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More regulation for homeschooling?

January 27, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Should homeschooling be better regulated?

That's a question I've been wondering about for the past few years, every time I read the occasional story about homeschooling gone horribly wrong. The story that has probably gotten the most attention is the case of Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee who was homeschooled by her adoptive parents and also beaten, malnourished and left to die of exposure in Washington state in May 2011. The parents were convicted of her murder and sentenced to prison.

Homeschoolers are quick to say that these cases are rare and there are also reports of child abuse by families who send their children to public school. That is certainly true and I have met many parents who do a wonderful job of homeschooling their children. I suppose the difference is that while children who attend public schools can also be abused, the abuse is likely discovered sooner because teachers, principals and other parents are more likely to see signs of abuse and report it to the authorities.

The most successful homeschooling parents make sure that their children have many opportunities to participate in lessons and activities in the community and learn from a challenging curriculum, sometimes more challenging than is offered by the public schools. But there is also the occasional case of a family that takes advantage of lax regulations to pull a child from public school mainly to hide abusive conduct. Sometimes that can result in a case like Hana's or like some of the horrible stories that can be found at the site Homeschoolers This site is filled with sad stories of abuse and educational neglect suffered by the now adult children of homeschooling families.

States differ widely regarding regulation of homeschooling. In Texas, for instance, there is little to no regulation. Parents do not have to announce their intention to home school to the school district or register their children with a district, no particular certification is required and there is no curriculum approval required. Until fairly recently, North Dakota was considered one of the stricter states regarding homeschooling, but the Legislature eased many of the requirements during the last session. Parents who have a high school diploma or GED can now homeschool their children without supervision by a monitor, for instance, though parents without a high school diploma still must be under supervision for at least the first two years by a licensed teacher. Children who are homeschooled must take a standardized test in grades four, six, eight and 10, but their parents can now opt out of the testing requirement for philosophical or religious reasons if the parent holds a four year college degree, is a teacher or has passed a teaching exam. Unlike some other states, North Dakota law does require that homeschooling parents teach certain subjects, teach for a certain number of hours per day and a certain number of days per year, and that they notify their school districts of their intent to home school and offer proof of the child's identity and the parent's qualifications to teach as well an address. One Texas parent recently told me that she would find North Dakota's restrictions on homeschooling unreasonable.

What regulations, if any, do you think are reasonable?


Article Comments



Jan-28-14 10:11 AM

Heck we don't have to wait for the future, the current leaders have over qualifying talent in sports and extra curricular activities already. Clap your hands if your happy!


Jan-28-14 10:08 AM

"What constitutes an education is vastly different now than it was 200 years ago or even 50 years ago."

That is a sorry truth, you said it all in one sentence. It has strayed far from the three R's. Our leaders of the future will have over qualifying talent in sports and extra curricular activities.


Jan-28-14 9:44 AM

What constitutes an education is vastly different now than it was 200 years ago or even 50 years ago. My grandfather did just fine with an eighth grade education. These days it's difficult if not impossible to get a decent paying job without at least a high school diploma or at least an associate's degree. Jobs are more technical, so a certain amount of math and science and technology knowledge is essential for a mechanic's job or welding or any of the other so-called "blue collar" jobs. I have my doubts that that sort of thing can be taught with an 1950s one room schoolhouse education. Parents who limit their kids to that sort of education are really limiting their options and neglecting their education.

As far as community watchfulness goes, I think that is less true than it used to be in North Dakota. There are too many new people.


Jan-28-14 8:33 AM

Homeschooling and the one room schoolhouse are very much alike. Americas greatest generations were educated in one room school houses.


Jan-28-14 8:02 AM

Andrea you seem to think the USA was built by educated people, very very wrong it was built by people who did not have the time and luxury of education. As a matter of fact most people who did get any schooling would get it from people who did not attend college. You discredit the people who built this country with their sweat, blood and common sense which is something that cannot be taught.


Jan-27-14 9:41 PM

North Dakota is still about "community" in spite of the vast influx of people from different areas of the country.

It used to be (and in some ways, it still is) that your neighbors know you: when you take your garbage out, if you mistreat your dog, if you let your cat out at night, how many cars are in your driveway, how many times you mow your lawn in summer, if you shovel your walk in winter, and sometimes, where you work, where or if you go to church, or when you come home from the grocery store. I'm serious...

But if the "Smith" kids were homeschooling, and while the community was watching, if things appeared somewhat "normal," the neighbors left them alone to do their thing.

If in the beginning, the ND homeschool regs are thoroughly followed, school districts generally don't bother homeschoolers. I think it's because the community is also watching them. Big cities don't have that, but many ND neighborhoods still do. JMO


Jan-27-14 8:54 PM

I have no idea what regs would be effective. The woman from Texas thinks North Dakota regs are too tough. Maybe freedom is more important to people than identifying a small number of abuse cases or ensuring kids are educated to a top standard. I am personally skeptical that someone with less than a high school diploma can do an adequate job. This state seems to share my caution. But I do think there ought to be a better way to stop some of these horrible abuse cases.


Jan-27-14 8:47 PM

Just wondering, Andrea...

Should homeschool regulations be one-size-fits-all-states (national regs) or should state legislatures continue to pass/not pass regulations that they consider fit for their resident homeschoolers?

There are gov't bureaucrats that don't believe in "local control" of education. Some parents have had difficulties when their parental choices have conflicted with the school's educational offerings - sex ed or "values curriculum" is one area in particular.

Should parents have any say in the education of their children? Or should the experts have the only say? (Spoiler alert: this is one of Gatto's points in his book.)


Jan-27-14 8:24 PM

There, too. I think that has often been reported by other teachers.


Jan-27-14 8:17 PM

"In schools, even if one teacher is abusive, there are hundreds of eyes on a kid every week."

I'm talking stuff in recent headlines, like teacher-student sexual abuse.


Jan-27-14 7:56 PM

In schools, even if one teacher is abusive, there are hundreds of eyes on a kid every week. I read several reports of kids who were legally withdrawn from school to be homeschooled within days of a teacher reporting suspected abuse. Then the investigation was dropped and the kid ended up in the headlines years later either dead or severely abused. As lot of these cases seem to be in Texas, which doesn't regulate homeschooling. If a family is extremely isolated, there may be no friends or family to report educational neglect.


Jan-27-14 6:56 PM

"...the difference is that while children who attend public schools can also be abused, the abuse is likely discovered sooner because teachers, principals and other parents are more likely to see signs of abuse and report it to the authorities."

By this, you must mean "parental abuse." But what about teacher-student abuse? Is that discovered sooner?

An excellent resource for thinking people and public schools: John Taylor Gatto's "The Underground History of American Education." Gatto was a public school teacher in New York for over 20 years and received the Teacher of the Year award as well, before he wrote his book. Great stuff...


Jan-27-14 6:53 PM

"Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee who was homeschooled by her adoptive parents and also beaten, malnourished and left to die of exposure in Washington state in May 2011. The parents were convicted of her murder and sentenced to prison."

This is the correct outcome to an unfortunate case such as Hana's.

According to NDCC, the district superintendent is to be the first to check up on whether a child is actually truant from school. Parents can be arrested if their children are truant, and Social Services can be called upon to bring charges of educational neglect as well, depending upon the circumstance. In ND, these should be the avenues to pursue FIRST, before going to the default of further regulating homeschoolers who have been abiding by the law.


Jan-27-14 3:02 PM

i think he was doing the job because he liked the field of teaching, so he was very motivated, it made everybodys job nice from the board to the cooks in school very good leader.


Jan-27-14 2:48 PM

I'd qualify that -- if one of the parents didn't have a college degree, the principal may have been the official teacher monitor. Up until a few years ago, the state did require monitoring for the first two years for a family that didn't have a parent with a four year degree or a teachers license. The monitor was supposed to spend about an hour per week in contact with the family and report back to the superintendent twice a year. Now it's only required if the parent doesn't have a high school diploma or hasn't passed a teaching exam.


Jan-27-14 2:46 PM

Maybe the family liked having him come visit. It sounds like he was helpful and friendly. But no, it's not the law.


Jan-27-14 2:40 PM

as far as the policing for abuse i would have to think on that


Jan-27-14 2:37 PM

i felt it is the districts responsability to offer education to every child in the district at least the 3 rs, they paid taxes also so they are entitled to services


Jan-27-14 2:32 PM

well i thought it was law and i felt it was a good thing, i felt he was there to offer any help he could, with books or advice what ever he or they felt was necessary.


Jan-27-14 2:24 PM

It's not state law now and hasn't been for a few decades, if it ever was. If a family in that district had complained, the principal would have had to stop. Do you think that sort of monitoring OUGHT to be a requirement for homeschoolers? Why or why not?


Jan-27-14 2:24 PM



Jan-27-14 2:22 PM

i usto sit on a local school board and that was one of the requirements of the princpail


Jan-27-14 2:07 PM

As far as I know, there is no state law requiring that homeschooling families be visited by school officials. I think most districts do let homeschooled kids compete on athletic teams or maybe take a class or two in the district while being homeschooled the rest of the day.


Jan-27-14 1:54 PM

some of my experiences is the home schooled kids are visited by the districts principle a number of times a year, and they are eligible to join in on the sports if they want to


Jan-27-14 1:46 PM

Virtual academies are one way of long distance education. I took a correspondence class in high school that was offered by the state. Kids who are enrolled in public schools may take a class or two this way online too. There are also private homeschool online academies that some homeschooling families use that actually grade work by kids, offer online classes or grant diplomas. People enrolled in those programs are being educated. I think the main area of concern is parents who remove kids from school primarily to avoid having abuse or neglect detected. State laws all too often let those families get away with it and there is little follow up to ensure that kids are actually being taught to a certain standard. If a family is socially isolated, it's likely that abuse will go undetected.


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