As Homeschooling Increases, So Does Accountability

When it comes to homeschooling, many states don’t require minimum instruction time or the teaching of state-mandated subjects.

Homeschooling is on the rise in the U.S. (Photo: MCT via Getty Images )
Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

As homeschooling becomes more popular, school districts around the country are trying to figure out how to cope with an assortment of problems.

Case in point: Arkansas.

In the 1980s, only a few hundred students were homeschooled in the state, which rose a bit to 3,140 in 1992. But by 2002, that number had grown to 12,497. In 2011, more than 16,000 students were homeschooled, which was 3.5 percent of the state's 468,000 public school students.

In Arkansas, the state’s education board, like many others in the country, is now grappling with how to keep count of students who enroll in homeschool programs but later drop out. The state, like many others, doesn’t have a tracking system for these students.

More: Adventures in Homeschooling: Quinn Cummings’ ‘Year of Learning Dangerously’

Last year, Arkansas went from 17,500 homeschooled students at the start of the school year to about 16,400 by year’s end. It’s unclear whether the missing students enrolled in public or private schools or simply dropped out of the homeschool education program.  

Another problem facing Arkansas’s education board is standardized testing. Arkansas law requires norm-referenced testing for public school students in third and ninth grades. But other standardized tests are not required for homeschooled students, making it impossible to compare proficiency.

According to the website International Center for Home Education Research, which was founded this year, state-by-state regulations for homeschooling vary significantly.

Some states, like Alaska, Missouri, and Idaho, don’t require notification or registration with the state. In fact, nearly a quarter of states don't require registration or provide notification. 

Many states don’t even require minimum instruction time or the teaching of state-mandated subjects. Arkansas, however, does require information about intended curricula and a planned instructional schedule to be submitted with notification, along with information about the educational qualifications of parents. But like many states, Arkansas doesn’t require kept attendance records on how often students attend class.

Kimberly A. Yuracko, a law professor at Northwestern University, makes the case that “state statutes and the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution require that states have a responsibility to regulate homeschooling in certain respects.”

An associate professor of education at Messiah College in Grantham, PA, Milton Gaither has done extensive research on homeschooling and authored the book, Homeschool: An American History. He notes, “A homeschooling family that is doing its job should have no fear of outside evaluation—should welcome it, in fact, as it will demonstrate to the public at large how effective homeschooling can be.”

Arkansas isn’t alone in not requiring homeschooled students to take the same standardized tests as their public school peers. Many states do not require it, and in those states, like Texas and Pennsylvania, many parents prefer homeschooling. They argue on various websites that they do not want to send their children to conventional public schools, where the focus often seems to be on standardized tests.

According to ICHER, a 2007 survey shows 1.5 million students were homeschooled that year. Many academics who study homeschool education say that number is closer to two million now, but it’s hard to know because of such lax reporting rules throughout the country.

As homeschooling increases in both rural and metro areas, lawmakers will have to find a delicate balance between respecting family privacy and keeping track of standards so that students can be properly educated.

Do you think there needs to be more accountability when it comes to homeschooling? Tell us in comments.

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