Homeschooling in Florida

My mother, who worked at New Smyrna Beach Senior High School in the guidance department, always has interesting questions for me about homeschooling. I have also had several consultations through CEG about it, so I thought to do a blog post. Please keep in mind, these are my experiences and opinions, and I will add some links with facts.

I will firstly say, I am personally very cautious about homeschooling as an option for K-12 students. That is not to say I am against it, as I know of a few cases which are working beautifully for all involved, and I know the students are getting both a rigorous education and plenty of age- and grade- appropriate socialization. However, I will start with my own personal experiences with it.

Many years ago, when there were not as many options, paths, for students as there are now (see link below), I was tutoring a young man in middle school. It was a very sad situation–his parents were extremely wealthy, rarely home or even in the country, and he and his siblings spent their time at home in the company of various nannies and house servants. I was hired because the student was failing most of his classes, and would be retained if he didn’t bring his grades up. I learned very quickly that this was not an ability issue; he was deliberately failing in a futile attempt to get his parents’ attention. There was nothing I could do about that. When I met with his parents, their solution was to hire me away from my full-time teaching job, pay me a competitive salary with benefits, and have me what is commonly known as “pencil whip” him through school. I patiently explained that I was a professional, that was unethical, and I couldn’t do that. My point is this: With homeschooling, there ARE those who would do unethical things to get a child through school. In my opinion this is not common, but it does happen. There are also those who will register their child for online classes, and actually do assignments and tests themselves. I have talked to some of these parents; I did so when my youngest son was taking some virtual classes.

I had another situation more recently–and I think this is a bit more common–where I was the professional hired to assess a student exiting high school at the home school level. I have done this several times. This student was extremely bright and had already been accepted into a very competitive private college. He had taken and completed rigorous on-line courses, including Advanced Placement courses, done all the work, and tested out beautifully with me. I was extremely comfortable vouching for this student’s abilities. The tragic thing was, neither the student nor the parents realized that no diploma would be issued–the student needed to take and pass the GED. At that time, that was the only option other than re-enrolling in high school and graduating with a standard diploma. Unfortunately, the student and parents had put on the college application that the student would be receiving a diploma–they didn’t realize that homeschooled, including FLVS, students in Florida do not receive a diploma. They hadn’t read the paperwork they signed. The student contacted his college, and as he was unwilling to enroll in public school and stay to graduate, lost his spot at the college. The caution here: if you are considering homeschooling, be aware of this caveat.

There is a lot of flexibility, these days, to education. Many choices. While public school isn’t for everybody, there is the strong factor that public school is, generally, a preparation for the real world in that students do encounter all the diversity they will encounter in the workplace, the market, on the roads; in restaurants, theaters, banks, drugstores, airplanes, trains, and the hundreds of other places adults in this nation go to. They will encounter individuals whose intellects range from far above to far below their own; people who share their beliefs and who are diametrically opposed to them; individuals challenged with visible and invisible disabilities; people who are mean, nice, and everything in between; people who are safe, and those who are not. Public school is a place where it is reasonably safe to learn to get along with a heterogeneous group of peers. It can be a terrible shock to students who have been too sheltered in either private or home school settings to get out on their own and have to deal with all of these people. And, their lack of skills can get them into trouble, and make them unemployable and/or lonely, very quickly. I have seen this happen dozens of times. That isn’t to say it happens to everyone who chooses non-public school options, but, believe me, it does happen. Along with this sometimes goes the shock of finding out you are not “all that”; that there are people in the world more skilled than you. I am not talking about students, here, who haven’t been exposed to those with differing situations from their own. Some home schooled situations are very sheltered, and while students have done various service projects and trips, they tend to see themselves as separate from those they serve, and can get the idea that they are better. Of course, this can happen in public school, too. But, some students who have been homeschooled get too big for their britches, as my mother would say; they are a big fish in a small pond and get out into the world and soon find out they are one in a sea of job applicants, and social skills can be mighty handy.

A final, and not unimportant by any means, caution is that if you are the parent supervising your child’s education, even if you have a PhD in nuclear medicine, you may not have a clue about teaching. And, many parents, like many private school teachers in the state of Florida, have never even set foot in a college classroom, much less taken teaching courses. For example, I know of a private school right here in Volusia county whose first grade teacher has never gone to college. We had a discussion one year and she was upset that one of her students was “behind”; she was only reading on a third grade level at the end of the school year, far behind her peers. That isn’t “behind.” I had to explain why it is developmentally inappropriate to push all students to be that far ahead. Understanding what is developmentally appropriate at what age–intellectually, behaviorally, physically, and emotionally–is only one component of being a competent teacher. There is a reason teacher education exists. That is just one reason. Understanding curricula, pedagogy, and a wealth of other professional factors is de riguere for teachers.

One caution about FLVS: be very careful to check it out thoroughly. Have a solid look around. If you have been concerned about class sizes as regards teacher load in public school, get hard numbers before you choose this. Also be aware that, although some teachers offer a LOT of availability and actual recorded and live lessons, much of this is self-paced, self-taught learning. Some students have a difficult time with this. In one of my son’s classes, his FLVS teacher in government changed four times. In one semester.

I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom regarding homeschooling. But I do recommend being extremely careful and especially extremely informed. It is a terrible shame to have hardworking parents and a stellar student get to the point of graduation and realize there is no path to a diploma. Get creative. Be honest with your child about upcoming tests, and about the possibility of needing a semester or two at the end of high school in an accredited school if they want that diploma, or the GED-to-diploma offered homeschoolers by the state of Florida. I have seen homeschooling work well for some students, especially for some terribly bright ones who needed extra challenge. But be careful not to shelter your child too much from the world they will face when you are no longer there.

Here are a couple of solid links:

https://www.flvs.net/Students/Documents/FLVS_Complete_HomeEd_Guide.pdf

http://florida-homeschooling.org/how-to-homeschool/public-or-private/registering-with-the-school-district/

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