Love in a Time of Homeschooling

Insights from my uncommon year educating my daughter at home.

Should Homeschooling Parents Have College Degrees?

You've got a GED. Are you ready to homeschool?

Here's a subject that can make tempers flare: homeschooling regulation. Some parents feel that our federal and state governments should keep their fingerprints completely off of homeschooling. Others believe that modest oversight on a state-by-state basis is acceptable. And then there are plenty of observers outside the homeschooling community who wonder: Why aren't home-educated children held to the same minimum standards as public school students? And shouldn't homeschooling parents be required to get teaching certificates, or college diplomas?

I'll consider the question of standards and testing for homeschooled children in a future post. For now, let's focus on the second issue: the qualifications of homeschooling parents. Homeschooling books and magazines often insist that all parents are capable of educating their children. Parents know their kids best, and are their natural teachers, right?

Not necessarily. While the vast majority of homeschoolers might be well-suited to "teach their own," not all parents are cut out for homeschooling. Not only does it require double doses of patience, humor, and the financial freedom for one parent to forego a fulltime job, homeschooling Moms and Dads need basic competency in English and math, and that's where the government tends to step in.

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Most states require that homeschooling parents have high school diplomas or GEDs. Only one state, North Dakota, expects the parent-teacher to have a college degree, otherwise a family's homeschooling program must be monitored on a weekly basis by a certified teacher. My state, Virginia, used to include a college diploma as a requirement in its original homeschooling statute, but in 1996 this qualification was lowered to a high school diploma. (See Home Education Magazine for a state-by-state breakdown of regulations.)

Whenever I mention these facts to friends outside the homeschooling world, they tend to be shocked, saying things like : "Are you kidding?...A high school diploma or GED? Some people can get a GED without being able to read."

I admit that I share their skepticism. To me, the idea that parents with GEDs could, if they desired, turn around and teach high school to their children is setting the bar very low. More problematic is the fact that several states have almost no homeschooling regulations, including no specified qualifications for homeschooling parents--not even a basic elementary education.

Don't get me wrong-the vast majority of homeschoolers are bright, diligent parents who are well-qualified to teach their kids. My own brief sojourn into the world of homeschooling left me greatly impressed with the homeschoolers I met. And there are plenty of public schools that are doing a poor job teaching kids basic reading and math.  When we talk about homeschooling regulation, the question is whether there are rules that can help minimize worst-case scenarios, and whether all children have the right to a basic level of education that should be ensured by the state.

Years ago I worked as a literacy tutor in my local community, and I saw how an inability to read can be passed from generation to generation. Children with parents who can not read often repeat the pattern, occasionally due to problems with dyslexia or various learning disabilities. At a minimum, should all states require that homeschooling parents demonstrate a certain level of literacy? Taking it further, should all homeschooling parents show that they can read and write English, or is it OK for a American child to receive no instruction in English, and be educated entirely in Spanish, or Japanese, or Arabic?

Because Americans value freedom and self-reliance, the idea of regulating any aspect of the parent-child relationship makes some people furious. Nevertheless, all Americans have an interest in breaking cycles of poverty and producing an educated citizenry. A college education might not be a fair requirement for homeschooling parents, but what does constitute a reasonable baseline?

In my next post, I'll share more of my own, constantly evolving, thoughts on the subject. But before I offer my opinions, I invite anyone who cares about this topic to voice their own:

How much education should a homeschooling parent be required to have? A high school diploma? A two-year associate's degree? A four year college degree? A teaching certificate?

Should all homeschooling parents be required to pass a test demonstrating their ability to read and write in English, and calculate math at a basic (say, fifth grade) level?

Is all regulation bad regulation?

Laura Brodie, Ph.D., teaches English at Washington and Lee University.

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