Homeschooling is a do-what-you-want kind of thing, right? No laws? No rules? Just funsies with the fam?
Although we want to see that movie.
To make sure that homeschooling programs are still giving students a bang-up education, there are a number of laws and regulations in place to keep things standardized.
Why? Well, as we mention in "The History of Homeschooling in the U.S.," organizers of the modern homeschooling movement began working in the 1960s to gain legal status for homeschooling in the United States. This was because numerous compulsory education laws had been established between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries, and by that point they had started to seem out of date. By 1993, those organizers had achieved their goal and the last three holdout states—Michigan, North Dakota, and Iowa—enacted legislation to legalize home instruction.
Of course, since the battle was won state by state, the laws regarding homeschooling in each state vary widely. In general, there is an age range (most often between seven and 17 or thereabouts) during which education is compulsory, and during that time, parents who wish to educate their children through home instruction must follow their home state's rules in terms of record-keeping, curriculum, and assessment.
But how, exactly, to make that happen?
In some states, such as Maine, reporting and assessment requirements are fairly relaxed. Essentially, Maine homeschoolers must submit a letter of intent at the beginning of each school year (beginning within 10 days of their child's seventh birthday and ending when their child turns 17) to let both the Department of Education and their local superintendents know that they plan to homeschool their children.
Then, at the end of the year, they must complete one of the accepted methods of assessment for each homeschooled child. The most commonly used method among Maine homeschoolers is a portfolio review with a certified teacher. After those assessments, parents must gather the results—in the case of a portfolio review, a simple letter from the teacher who performed the review stating that the child is indeed making progress—and submit them to the Department of Education and their local superintendents.
And that's it.
In other states, such as New York, homeschooling is much more rigorously regulated. New York homeschoolers have to submit an annual intent to homeschool and complete an Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP) form for each child they intend to homeschool over the course of the year. The IHIP is reviewed by the local school district and must be approved in order for the family to pursue homeschooling.
In addition, NY hsers must file quarterly (yes, quarterly) reports detailing the courses completed, grades received, and materials used for each homeschooling child in the family. There are required courses, very specific attendance requirements, and stringent assessment procedures.
And then there's Texas. (Isn't there always?) Here are the rules for homeschooling in the Lone Star State:
"Parents who choose to home school are required to follow a course of study that includes good citizenship. A public school district may ask parents to provide assurances in writing that they intend to home school their child" (source).
The district "may ask." And that's pretty much it. No notice, no mandatory assessments, just a heads up that the local school district might, just might, ask you to put it in writing. Of course, if a Texas homeschooler wants to matriculate at any point, there may be hoops through which to jump, but to homeschool?
They pretty much take the Nike approach: Just do it.
But Really: Keeping It Legal
As you can see, the process of keeping it legal varies greatly depending upon where you live, so be sure that you understand the laws regarding home instruction in your state from the start.
The Home School Legal Defense Association has an interactive map that will let you search homeschooling laws by state, but you have to log in to access it. If you prefer not to set up an account, no worries. You can check out the map in this article from the Coalition for Responsible Home Education for an overview of each state's laws, and then go directly to your state's Department of Education to read the fine print.
We know you love the fine print.*
*Obviously you don't love fine print. But you have to read it anyway.
If you're looking to beef up your homeschool game, check out our Homeschool Plan, which will allow you and up to 10 students access to our premium resources!