Home schooling 'not for everybody': Part 3 in 3-part series

  • Jan. 7, 2016

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.

By Mary Keck

Desiree King attended public school up until the seventh grade, when she started learning from her mother at her home in Bedford. At the time, her parents withdrew her younger sister from kindergarten because of issues she was having with a teacher, and King decided it would be "cool" to be home-schooled, too.

"I struggled with bullying, and thought it would be cool and different. I thought it would be more fun and easier to be home," King said.

King said home schooling was not only a chance to avoid problems at public school, but also an opportunity for her parents to incorporate religious beliefs such as creationism into the curriculum. There was not much consistency at home, and there were days when she just didn't have school.

As she looks back on her experience now, King wonders if attending public school would have opened up more opportunities for her and made her more prepared for college.

"I don’t think it’s as great as it could have been. Home schooling is definitely not for everybody. You have to be disciplined, get up and get into the routine," she said. "When I 'graduated' in 2006, I was behind. I had to go to community college to take some remedial courses to catch up a little bit."

King feels that more oversight would have helped her have a better experience with home education.

"It would have been a lot better if we would have had to turn in something to keep us accountable," she said.

King graduated from Indiana University in 2013 and now works as a before- and after-school coordinator at Monroe County Community School Corp.

Home education requirements in Indiana

In Indiana, the only legal requirement for home schooling is that students attend school by the age of 7, and that school is taught in the English language for 180 days.

While parents can choose to report enrollment to the Indiana Department of Education, it isn't required. The state doesn't set a curriculum for home-school families or require that home educators have a certain level of education or licensing, and students are exempt from standardized tests such as the ISTEP-Plus that children in public schools take each year.

"The (DOE) encourages home-school families to keep good attendance and educational records in case any questions ever arise regarding a child’s education; however, the state Legislature does not require any of this data to be reported to the department," Samantha Hart, press secretary for the Indiana Department of Education, said in an email.

Because there are so few requirements for reporting information about home schooling, it's tough to accurately determine which families are more likely to home-school students, whether or not home education results in increased student achievement and what the best teaching methods are for home-schooling kids.

According to Hart, there were 4,257 students registered as home-schooled in Indiana in 2014; however, because registering your child with the DOE is voluntary, it is not the total number of home-school students in the state.

"We really don’t have any idea how many home-schoolers are in Indiana, what they’re doing or how they’re doing it," said Robert Kunzman, the managing director for the International Center for Home Education Research at Indiana University.

"We can safely assert that the quality of home schooling runs the gamut, just as the quality of institutional schooling runs the gamut," he said.

A student can be home-schooled from kindergarten to their senior year of high school, and the home educator can compose the student's transcripts and diploma.

Colleges and universities accept home-school diplomas and transcripts. At Indiana University in Bloomington, for example, 129 home-schooled students applied in fall 2015, and 95 were accepted. Out of a class of 7,875 students in the freshman class this fall, a total of 21 had been home schooled.

The small number of students who come from home education allows IU to follow up and ask questions if necessary, said Sacha Thieme, executive director of admissions at IU Bloomington.

"We accept what they send us, but it's not uncommon for us to ask clarifying questions," she noted.

Home-school oversight

Concern about the kids whose quality of education at home isn't the best caused Rachel Coleman to co-found the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, an organization that researches and promotes more accountability for home education.

Coleman is a doctoral student at Indiana University and was home-schooled from kindergarten to high school in Evansville. While her personal experience with home schooling was positive overall, she has become an advocate for more oversight of families who choose home education.

"Oversight isn’t always about some sort of slapping people's hands or forcing kids to go back to public schools. It’s about accountability, which is good for parents and students," she said.

Coleman asserts that laws are needed to require that certain subjects are taught and that parents provide evidence of their child's education annually through either a portfolio or a test. She also advocates for the protection of at-risk children whose parents or family members may use home schooling as a means of mistreating their children, such as adults who have been previously convicted of child abuse or kidnapping.

"In most cases, you’re not seeing abuse and neglect, but the laws are so lax it allows this to happen. In public school, a teacher would notice something," Coleman said.

Both Coleman and King believe children who may not be receiving the care or education they need are more likely to get help if they go to school each day, whereas home-schooled kids can fly under the radar.

“It’s basically as if you don’t exist as far as the school district knows," Coleman said. She'd like to see home-school students registered and for their records to be kept at local school districts.

Kunzman also favors some degree of regulation of home education while allowing flexibility for home-school families.

"I think that home schooling can be a perfectly valid and effective educational choice, but I think we just need to have some way to make sure we’re protecting children’s interests in as many contexts as we can," he said.

Home education legislation

Passing legislation that would mean more oversight of home schools isn't such an easy task.

According to Kunzman, home-school laws in Indiana are about the same as they've always been.

"Not much has changed over the last dozen years in terms of regulations or oversight (in Indiana), and I don’t think that there's any political will that I’m aware of in the state to make that happen," he said.

The lack of legislation to regulate home school is because those who don't have a relationship to home schooling don't pay much attention, Kunzman says. In addition, home education supporters are aggressive and active in response to attempts to increase accountability.

"When issues come up, home-school advocacy groups really mobilize a constituency that overwhelms policy makers who might be considering making a change," he said.

Julie Finn and Dani Ansaldo, Bloomington parents who home-school their kids, aren't necessarily opposed to oversight, especially in the form of a portfolio. At the same time, they're not convinced it will help.

"Oversight sounds really nice, but it's a slippery slope down into having a completely standardized education. There would be no point in home schooling if you had to teach your kids the exact same thing as every other kid in the country in the exact same way," Finn said. "There are always isolated incidents of people who do something for the wrong reason. Of course, that happens anywhere."

Ansaldo feels identifying at-risk children is the responsibility of the community and can be accomplished by taking more time to communicate in a community.

"I don't think the ISTEP tests, other testing or portfolios will give (neglected) children and their families the support they need. I also don't believe those types of oversight will even identify these children," Ansaldo said. "I feel like neglect happens both in public school and home school and it takes the community to keep an eye out for that and let someone know something's not right."

For Coleman, relying on reports is not enough. She says those who typically know a child is not getting the education they need in a home-school setting are family members or close relatives who may not want to take the risk of losing ties with the family.

“When you rely on reports, you create a situation where, especially relatives, may have to choose between reporting the child neglect and having contact with children," she said.

Students enrolled who were home-schooled, 2015

Indiana University Bloomington: 21 (fall semester).

Ivy Tech, all campuses: 844 (spring, summer and fall semesters).

2014-15 school year

Monroe County Community School Corp.: 37.

Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp.: 22.