Not every child will be successful or happy in a traditional classroom environment. For these students, alternative education curriculums such as Montessori, individualized, and home schooling may be better options.
Although Montessori school techniques can vary widely from school to school, this teaching method generally strives to offer a comparatively more nurturing and holistic learning environment than strictly score based curriculums.
Texas provides excellent legal guidelines and latitude for parents considering homeschooling. Although homeschooling does provide the most flexible of curriculum, it’s important to understand what future educational institutions will expect when deciding what children will learn.
Reasons for Choosing to Homeschool
Alternative forms of education offer students different opportunities from the standard American curriculum. The pace and structure of the lessons are individualized and students are more personally responsible for their own education.
Alternative curricula are afforded more flexibility than their traditional counterparts; however, it is important for these curricula to match the requirements of accredited public and private institutions in order to maximize acceptance by colleges.
When deciding on whether to begin a homeschool curriculum for a student, a parent should take into consideration:
- Alternative forms of education involve a different social atmosphere from traditional private and public educations
- The Montessori curriculum does not grade or test its students in the same manner as traditional schools, including most colleges and universities
- Some students require very specialized help, which might not be conducive to the Montessori Method or a parent teaching his child
- Not all Montessori programs are created equal
- A homeschooled student in Texas is considered the same as a student who attends a non-accredited private school
- Each student is unique; determine what education style suits your child best
First Steps to Homeschooling in Texas
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.
The state of Texas enforces very few requirements on parents wishing to home school their children. The law is 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:
- Notification of disenrollment from the school
- Personal assurance that the student is being home schooled properly
- 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 homeschooled. 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:
- The student is actually receiving real instruction
- The curriculum is based on tangible items such as books and videos
- 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.
Creating the Homeschool Curriculum
Aside from requirements designated by Texas law, parents of homeschooled children may craft the curriculum in any manner they see fit. The parent may choose to instruct the student or choose another individual to act as their student’s teacher.
If the ultimate goal is to have the student return to an accredited public or private school, or even a college or university, then the curriculum should closely mirror the standards of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. There are also a number of homeschool curriculums available for use, such as Laurel Springs and Texas Tech (TTUISD).
In regards to extracurricular activities 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, 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.
Parents are free 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.
Optionally Returning to an Accredited School Environment
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:
Elementary students should be assessed using a nationally recognized test such as a previously released STAAR exam applicable to the grade level the student seeks qualification in. Secondary school students be assessed using the “credit by examination” (CBE) method or by a previously released STAAR exam.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Selecting Instructors for Your Homeschool Curriculum
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 this case, parents may want to seek outside instructors, and may do so through different avenues.
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 possible 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 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. 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.
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.
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 an excess of steps but should still be regarded as an option.
Finally, if parents are looking for a specific skill-set, they would be well served to consult 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.
Parents should pre-screen applicants based on educational background and teaching experience. Standardized test scores such as the ACT, SAT, LSAT, GMAT, and GRE are a great place to start. Ask for current or graduating GPA and an academic transcript, while paying close attention to the subject areas that you’ll want the individual to teach.
However, remember that great test scores 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 possibly more valuable than volunteer experience because it is more analogous to the paid work that the applicant will be doing for you.
It is important to set up in-person interviews with an interactive component that demonstrates the individual’s ability to instruct your student. Discuss the candidate’s resume, background, education, and work experience. After interacting with the candidate, ask the candidate to spend some time teaching your student one-to-one in a subject area.
Follow up with the student to see if there is any potential chemistry between the student and instructor. It’s best to have at least two adults present for the discussion portion of the interview. Two individuals will help ensure that all of the right questions are asked and provides more than one perspective. Parents should repeat this interview process at least twice for successful candidates.
Interviewing and Hiring
For successful candidates, after conducting at least two interviews, parents should ask for social security numbers and previous addresses to conduct a background check. Parents must inform the candidate they are performing a background check and let the candidate notify their references that they will be contacted soon. Additionally, parents should secure the candidate’s written consent to conduct the check, especially if parents plan on checking the candidate’s credit. Here are some steps to validate a candidate:
- Education – Contact schools directly or go through a clearing house
- Experience – Check with references
- Crime – Use a third party verifier to search state and federal records
- Sex Abuse – Search state sex offender databases
- Credit – Use a third party verifier
It would be wise for parents to have a list of at least two individuals qualified for hiring. Do not reject anyone on this “acceptable list” until receiving a written letter of acceptance from the top pick. If an applicant is rejected, inform the applicant of the reasons why and offer to refer them to other sources for hiring.
It is important to ensure that the hiring is legal. Depending on a parent’s exact requirements, one must decide whether the instructor will be an employee or a contractor. The difference is significant in how the IRS collects and expects the parent to report earnings. Consult with an attorney if there is any doubt in how to proceed in this area.
Once parents hire outside help, 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/her 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 the instructor has access to the resources needed 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 expectations.