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When Your Child Goes from Homeschooling to Public School

TheHomeSchoolMom Blog: When your child goes from homeschooling to public schoolSometimes things change, and your child will go from homeschooling to public school. What should you expect when you start the process? Here are a few first thoughts:

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The school is in charge of the school.

This is going to be different. While you were homeschooling independently, you made all decisions regarding your child’s education. The first thing to realize is that your child’s school has policies and procedures that you may not be able to affect. Meeting with administrators may result in some flexibility, and you should advocate for your child, but you are navigating a system that is balancing the needs of many children.

The school may ask for grades and records from homeschooling.

Regardless of the approach you took to homeschooling, the school may ask for your child’s grades and documentation of studies or learning. If you have homeschooled using traditional curriculum, tests, and grades, this may not be hard to provide.

However, some homeschoolers are flummoxed by this since homeschool laws in their state may not have required such records, and their homeschooling philosophy may have been to use a different approach, which was nonetheless effective. School officials are frequently unfamiliar with homeschool laws and may be more accustomed to dealing with students transferring from other schools.

Some options:

  • Explain that you don’t have these kinds of records and weren’t required to keep them.
  • Create a document to reflect what your child learned during the homeschool years.
  • Show scores from any standardized tests your child may have taken.

It helps to remember that the school generally wants this information in order to determine grade placement. Again, this may not always be in agreement with where you think your child should be placed, but it is often at least a good faith effort at getting your child in the right grade in school.

The school is in charge of grade placement and may use their own assessments.

Sometimes parents are able to easily enroll a child in the grade they request, especially if it is the grade that is typical for the child’s age, and especially during the elementary years. At other times, schools may use testing or their assessment of your child’s home learning, and they will decide which grade a child should be in.

Going from homeschooling to public school in high school might be a bigger deal.

State requirements will vary. Many states require specific courses and end-of-course tests to be passed by each child who will receive a public high school diploma in that state. Public school students do not receive credits for these courses without the tests, and a child who enrolls in public school during the high school years may not receive credits without the tests either.

Administrators may be flexible. In some states, work done at home may not be “counted,” even if a subject was studied in a traditional textbook way. It is worth speaking with administrators to see if they will let your child take end-of-course tests without re-taking the entire courses. I know quite a few teens in different states who were able to get credit in this way, which allowed them to enroll in high school in the grade they expected.

Credit may not be given for work done at home. However, there are also stories of disappointment, where students who would typically have been in 10th grade or later were required to retake lower grade courses at public school after having learned the material at home. In Virginia, for example, many homeschool advocates advise if at all possible, if you believe your child will attend high school, to try to enroll by 9th grade. That’s because not all high schools award credit for work done at home, and they may not allow your child to “test out” of courses. State law in Virginia requires schools to consider work done at home, but because of the emphasis on learning standards, end-of-grade tests, and accreditation, public schools are not required to accept credit transferred from homeschooling.

Homeschool organizations are good sources of information. Check with your state-wide homeschooling organization to find out about the laws for homeschoolers enrolling in public schools, talk to homeschoolers in your area, and talk to the guidance counselor or administrator at the school your child will attend.

Diplomas reflect the school’s requirements. Not awarding high school credit for work done at home may seem unfair at first glance, but think about it from an institutional point of view. If a diploma means the student has taken these specific tests and followed the standardized curriculum, then it might seem that the only fair way to administrate this is to make it apply to all high school students for each year of their work — even if a year or two of that was done at home. The child is no longer getting a homeschool diploma (though by the way, homeschool diplomas work just fine) — but will be getting a public school diploma, which indicates completion of public high school requirements.

Your child might be “ahead” or “behind.”

Your homeschool has been marching to a different drummer. Your child’s skill level or knowledge might be out of sync with expectations for kids the same age at public school.

It’s important to remember that this is also true for students who attend public school who have never been homeschooled. There are kids who are ahead, kids who are behind, and kids who have special needs and challenges.

In some cases, teachers and administrators have an authentic big picture view of this, and they understand that children’s academic levels vary a lot, regardless of how they have been educated before coming to this specific school. In other cases, especially if a child is behind, homeschooling may be blamed as an ineffective approach to education, even though there will be children at the same school who never homeschooled but who are also “behind.”

One of the issues that crops up is that some homeschooling approaches are highly supportive of late bloomers, and the payoff comes in later years when a child’s love for reading and learning has remained in tact because of less coercion to do developmentally inappropriate tasks quite early. For example, a child who learns to read at home at 8 or 9 may not be at a disadvantage at all because of the way homeschooling can compensate during skills lags — but that same child may immediately be seen as behind if she has to enter school as a non-reader.

Homeschoolers differ as to whether the possibility — however slight — of a child needing to attend public school at some point in the future, should mean trying to keep a child on grade level. Read my articles on Homeschooling and Grade Level and When Grade Level Matters for more thoughts on this topic.

If you have a child who has special needs, you should familiarize yourself with Wrights Law and be prepared to advocate for your child to get the best possible education.

You are going to have feelings about all this.

You may have good reasons to quit homeschooling. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have mixed feelings and second thoughts. You may feel relief that public school is there for your child, but you may feel some grief that your picture of homeschooling did not play out as you hoped.

You may also struggle with adjustment to spending less time with your child and having less say-so over your child’s daily life, as the school acts in loco parentis.

If your child is behind, you may feel guilt that he will struggle, and you may even feel guilt that he will be seen as a poor representative of homeschooling. Some parents run into this thought from administrators: a positive adjustment to school is “in spite of” homeschooling, while a negative adjustment to school is “because of” homeschooling. This attitude has changed over the years, since so many teachers now homeschool their own children and other educators have become more familiar with homeschooling. However, you may still feel that you are seen as having done your child a disservice.

You will need to deal with the bureaucracy.

You’re playing their game now, and just as you made the rules when you were homeschooling, the schools make the rules for their game.

Schools have a lot of rules and red tape. You and/or your child will need to keep track of deadlines, rules, handbooks, homework, schedules, calendars, and more. Start inquiring about enrollment as early as possible once you know your child will attend school.

Many schools are welcoming to new students and want each child to have a positive experience; try to get a handle on the rules and policies to help your child have the best adjustment possible. You’re playing their game now, and just as you made the rules when you were homeschooling, the schools make the rules for their game.

Jeanne Faulconer

A popular speaker at homeschooling conferences, business groups, and parents’ groups, Jeanne Potts Faulconer has homeschooled her three sons in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia. She is a former college faculty member, former editor and book reviewer for Home Education Magazine, a long-time editor for VaHomeschoolers Voice, and a recent news correspondent for WCVE, an NPR-member station. Jeanne teaches writing and literature for her youngest son’s homeschool co-op, and she is a student of how learning works – at home, in the music room, in small groups, in the college classroom, on the soccer field, and in the car to and from practice. Holding her Master of Arts degree in Communication, Jeanne conducts portfolio evaluations for Virginia homeschoolers for evidence of progress. To read more of Jeanne’s writing, inquire about a homeschool evaluation, or ask her to speak to your group, see her blog, Engaged Homeschooling.

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  1. Deborah Williams

    I have a problem and can’t find anyone to help. I have homeschooled in Dearborn county Indiana for 3 years. This year my daughter said she wanted to try public school. I told her if that was what she wanted. She asked if she didn’t like it could she go back to homeschooling. I told her yes. She came home crying after 1 day and said she didn’t want to go back. I went to school to get her out and back to homeschooling and they are acting like I’m a criminal. Do I have the right to take my daughter out without them acting rude to me?

    • Hi Deborah – Since homeschooling is regulated by the state, it is best to turn to state organizations for answers to questions like this. TheHomeSchoolMom provides general resources to homeschoolers, but doesn’t have the resources to answer questions specific to each state’s requirements. Our Indiana local homeschool organizations page might be able to point you in the right direction, but there is no substitute for reading the relevant statute(s) yourself. When you know the law, you are empowered when talking to local officials.

  2. Teya Harper

    Hi currently I’m in online school and I’m thinking of switching back into public school next semester (I say “switching back” because I went to public school up until 8th grade but for my freshmen and half of this year I’ve been in online school.) I’m worried about being behind in a few classes (mainly Spanish and Geometry) so what should I do? How do I prepare?

  3. Elisabeth Schulz

    Thank you for this insight. In our 4th year of homeschooling, we made the decision today to put our kids in PS due to some health challenges I am having. I AM having a bucketful of emotions ~~ everything from fear that my kids are behind to how will I react when the mean office lady turns her nose up at us on the first day (Which she will, because we have seen that from her already). I fear the never ending testing, the behavior charts that have to be initialed every night, the cool kids doing all the cool things. I am going to refer to this article frequently.

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