Elle S.: “Some years I had science, most years I didn’t”

“There was a direct correlation between the minimum legal requirements for homeschooling in the state where I was home-educated, Ohio, and the content of the education that I received.”

I went to a private school from grades 1-4. During fourth grade I was pulled out of school during an unexpected move and homeschooled through high school. 

I like to imagine that eventually there will be a form of homeschooling oversight where kids will also have a voice in their educations. If someone had asked me, I would have told them what I told my parents – that I wanted to go to a good school. 

However, in the meantime, reasonable oversight at the state level is also very important. There was a direct correlation between the minimum legal requirements for homeschooling in the state where I was home-educated, Ohio, and the content of the education that I received.

In Ohio, parents needed to notify the superintendent of their intention to homeschool every year, and to document progress in one of three ways. They could either verify student progress through yearly standardized tests, submit a portfolio of student work, or arrange an alternative assessment with the superintendent. 

However, parents could also opt out of the social studies and science sections of the standardized test, or at least my parents did this and didn’t get in trouble. The mandatory portions of the standardized tests covered only reading comprehension and math. So basically, they were only required to demonstrate that I got reasonable scores on reading comprehension and math. 

Theoretically in Ohio, all students should receive 900 hours of instruction in reading, math and the following other required subjects: writing, geography, history of the United States and Ohio, civics, science, health, physical education, fine arts including music, and first aid, safety, and fire prevention. 

My parents chose an ambitious reading curriculum and were careful to meet the minimum reporting requirements, but only taught me subjects other than reading and math when they felt like it. There was no system to check whether I was being taught about history, science, or, geography, so many of these subjects were addressed by my parents only in an ad hoc way. Some years I had science, most years I didn’t. I had organized opportunities to participate in physical activity some years and not others. I also was not receiving 900 hours a year of instruction time. 150 hours a year is a generous estimate of the hours of direct instruction I received per year during high school. 

I was often left to teach myself, unsupervised, or my only instruction was in internet classes, where my parents did not supervise my engagement or progress. I was motivated to participate and luckily already an avid reader, but another student in the same situation could easily have completely disengaged because there was no social interaction, competition or accountability. It would be easy in that situation to imagine that you are unable to learn, and for that to change your relationship with education for life.

A required annual portfolio and a sit-down with a professional educator would have motivated my parents to give at least some attention to each of the “required” subjects. It would have also revealed that I was producing very little homework – four short papers a year, and a lot of math worksheets. This would have hinted at the fact that they were not meeting the required number of hours of instruction and provided an opportunity for intervention. 

An experienced educator could also have helped my parents better judge the reading curriculum that was sold to them – an English teacher would have been in a position to suggest that perhaps, in spite of my large vocabulary and high scores on reading comprehension exams, I was unprepared for and clearly uncomprehending of the complicated philosophy texts that they were on my high school syllabus. An experienced teacher could have suggested appropriately challenging reading material. Talking with an educator might have also been helpful to my parents when they were feeling overwhelmed or disengaged. An educator might have also been able to suggest enrichment opportunities to help cover subjects that my parents didn’t feel prepared to teach.

Without that oversight, I went to college deeply unprepared for classes that involved writing, STEM subjects, public speaking, or required general cultural knowledge to contextualize current events. I quickly realized there were only a few majors in which I could be successful, and played to my strengths while beginning a long personal journey of remedial education. I felt a great deal of shame about my educational and skill gaps and that is one reason that I have waited so long to speak publicly about my experience.

I support oversight for home education because education is an opportunity to share the richness of the world with kids and help them engage that world. Parents who choose to home educate should have support and accountability in teaching all the required subjects at a level that is appropriate to each student.

Elle S. was homeschooled in Ohio from 1993-2002. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.

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