This is a glossary to help you understand what the legal terms in a state’s home school law means you need to do, may do…or not do. I am not a lawyer, so it is up to you to verify and interpret the homeschool laws. I provide them for your information only, and rely on the help of homeschoolers in the geographic areas to assist me in keeping these laws as correct as possible. Although I do my best to make sure these are complete, they may not cover every circumstance of your homeschooling situation. The Regional and World Wide Homeschooling pages usually have links to support group pages to help you understand how the laws are put into practice and what you need to do to comply. Only an interpretation of the law by a state-certified barrister should be considered legal advice.
Some states require that you track the attendance of your children in your homeschool. This means you need ONLY track days or half days that each child is NOT learning a thing! Homeschoolers are usually “here” at home, or they may be off with a friend or relative learning or practicing something. Only if they are in a coma would you mark them absent! Only if they had run away from home and did not have your permission to be gone would you mark them absent!
Some states require that you track the hours that a child is doing educational activities. The school districts think in terms of Carnegie units, which are not the same as clock hours. A student studying a total of 120 hours in one subject, working on it 4-5 times a week for 40-60 minutes at a time, for 36-40 weeks each academic year (Usually between August 1 and July 31 in the USA), earns the student 1 Unit of high school preparation. 14 units constitutes the minimum amount of work for a high school diploma. As a private school homeschool, you may set your own graduation standards, but this gives you a baseline to start.
Help interpreting your high school-level work to make into transcripts for college applications.
Annual Days or Hours of Instruction
Your state may require a specific number of days or hours that they must be “educated” per year. Once you have been tracking educational activities that long, you don’t have to track again for the rest of the school year. Your “school calendar” doesn’t have to match that of the local school district. If you do the math, you’ll realize that your children are probably in learning mode each day far more than their schooled friends. If your state says something around 180 days per year, that’s half a calendar year! If your child is participating in over 2.5 hours each day of the year in learning activities, then they are working faster and harder than their neighborhood friends.
Your state may or may not require some form of documentation showing instructional time. This does not need to be detailed. I have a free Excel Planner/Tracker that can be used both for planning and tracking instructional time.
“Comparable” does not mean “exactly the same as.” You need only instruct your children so that their skills are somewhat like, if not better than, the school children in your neighborhood. Do not be fooled by state content standards. I have yet to talk to a parent who hoped their child was a “standard” or “normal” student.
Each state has its own age range for which is is required that a parent must compel their children to participate in some form of education. If you child is NOT in this age range, you do not need to obey ANY education laws, including any your state has about registering or reporting for homeschool activities. You still will want to encourage your child or teen to prepare for the next stage of their life, but the state just has no say in how you do this. There is usually a definite start date, such as “6 on or before December 1” or something similar. The end date is the teen’s birthday, which may be for age 16, 17 or 18, depending on where they live. If you need to prove that a teen is still a high school student, say, to Social Security, it may behove you to enroll them in the distance learning program that best suits their needs and still satisfies the government agency you need to please.
“Curriculum” just means “the stuff you use for learning.” It does not mean just “text books.” Homeschool curriculum may look like what schools use, but it also may look like activities, projects, hobby materials, instruments and tools, anything you can check out of the library, computer software and internet sites… the list is endless!
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Educationese for Homeschool Reports
Educationese — or Teacherese — is the name sometimes given to the jargon too frequently employed by some of those who train our schoolteachers.
Home School Court Case
People are often surprised that some states have no homeschooling laws, but rather refer to some court decision. Families wishing to homeschool in those states only need to instruct their children based on the judgement that was handed down. The difference being that “homeschool laws” were made by the state legislature, and the “home-school judgements” were made by a judges at the conclusion of legal cases.
A few states require an affidavit, a legal document, with which a parent or legal guardian swears that they will be providing home schooling to their child. Never lie on one of these forms. Do some research, though, to understand what each point of the affidavit really means and its repercussions to your home school.
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Parental Education Level
Some states require a specific level of education before a parent can homeschool without supervision by someone else with a higher education degree or teaching credential. Check your state homeschool laws to see if a parent education level is required and if you OR your spouse meet that requirement. If neither parent meets the requirement, we have resources for a parent to get a high school diploma or GED fairly quickly.
While some parents can afford and do hire private tutors, if one parent or legal guardian has a teaching credential, the family may homeschool under private tutoring laws. Some families find these more flexible than homeschooling laws. The credentialed teacher doesn’t have to be the parent who stays home and educates the children, but it is always a good idea for both parents to be involved in the home education process. The requirements for tutors can usually be found in your state department of education laws.
Subject Area Requirements
Most states ask that students be instructed in a short list of general subject areas. Not every subject needs to be taught every year. For example, you may wish to focus on state studies only one year – or constantly be on the watch for learning opportunities about your state every year you homeschool.
As homeschoolers you may find that blending subject areas that are not well liked into subject areas that are well loved works best. Your child may wish to study something not commonly taught in the public schools, where subjects are selected because they are easy to teach in large groups. For example, there are all the Olympic sports to chose from, historical periods and places from your family heritage, all the social sciences. Use college course catalogs to get ideas on interesting areas for study.
The term “language arts” often confuses people. You child would be working in the language arts when they are reading fiction, non-fiction, poetry or play scripts. They are doing language arts when they are writing, even online, in any composition format such as essays, letters, poetry, plays, stories, etc. Lessons about handwriting, grammar, punctuation and spelling are language arts.
Testing – Annual Assessment
22 states require some form of assessment. Not all require it every year, requiring assessment at the end of specific school years. While this might be a nationally standardized test, often alternatives are available, such as taking the test with the local school children, or having the child’s portfolio reviewed by someone the state certifies. As often credentialed teachers homeschool, support groups may be able to recommend someone within their homeschool families who can do this.
The “passing” level is often quite low. Unless your child is “challenged,” it does not make sense to worry about these tests. Make sure they understand the mechanics of taking a multiple choice test, and how to fill in the bubble next to the correct answer, or whatever the test requires.
If you have another term used in homeschooling laws that you would like me to define, please post your question in the “Comment” section below. I will answer your question as a reply and add it to the list above as soon as I am able. I usually check for comments daily.