across the U.S.
You can also find additional information at The Friedman Foundation or by looking at your state’s department of education website.
Getting Started Homeschooling
If you’ve never homeschooled before, you may wonder how to begin. Follow these three easy tips to get things underway:
1. Check your local resources.
If you live in a city or metropolitan area, there are many local supports for homeschoolers. Check with your branch library to see what resources it offers, and visit the websites of museums, zoos, and aquariums to learn if they offer special days and curricula for homeschooled children and their families. You can also investigate galleries, art schools, and other local cultural institutions to inquire if they offer resources for homeschoolers.
While rural communities don’t typically have the same array of cultural offerings that larger cities do, there may be other local attractions, such as farms, manufacturing facilities, or fisheries, that offer tours or programs to homeschooling families.
2. Network with local homeschooling families.
Check out Facebook, parent meetups, neighborhood online groups, and religious institutions to find homeschooling networks in your area. Many homeschoolers gather to provide support and to socialize with one another, often planning field trips to attend together. These excursions can be educational, such as meeting at the science museum or going on a factory tour, or they may be purely social, like meeting at a bowling alley or skating rink. Some homeschooling networks even have ways for kids to study together. State resources should be able to point you toward additional resources for researching these groups.
3. Use state resources and curriculum guides.
Many states provide curricula, guidelines, textbooks, and assessments for homeschooling families, and you are free to use these or to create your own materials. Many families turn to their local communities to help guide their development of engaging curricula. If you live in eastern Pennsylvania, for example, you could design a history lesson around a visit to the Gettysburg battlefield. Those in Los Angeles might study paleontology at the La Brea tar pits. If you're in a rural location, your students can learn about sustainable agriculture practices with a trip to an organic farm.
Many families find homeschooling to be an enriching and rewarding experience for children and adults alike. And even in states with the strongest oversight and regulations, you'll still be the one determining what will best serve your child's education interests and needs — and that’s often the primary reason parents choose to homeschool in the first place.
Interesting in Learning More?
You'll find further information from the community of education experts on Noodle. Feel free to ask a question about homeschooling. These articles also may help in your decision-making process:
- Is Homeschooling Right for your Family?
- What Homeschooling Actually Looks Like
- What Is School Choice? An Overview for Parents
National and International Homeschool Organization Directories
School Choice in the States: A Policy Landscape. (2013). Retrieved June 10, 2015, from Council of Chief State School Officers.