Parents who are dissatisfied with public or private schools, have children with special needs, or otherwise want more control over their children's education may choose to homeschool their kids. But regardless of the reasons, most states have homeschooling regulations to ensure that homeschooled students receive a relatively balanced education, including compulsory education laws, regulate the manner in which children are taught in the home.
Parents choosing to home school face many of the same hurdles encountered by parochial and private schools. In addition, the question may arise as to whether home instruction in a given state will come under the exemption routinely given to private schools because a home school is not established in the same way as are other non-public schools.
In states in which laws remain unclear about what qualifies home instruction to be considered a school, the courts have given the term "school" a broad meaning as a place where instruction of children takes place. This definition eliminates the requirement that a school have its own facilities. So long as the home school meets the standards applied to schools established in the normal sense, the home school comes under the private school exemption.
In California, the home school may qualify as a private school if the parent is considered "capable of teaching" and instruction is in English.
Once a home school is considered by state statute or case law to be a school, it must comply with the state's homeschooling regulations to insure that students taught at home have an equivalent education. First, many states require parents to notify appropriate authorities, often the local school superintendent, of their intention to instruct their children at home. At this point, some states also make it mandatory for parents to obtain approval from designated local officials of the content of their curriculum and other aspects of how they will teach before they begin instructing their children.
Some home school parents have gone to court claiming these officials are not objective in assessing home school programs because public school funding is often determined by the number of students enrolled. The courts have rejected these claims because of the difficulty in proving school officials' bias caused their negative decisions and the deference courts give to decisions of administrative officials.
In Idaho, homeschooled students are exempt from compulsory education laws if they are "comparably" instructed to those in public schools, which is subject to wide interpretation.
The second requirement home schools face is that they must meet the time or duration requirements as well as at a minimum for their curriculum teach a list of designated subjects. They must do so according to the standards applied to public schools or by those required of home schools.
In Massachusetts, homeschooling regulations require the teaching of reading and writing; English language and grammar; geography; arithmetic; drawing; music; the history and Constitution of the U.S.; citizenship; health; and physical education.
Additionally, a number of states require the parent to be certified as a teacher. When parents home school for religious reasons and challenge such laws in court as interfering with their religious practices, the courts have decided to uphold such laws. The courts side with the state officials because they believe the interest of the state in education outweighs the burden on religious practices.
The courts contend that if parents do not meet the certification requirements public school teachers are subject to, they are unable to meet the burden of proof of showing they are able to provide an equivalent education as required by state law and regulation.
In Iowa, the instructor must be a certified teacher or be able to provide instruction resulting in the "adequate progress" of the student (in which case yearly assessments are required).
Fourth, state regulations often require the progress of the students instructed at home to be measured by standardized tests that are widely recognized as valid indicators. The tests must be taken at designated times in the student's studies. In some jurisdictions, the parents must maintain a portfolio of their children's work that is evaluated by state certified teachers.
In New York, students generally are required to take at least one standardized test to assess progress.
In addition to these homeschooling regulations, home schools are subject in some states to visits by state officials to assess the quality of the instruction. This practice is considered permissible by the courts so long as the visits do not hinder parents' efforts to instruct and that these appearances do not occur often. If parents do not wish to consent to these visits, they are given in some jurisdictions the option of going to court to convince a judge an equivalent education is being given.
In Vermont, home school teachers must submit an overview of their curriculum to state officials each year.