Qualified to homeschool

Homeschooling raises basic questions such as “why do we homeschool?” and “how does one homeschool?” But there is also the question, often coming from well-meaning, and sometimes concerned, family and friends, “Are you qualified to educate your children?” This question raises a number of other questions, all of which are fueled by numerous assumptions and presuppositions. I want to try to answer the question because it is important to me and to my family, but I also want to try to give an answer because there are a lot of concerns among homeschooling parents as they worry about their “qualifications” and hope they are doing the right thing. Of course I am no expert (we are practicing teachers, like doctors practice medicine or lawyers practice law) and you may have better answers than I.

I want to split the answer into two broad categories: 1) What about being qualified to teach? and 2) What do the statistics say about homeschooling qualifications?
Neither my wife or I are qualified teachers in the eyes of many people. Though we are more educated than most people (our combined formal education includes three BAs, one MA, and an MBA) we do not hold a teaching certificate from any institution. It would not be uncommon for some to think that because we lack official, state sanctioned teaching credentials our abilities to teach our own kids are sorely limited at best and possibly dangerous at worst. Nothing could be further from the truth. I will add that this holds true for the parent who has far more limited formal education than we. To be qualified to teach is something wholly other than a state sanctioned credential or even an accumulation of formal higher education.
Do not get me wrong, there are plenty of “official” teachers in my family and among my friends. I had plans myself to become a teacher and I think teaching is a noble profession wherever one teaches (except for places like the School of the Americas, but that’s another story). But someone holding a teacher’s certificate does not make them automatically or fully qualified to teach my child, nor does my not having a certificate disqualify me. Here are my reasons.
  • There is no one, other than my wife, who loves my children as much as I. Nor is there anyone who desires their well-being as much, or an education for them as much. My wife and I have a unique perspective and passion for our children that no one else has. We know their nuances, their learning styles, their hearts. From the day they were born we have been committed to knowing and loving them. Having a teaching certificate does not instill a passion for teaching, and certainly not the level of passion and love I demand from anyone teaching my children. An educator who must carefully manage and teach 20+ students cannot offer the educational focus or specific academic goals that we can, even if they are generically passionate about teaching. Of course, this does not mean I would never allow someone else to educate my children, just that a teaching certificate, or even 20 years of classroom experience, is a thin argument for saying a public school is a better (or even equal) educational choice than homeschooling.
  • In my experience the common educational goals found in most educational systems are below mine and my wife’s standards, whether they be reading, writing, mathematics, science, history, and all the rest. Schools, for the most part, also do not emphasize the arts as much as they should. We are not the kind of parents who seek to drive our children to educational extremes. We don’t want them to enter college at age 9 or receive their second PhD by age 17. We want our kids to grow up rather normally and at the right pace for healthy development. Regardless, many educational systems, and in particular public schools, tend to have lower achievement goals than we do. With our kids we don’t have to teach to the lowest common denominator. We also don’t have to focus on the slower learner and let the faster learner languish.
  • Developing an excellent curriculum is not impossible. There are innumerable resources for home educators to create wonderful, rich, and top-notch curricula. There are also good arguments for choosing some of these curricula over the standard fare found in many schools. We are fond of using the concept of the trivium as an overall guide, but there are others. And we adapt the trivium by including other ideas and constantly testing our choices through experience. We have also been greatly influence by the book The Well Trained Mind as a guide. The specifics of what books, programs, or exercises we use are too numerous to mention here. This means we are not tied to questionable top-down delivered federal or state programs, nor are we slaves to whatever is the latest method. We can change and adapt quickly, focusing more on the needs of our children than the needs of educational bureaucracies.
  • Implementing an excellent curriculum is not impossible. Many good ideas fail because of poor implementation. This is as true in education as is it in business. There is a mindset that sees the need to separate children from their parents and from their home environment in order to effectively implement educational curricula. There may be some wisdom in that, and for some children that might be best. However, we believe, and our experience tells us, that the home environment is highly suited to educating children. A “normal” day may appear less structured than one might find in a public school (no bells, no standing in line, no strict beginning and end of classes) but the integration of education with the rest of life is a better way to teach in our opinion. It is probably more likely that a homeschooled child will grow up with a more holistically integrated sense of learning as a part of life. Another benefit is the ability to move from one subject to another when it is most appropriate for the child. The “class” is over when the lesson is done, not when the bell rings. As we see it, a traditional classroom is not required and may, in fact, be a hindrance.
  • For many the idea of homeschooling does not fit into the common lives of many families where both parents work at full-time jobs and need a place for their children to be during the day. For many homeschooling families it is the wife/mother that does most of the teaching while the husband provides the primary source of income. This scenario just does not work for many women who love their careers and would go insane if they had to stay home all day with the kids even though they truly love their children dearly. (Note: Much homeschooling is actually done outside the home with other families and is not confined to literally staying at home.) But for many the homeschooling scenario is ideal. Some families, however, believe they need two incomes, and certainly some do, but a careful financial analysis often shows this not to be true. Adding up all the costs associated with having both parents working is an eye opener. Think of the costs of day care, dry cleaning, eating out, two cars, higher tax bracket, someone to clean the house and maybe do yard work. It adds up and can dramatically cut into the two incomes. Regardless, each family has to decide for themselves. For us it works, though we see it as an experiment year to year. Our willingness to “go for it” and make it work is another of our qualifications as teachers though it does not come with a signed and sealed certificate that says so.
  • Finally, some might say that all those reasons above may be fine and good, but you can’t deny that teachers are highly trained professionals. I have no reason to deny that. But I would say a couple of things. First, ask any teacher to compare their initial training with their experience and I would guess that hands down their experience trumps their training. Years in a classroom outweighs their official teaching credentials as far as making them truly qualified to teach. Second, we have all experienced the fact that the best teachers in life are often not professional teachers at all, but someone with a passion for the subject at hand, plus a passion that others understand that subject, and the desire to see the subject through another’s eyes. Thirdly, much of the professionalism of modern teachers has to do with things that are of little or no importance to homeschooling scenarios. Homeschooling does not have the same kinds of cultural and societal burdens as does public education. Homeschooling also tends not to be burdened with internal politics or socially cautious ecumenism.
You may have other reasons. I’m sure we do to, but I want to stop there. Of course some will still be skeptical. They might say all those reasons sound fine but let’s be honest. Traditional classroom education has been with us for a long time and is a proven method. Besides, with public education, they say, there is more accountability. Sure some schools might not be so hot, but overall it is still certainly better than a relatively untried and inconsistent homeschool education, right? Wrong. First of all homeschooling has been around for millenia whereas public education is a product of the industrial revolution. Homeschooling has been tried and tested long enough for us to know that prior to the industrial revolution history was largely made by homeschooled individuals, including virtually all of the great scientific, artistic, and social accomplishments that public school children study today. And even since the industrial revolution many individuals of noteworthy accomplishments were educated at home, including most U.S. presidents. Second, let’s look at some statistics that compare median standardized tests scores from public school students with homeschool students.
The following two tables come from a 1998 study comparing homeschool students scholastic achievements compared to both public and private school students. I hope these numbers address the question of whether, on average, homeschooling parents are qualified to teach their kids. 
Median Scaled Scores (corresponding national percentile) by Subtest and Grade for Home School Students compared to publicly schooled children:
Grade N Composite Reading Language Math Soc. Stud. Science National
1 1504 170 (91) 174 (88) 166 (82) 164 (81) 166 (80) 164 (78) 150 (50)
2 2153 192 (90) 196 (89) 186 (80) 188 (85) 189 (81) 195 (86) 168 (50)
3 2876 207 (81) 210 (83) 195 (62) 204 (78) 205 (76) 214 (83) 185 (50)
4 2625 222 (76) 228 (83) 216 (67) 220 (76) 216 (68) 232 (81) 200 (50)
5 2564 243 (79) 244 (83) 237 (69) 238 (76) 236 (71) 260 (86) 214 (50)
6 2420 261 (81) 258 (82) 256 (73) 254 (76) 265 (81) 273 (84) 227 (50)
7 2087 276 (82) 277 (87) 276 (77) 272 (79) 276 (79) 282 (81) 239 (50)
8 1801 288 (81) 288 (86) 291 (79) 282 (76) 290 (79) 289 (78) 250 (50)
9 1164 292 (77) 294 (82) 297 (77) 281 (68) 297 (76) 292 (73) 260 (50)
10 775 310 (84) 314 (89) 318 (84) 294 (72) 318 (83) 310 (79) 268 (50)
11 317 310 (78) 312 (84) 322 (83) 296 (68) 318 (79) 314 (77) 275 (50)
12 66 326 (86) 328 (92) 332 (85) 300 (66) 334 (84) 331 (82) 280 (50)
Median Scaled Scores of Home School Students (Corresponding Catholic/Private School Percentile) by Subtest and Grade:
Grade Composite Reading Language Math Soc. Stud. Science
1 170 (89) 174 (86) 166 (80) 164 (80) 166 (73) 164 (75)
2 192 (88) 196 (84) 186 (74) 188 (81) 189 (81) 195 (85)
3 207 (74) 210 (74) 195 (55) 204 (71) 205 (69) 214 (80)
4 222 (72) 228 (72) 216 (58) 220 (69) 216 (56) 232 (76)
5 243 (71) 244 (72) 237 (60) 238 (68) 236 (60) 260 (82)
6 261 (71) 258 (71) 256 (58) 254 (65) 265 (72) 273 (77)
7 276 (72) 277 (77) 276 (63) 272 (70) 276 (68) 282 (73)
8 288 (72) 288 (75) 291 (65) 282 (68) 290 (68) 289 (67)
9 292 (63) 294 (70) 297 (61) 281 (56) 297 (63) 292 (59)
10 310 (71) 314 (81) 318 (71) 294 (57) 318 (72) 310 (66)
11 310 (63) 312 (72) 322 (69) 296 (56) 318 (67) 314 (63)
12 326 (74) 328 (81) 332 (71) 300 (53) 334 (74) 331 (72)
These statistics are from only one study, but a quick survey finds many similar kinds of examples. Given these numbers, one must conclude that in general homeschool students out perform public school and private school students in standardized tests in all subjects and in all grades. This is not to say that our children will out perform the median for public/private education, but if we want to base our decision to homeschool on some objective criteria these numbers are not bad.
In conclusion, we all have a number of prejudices that seem to us to be fact. One prejudice I run into is the belief that homeschooling is, at best, taking a big educational gamble with one’s kids. I hope it is clear this a prejudice and not factual. But prejudices aside, many who homeschool, or who are thinking about homeschooling, question their own abilities to do so. They are deeply concerned about their kid’s education and want to make the right decision. The truth is there may be no right decision, just several decisions that all have validity with both upsides and downsides. We have chosen to homeschool our children because it fits our particular situation, goals, and values. Many of our friends choose public education, and some private. All things being equal there is no universal right answer, but there is no wrong answer either.
Final note: For those who are contemplating homeschooling their children, but who are concerned whether they are qualified to do so, or are feeling pressure from family or friends to choose a more traditional route, I want to say fear not. But I can’t say that entirely. Yes, you are qualified to homeschool, I am certain of that, but whatever educational choice you make for your kids is a big deal. A little fear is a good thing. The truth is, one should have the same fear whether the choice is to homeschool or to send your child off to the school bus each morning.

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