From kindergarten through my freshman year of high school, I was home-schooled.
Now I’m 22 and about to graduate from Washington State University. I consider myself a lucky survivor of a home-school system with few consistent national standards.
In more than 40 states, parents who home-school their children are not required to have a high school education, according to the Education Commission of the States. Only two states require background checks on parents to restrict criminals from home-schooling. Over half of the United States has no requirements for state evaluations. And most have zero penalties for people who choose not to home-school their children legally.
The state of Washington, where I was educated from home for several years, has a rigorous set of standards for home-school families. Washington state law requires compulsory attendance standards to be met, parents to have a minimum number of college-level credits to teach, annual state testing, and meticulous record-keeping by parents, among other standards.
Even in a state like Washington, there are cracks in the system. I remember being 7 years old and struggling to do math at my kitchen table. My dad worked too much to help. My mom wasn’t confident in her high school education to help me much, either. I was well-read in history, English and sciences. But I stopped learning math.
Nationally, there is little consistency from state to state. This was problematic for me – and confusing for my parents – because I was home-schooled in three states at various times. The lack of consistent standards across the country becomes more problematic because of the boom in home-schooled students over the past decade. From 2003 to 2012, the number of home-schooled students rose more than 60 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of education, is an advocate for school choice. She has made it clear she prefers home-schooling – as well as charter and private schools – to traditional public schools.
“We’ve seen more and more people opt for home-schooling, including in urban areas,” DeVos said in an interview with Philanthropy magazine in 2013. “What you’re seeing is parents who are fed up with their lack of power to do anything about where their kids are assigned to go to school. To the extent that home-schooling puts parents back in charge of their kids’ education, more power to them.”
But remarkably little is known about the academic success of home-schooled students like myself. Washington State University, where I’ve studied the last four years, encounters a variety of home-school students.
“Each state is different, each university is different,” said Kelly Myott-Baker, the assistant director of the Office of Admissions and Recruitment at WSU. “WSU asks the parents to provide the transcript for their student the same way we would ask a public or private high school for a student’s transcript.”
Other than that requirement, the details regarding admission reflect that of any other incoming student. Standardized tests scores are required. Documentation of curriculum is mandatory. A credible transcript is expected and reviewed before a student is admitted.
All of this is hard to regulate, though, outside of a public and private school environment. A transcript for home-school parents, said Myott-Baker, is simply a schedule of hours completed, a curriculum outline and grades attached to reported class time. Transcripts can be unknowingly forged by parents or, with extensive research, convincingly fabricated.
“When parents fail to provide a transcript or properly document their child’s education, we see it as a disservice to their kids,” Myott-Baker said. “Our goal is not to keep students out of college. It is to accept students who will be successful and excel.”
Currently, 24 home-schooled students have applied to attend WSU in 2017. Myott-Baker believes each student will be accepted because their test scores and GPAs are high. But the guarantee of their longevity isn’t proven as the retention rate for home-school students at WSU is not readily available. The demographic is still too small.
I hope I am continually proven wrong about the dangers that come with the freedoms home education is given. My parents didn’t do me wrong, but not every home-school student is as privileged.
The more I research the legal aspects and the lack of retention rates of home-school education, the more worried I am for others who aren’t getting the help. Let us home-school. But make us do it responsibly.
Lance Lijewski is a senior majoring in journalism and media production at Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.
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