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Is it for your kids?

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published June 26, 2005


Who is eligible to homeschool?

Anyone with school-aged children.

Do I need a college degree to teach my kids?

No.

Does anyone have to be notified?

Yes. Within 30 days of beginning a home education program, parents must send a letter to their local school superintendent with the student's name, address and date of birth. Parents might want to include a return-receipt request to make sure the notice reached the district.

Does Florida law require anything else?

Yes. A portfolio and an annual evaluation.

The portfolio: It should include a log of activities and reading materials used, student writings and other records. It must be available for inspection by the school district.

The evaluation: A Florida-certified teacher may evaluate the student; or a licensed psychologist can test the child; or the child can take a state-approved standardized test, such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills or the FCAT.

What constitutes "passing" in homeschool?

The child must show a year's progress in a year's time.

What if a homeschooled child doesn't "pass"?

The superintendent notifies the family that the child is on probation; if he does not improve in a year, he can't homeschool.

What if the parent doesn't like the results of an evaluation?

Nothing in the law compels a parent to submit them. In other words, parents can shop for an evaluator they believe will give their children satisfactory results.

Can homeschooled kids also take classes at public schools?

Yes, but every county has different rules. Pinellas public schools allow homeschoolers in any grade to take up to a half-day of classes. Hillsborough and Pasco allow middle and high schoolers to enroll part-time. Citrus homeschoolers can take classes only with principal approval. Hernando middle and high schoolers can enroll if there's room.

What about extracurricular activities?

Homeschool students can participate in public school extracurricular activities.

Do homeschoolers have to take the FCAT?

No. They can take it if they choose.

Must a parent quit work to teach at home?

No.

Is homeschooling expensive?

Depends. Some parents say they do it on a shoestring, using the library, Internet and other cheap services. Others invest thousands of dollars a year in curriculum and supplies, private classes, travel, etc. A Columbia University expert says parents spend about $2,500 a year for their first child and slightly less for the next.

The most significant cost of homeschooling can be giving up one income. Many parents develop home-based businesses to compensate.

About how many hours a day does it take to homeschool your child?

That's up to you. Florida has no hourly requirements. Advocates say homeschooling is more efficient because it cuts out the interruptions of a traditional classroom (announcements, discipline, changing classes) and because students can learn at their own pace, work through the summer and work nights and weekends. Critics say that flexibility offers opportunity for abuse.

What about when my child gets older? I can't see myself teaching chemistry!

Options abound. A child could learn chemistry at public school, a community college, through an Internet course or at a co-op. Many homeschooled kids switch to regular school as they get older.

I read about the homeschool parents arrested for abusing their children. Doesn't homeschooling provide an avenue for bad parents to escape notice of authorities?

It can. Florida homeschoolers must register with their local school district, which is expected to keep tabs, but the law does not require an in-person evaluation.

John and Linda Dollar, the Citrus County couple charged with abusing their children, had their children registered with a private school. It's an option many homeschool families choose but is not legally considered homeschooling; it is considered private schooling.

Why would a parent want to homeschool under a private "umbrella" school instead of registering with the state?

Some people find homeschooling under an umbrella school provides an extra layer of support. Others prefer it because it means the family can operate almost completely out of the purview of the state Department of Education.

If I homeschool, do I have to pay school taxes?

Yes.

Will the state pay for the homeschool curriculum I found on the Internet?

No. But a state-funded pilot charter school program lets public school children enroll in Florida Virtual Academy or Connections Academy, home-based public school programs. At state expense, students get computers and curriculum and speak to teachers by phone or computer. Parent instruction is usually also required.

How can a homeschooler apply to a college if she doesn't have a high school transcript or a high school diploma?

Parents can create their own. Record scores on standardized tests, get a GED, take College-Level Examination Program tests to get college credit, send in grades from college courses and online classes.

Do colleges admit homeschoolers?

Yes. Most colleges have admissions counselors who are well-versed in the needs of homeschoolers. Like other students, homeschoolers are usually required to submit college entrance exam scores and write essays.

Are homeschoolers eligible for Bright Futures scholarships?

Yes. They must meet the same standards as traditional students. For the Florida Academic Scholars award, for example, the student must have a 1270 SAT or a 28 ACT test score and 75 hours of community service.

How do homeschooled kids compare academically with those from public/private schools?

No definitive studies exist, outside those produced by the homeschool movement. Anecdotally, they at least hold their own.

Can anyone homeschool?

Yes. But experts say not everyone should. If you don't enjoy spending a lot of time with your kids, it's not for you. If you are only going into it to avoid truancy issues in the public school system, think again.

-- Sources: Florida Statutes, the Florida Parent Educators Association, St. Petersburg Times research

[Last modified June 26, 2005, 06:19:02]


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