Home Schooling – A Guide to Getting Started

The state of Texas treats home schools the same as non-accredited private schools.  To this extent, parents have great flexibility to teach or have an instructor teach their children in the manner that they see most fitting.  However, parents planning to interact with accredited public and private schools will want to ensure that the home-school curriculum closely mirrors the accredited institution and that their children can pass tests to demonstrate a mastery of the material.

This document includes information on:

  1. Requirements – The legality of home schools.
  2. Back to School – Ensuring that your student can re-enter an accredited school.
  3. Curriculum – Tailoring a curriculum that ensures smooth re-entry.
  4. Extra Curricular – Determining and retaining access to athletics and enrichment programs.
  5. Outside Help – Finding, hiring, and managing home school instructors.

Requirements

The state of Texas enforces very few requirements on parents wishing to home school their children.  The law is even very explicit in stating that state colleges must not discriminate against applicants who have been home schooled.  The state really only exercises involvement when the parent needs to interact with the public school system or comply with compulsory school attendance laws[1]:

  1. Notification of disenrollment from the school
  2. Personal assurance that the student is being home schooled properly
  3. Verification of curriculum if wishing to re-enter public school

Texas law gives local school officials the authority to make “reasonable inquiry” as to whether children are actually being properly home-schooled.  According to the open letter published by the Texas Education Agency, this inquiry should only seek written assurance that the student is being properly home schooled.  School districts are not required to seek verification.  Properly home schooled is defined by these three rules[2]:

  1. The student is actually receiving real instruction
  2. The curriculum is based on some sort of tangible items such as books and videos
  3. The curriculum includes instruction in reading, spelling, grammar, math, and good citizenship

Although the curriculum must include some basic buckets, parents may have complete control as to what information goes into those buckets and how it’s taught.  Additionally, parents may have other parents teach their children or pay for a tutor to come to their home.

Texas’s laws pertaining to home schooling are based on the Texas Supreme Court ruling in March of 1985 in the case of Leeper v. Arlington I.S.D.  The basic question posed to the court was whether home schools were the same as private schools.  The court ruled that indeed home schools should be treated the same as non-accredited private schools.

Back to School

The home school curriculum only comes under real scrutiny when parents wish to re-enter their student into an accredited institution at grade level.  The TEA has determined that students transferring from home schools to accredited public schools be treated the same as students transferring from non-accredited private schools.  The TEA only instructs that local school districts assess a student’s fitness by administering “valid and reliable assessment instruments.”  The TEA does not regulate which instruments (evaluations) a school may or must use; this determination is left up to the local school district.  It suggests only that local public school administrators place students based on a review of the curriculum, course of study, and quality of work output.  The TEA does however make some recommendations for assessment[3]:

  1. Elementary students should be assessed using a nationally recognized test such as a previously released TAAS or TAKS exam applicable to the grade level the student seeks qualification in.
  2. Secondary school students be assessed using the “credit by examination” (CBE) method or by a previously released TAAS or TAKS exam.

TAKS stands for Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and has been Texas’s state standardized test since spring of 2003.  The test is designed to measure to what extent a student has succeeded in learning the curriculum as defined in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).  More information can be obtained online at the TEA’s website[4].

Credit by examination basically means that the local school district tests a student’s subject knowledge and then makes a determination as to whether or not the student is at grade level.  Texas gives wide latitude to local school officials to determine the criteria for these examinations.  The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has documented procedures for CBE[5]:

  1. Exam Dates – The school district will allow students to test on 6 dates throughout the year.  For grade 6-8, these dates are three days in June and three days in July.  For grades 9-12 the test dates are in 3 days in November and June.  Exact dates are published on HISD’s Student Assessment Testing Calendar.
  2. Obtaining a CBE – Parents should contact the principal or counselor of the school to which they are interested in enrolling their student.  This school official will counsel the parent on appropriate procedures and require a written application.
  3. Passing the CBE – Home school students are treated as “having prior instruction” in the subject material; therefore, a student must only score higher than a 70% to consider as having passed.

For private schools, the admissions procedures may vary slightly from these detailed for public schools, and parents should consult with individual private school counselors on their procedures.  However, parents should expect that private schools will require that the student pass a standardized test for admission to the school and a CBE for entry into a certain grade level.  Common standardized tests utilized by schools in Houston include:

  1. SSAT[6] – Secondary School Admission Test.  Most common test administered by testing centers internationally.  The test is administered at testing centers 8 months of the year.
  2. ISEE[7] – Independent School Entrance Exam.  Second most common test and often interchangeable with the SSAT.  The test is administered by affiliate schools regularly throughout the year on average about once a month.
  3. HSPT[8] – High School Placement Test.  Used primarily by Roman Catholic high schools.  Test dates and location depend on the administering school.

Curriculum

For returning to public schools after a home school stint, parents should ensure that their children are learning material in accordance with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum.  This state-wide curriculum and its associated testing mechanism, the TAKS, has been in place since 2003.  The Texas Education Agency provides booklets that provide an overview of the TEKS curriculum[9].  However, these informational brochures are somewhat incomplete; therefore, parents would be best served to read the requirements in their full form[10].

For returning to private schools, parents would be best served consulting with the target school about the best course of action; however, parents should expect to follow the curriculum of the target school including obtaining syllabi from the school’s teachers and purchasing the necessary textbooks.  Most private schools will willingly help parents obtain the materials they need.

In order to ensure a smooth transition back to an accredited school, General Academic makes the following recommendations:

  1. Identify what school/s you would like to re-enroll your student in after completing the home school curriculum.
  2. Consult with the principal and or counselor of the selected school/s to ensure that you understand their procedures for admitting a home school student.
  3. Tailor your curriculum to match as closely to the target school’s curriculum. Be sure to follow up regularly with the school/s to ensure that you remain aligned.
  4. Identify which tests the target school may require and secure testing dates and location.
  5. Prepare your student to excel in standardized tests such as the TAKS and private school admissions tests.
  6. Schedule test dates and have scores reported to the target school/s.

If you follow these steps, General Academic is confident that your transition from a home school environment to accredited school will be smooth.  Essential to a smooth transition is simply communication; you must be diligent in initiating and keeping an open line of communication between you and the administrator of the target school/s.  Even though many guidelines and requirements are published online and in writing, significant latitude is left up to individual administrators, and in some cases, administrators may not even be aware of the guidelines.

Extra-Curricular

Just because parents decide to home-school their student, this decision does not limit the student’s access to enrichment activities.  In fact, home schooling almost enhances these opportunities because parents have the freedom to develop or acquire any type of activity.

In Texas, the decision to allow home-schooled students to participate in a public school’s extracurricular activities such as band, choir, and athletics is left up to locally elected school boards.  However, know that home schooled students will not usually be allowed to participate in events sponsored by the University Interscholastic League (UIL), since that league requires that participants be full-time students enrolled in the participating school[11].

Parents are free of course to register their students in non-scholastic athletic leagues and competitions of which there are a wide number and diverse set in Houston.  Parents may even want to consider hiring an art or music teacher to teach their students as well.

Outside Help

Historically, parents have served as the primary educator in home schooling environments.  However not all parents have the academic skills or time to serve as their student’s full time instructors.  In these case, parents may want to seek outside instructors.  There are a couple of different avenues that parents may pursue.

Hiring a single in-home instructor is naturally the first course of action.  The advantage with this strategy is that the student has a single point of interaction and can foster a strong relationship with his instructor if there is good chemistry between the two.  There are however obvious obstacles to finding and hiring this instructor.  Primarily, it may be difficult for parents to temporarily hire an individual for what is essentially a full time job.  Additionally, there are additional hurdles in finding, interviewing, and legally contracting with the individual.

Managing multiple tutors is another option.  The advantage to this avenue is that it’s easier to find qualified individuals who are willing to commit several hours a week versus their entire day.  Furthermore, it may be easier to fill certain academic skill sets depending on the difficulty of the material.  However, the disadvantage with multiple tutors is the risk that the student doesn’t build a strong relationship with his instructors.  Additionally, parents may have trouble managing the various tutors and ensuring a cohesive curriculum.

General Academic may be able to provide help in this area.  General Academic’s core offerings would be in the provision and management of multiple tutors to ensure a cohesive curriculum.  Additionally, General Academic can help liaison with local schools to ensure that the curriculum and associated testing methodology used will lead to a smooth transition back into the accredited school environment.

General Academic could even help with the soliciting, interviewing, hiring, and managing of a single instructor.  The company is well positioned with a steady flow of resumes and established hiring and managing procedures.  However, if parents wish to pursue this route independently, here is some advice that closely mirrors General Academic’s on internal procedures:

  1. Personal networks are the first source for new hires.  Parents can talk to neighbors and friends who have used tutors in the past or home schooled their children; additionally, the school that the parents are withdrawing from or the target school for re-entry may also maintain a list of tutors and instructors who might be interested.
  2. Use established, outside recruitment resources.  When personal networks don’t yield desirable results, parents can also use sites like Craigslist or even Careerbuilder and Monster to post a job description.  Craigslist is free and despite its sometimes less than stellar reputation, can often yield very excellent candidates.  Monster and Careerbuilder are relatively expensive and often result in a lot of excess steps but should nevertheless not be disregarded as an option.  Finally, if parents are looking for a specific skill-set, they would also be well served to talk with local colleges and universities.  These centers of higher education often maintain direction connection with undergraduates and graduates majoring in these academic areas and can easily solicit on your behalf.
  3. Pre-Screen applicants based on education background and teaching experience.  Standardized test scores such as the ACT, SAT, LSAT, GMAT, and GRE are a great place to start.  Also ask for current or graduating GPA and an academic transcript paying close attention to the subject areas that you’ll want the individual to teach in.  Remember that great test scores however do not a perfect teacher make.  Also look for previous teaching and/ or tutoring experience.  Volunteer experience is great and many years of service can demonstrate that the individual has a passion for learning.  Paid experience is as valuable if not more so because successful paid instruction can tell you how reliable and easy to work with that individual will be.
  4. Set up in-person interviews with an interactive component.  Conduct two-part interviews that include both a “behavioral” and a “case” portion.  In the behavioral part of the interview, you’ll want to talk to the candidate about his resume—education, background, and experience—this is the get to know you portion.  After the behavioral portion, ask the candidate to spend some time teaching your student one-to-one in a subject area.  Afterwards, follow up with your student to see how he feels about potential chemistry.  It’s best that you have at least two adults present for the behavioral interview.  Two individuals will help ensure that all of the right questions get asked and provides more than one perspective.  Repeat this interview process at least twice for candidates you really like.
  5. Conduct a background check.  For candidates that you liked after conducting at least two interviews, ask for their social security number and previous addresses.  Tell them that you will conduct a background check and let them notify their references that you will be contacting them.  Additionally, you should secure their written consent to conduct the check, especially if you plan to check their credit.  Here are some steps you can take to validate a candidate:
    1. Education – Contact schools directly or go through a clearing house
    2. Experience – Check with references
    3. Crime – Use a third party verifier to search state and federal records
    4. Sex Abuse – Search state sex offender databases
    5. Credit – Use a third party verifier
  6. Offer the job!  Great, so you’ve gone through all of these steps, now you need to offer the job to the individual.  Make sure that you have a list of at least two people that you would be comfortable hiring.  Do not reject anyone on this “acceptable list” until you have a written letter of acceptance from your top pick.  When you do reject an applicant, let them know the reasons why and suggest that you’ll refer them to others or keep them in mind for future needs.
  7. Ensure that the hiring is legal.  Depending on your exact requirements, you’ll need to decide whether your instructor will be an employee or a contractor.  The difference is significant in how the IRS collects and expects you to report earnings.  Consult with an attorney if you are unsure how to proceed in this area.

Once parents hire outside help, their work still continues in that they must actively manage the instructor and student.  The instructor will still likely need the parents’ help in ensuring that the student adequately completes his homework (there is still plenty of homework in a home school environment).  Additionally, parents will want to ensure that the instructor is adequately teaching the curriculum and that he has the resources he needs to succeed.  In addition to casual conversation, parents would be well served to establish a formal performance evaluation to ensure that their instructor/s are performing to expectation.

We’re Here To Help

General Academic has helped more than 800 students achieve their full potential since 2003.  We have developed custom, non-traditional solutions for many students during this time period.  Ask us how we can tailor a solution that fits your needs.  We can provide additional guidance and expertise in most if not all of the topics discussed in this document; we’ll also be frank in letting you know if there is an area where you would be better off seeking other resources.

Recommendations

  1. Ensure that you understand your motivation for wanting to temporarily home-school your student and identify the key success factors that would allow you to move the student back into an accredited program.
  2. Work closely with the target school of re-entry to ensure that the curriculum your student studies will easily place him at grade-level with the target school.
  3. Prepare your student for standardized tests that will help place him at grade level and gain admission into public and private schools.
  4. Make sure that the curriculum you select is also rich in diversity with extracurricular activities that your student might enjoy such as athletics, music, art, and foreign language.

Be very diligent in your soliciting, interviewing, hiring, and managing of outside help.


[1] Texas Education Agency published Marcy 23, 2010. http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/taa/homeschools03232010.html

[2] Texas Home School Coalition.  http://www.thsc.org/Categories3.aspx?Id=Its_Legal

[3] Texas Education Agency published March 23, 2010. http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/taa/homeschools03232010.html

[7] Educational Records Bureau.  http://erblearn.org/parents/admission/isee

[10] Texas Education Agency.  http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=6148

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