Home-Schooled Students’ Perceptions of the Transition to Public School: Struggles, Adjustments, and Issues
Michael H. Romanowski, Ph.D.
Center for Teacher Education
Ohio Northern University
Ada, Ohio 45810
Keywords: Homeschooling, home schooling, home education, public school
Today in American culture, almost everyone is familiar with home schooling. Most people either know someone who home schools their children or at least have heard of a family that has selected this rapidly increasing alternative to public and private education. By all accounts, the movement has been growing steadily over the past few years. Early estimates indicate that approximately 15,000 students were home schooled in 1984 with that number increasing in 1988 to between 200,000 and 300,000 students (U. S. Department of Education, 1988). Circa the fall of 1999, it was estimated that there were between 1.2 to 1.7 million students grades K-12 home schooled in the United States (Lines 1998; Ray 1999). This growth not only testifies to parents’ demands for alternative and less institutionalized options for their children’s education, but has established home schooling as a significant and legitimate force in the American educational landscape.
There is evidence of increased support of home schooling. Apple (2000) argues that “if one of the marks of the growing acceptance of ideological changes is their positive presentation in the popular media, then home schooling clearly found a place in our consciousness” (p. 256). The popular media offers positive portrayals of home schooling in the national press, television and radio talk shows, and numerous widely read, popular magazines. The American public sees and reads about home schooled students who win or do well in National Spelling and Geography competitions, home schooled students who enter prestigious universities, and how universities now recruit and accommodate home schooled students. They see the results of various studies (for example Rudner 1999) about home schoolers’ academic achievements compared to their public school counterparts. However, one aspect of home schooling that the media or research studies fail to report, centers on home schooled students who, after a significant period of time, enter the public school system.
Although most parents plan to home school their children through the high school years (Ray 1999), for many families their reasons for home schooling change as their children mature and they decide to enroll their children into conventional schooling. Thus, after several years of being schooled at home, many children eventually enter public education and face various struggles and issues as they adapt to their new learning and social environments.
The purpose of this study is to describe, from the home schooled students’ perspectives, the struggles and issues they face as they enter the public school classroom. In particular, the study describes the reasons why families discontinue home schooling and the ideological conflicts that are persuasive when home schooled students transition into public schools. Finally, several suggestions are provided for families who are considering the transition from home school to public education.
Objectives of This Study and Research Design
The guiding research questions for this study are as follows:
· Why do home schooled students enroll in public schools?
· Are there any adjustments or issues that home schooled students face as they transition to public school?
· How do administrators, teachers, and peers view home school students?
· Are home schooled students’ values and beliefs tested as they enter public school?
In order to investigate these questions, qualitative research presented the ideal framework because an essential aspect of qualitative research is the importance of providing the informants an opportunity to speak their own voices and have their voices heard. Qualitative research not only seeks to represent and describe cultural and behavioral patterns as they are viewed and understood by the informants, but the researcher attempts to provide an interpretation of the patterns informants use to conceptualize their own experiences and worldview (LeCompte & Preissle 1993). These home schooled students are the ones who actually experience the transition to public school which makes them the logical ones to inform the researcher of any struggles, adjustments, or issues that they faced.
Informants in this sample were selected from a variety of sources. First, my own involvement in the home schooling community (my wife and I home school our children and we are members of the local and state home school organizations) enabled me to seek out individuals who discontinued home schooling and enrolled their children in public schools. Second, numerous friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who knew families that home schooled their children were called. These individuals provided names of possible informants. Finally, the leaders of several home schooling networks in Ohio and Pennsylvania were contacted and a request for informants was posted on their corresponding web sites, in various email listings, and printed in monthly newsletters.
For this study, surveys and one-on-one telephone interviews were selected. Families whose children transitioned from home school to public school were contacted by phone, email, or mail. Home schooled students that entered public school between grades 7-12 were asked to respond to a 12 question, open-ended questionnaire designed to gather information based on the above research questions (see Appendix A). Although there were additional respondents who transitioned into private school, these were not included in this study and analysis. 48 surveys were sent out to possible informants. 20 surveys were returned. The follow-up of non-respondents consisted of various emails and telephone calls. If there was no response after 3 follow-up contacts, individuals were categorized as a non-respondent. Out of these 20 informants, 6 entered public school at grade 7, 3 entered at grade 8, 7 at grade 9, 2 at grade 10, and 2 at 11th grade.
The survey responses were studied in detail and coded into relevant parts and chunks of meaning. Since qualitative data analysis is primarily an inductive process of organizing the collected information into categories and identifying relationships among the categories, various themes slowly emerged.
With the various themes and initial responses the surveys provided, follow-up interviews were conducted which allowed probing to extend the information and also allowed additional questions to emerge from the responses provided on the initial survey. The 20 informants were contacted and took part in a follow-up interview. These interviews varied in length and ranged from 15 to 45 minutes. The interview process increased the chances that additional in-depth information would be gathered from the respondent rather than being determined solely from responses to the survey questions. This in turn permitted a more thorough understanding of the respondents’ perspectives and the reasons behind them.
The following discussion presents findings that describe the transitional problems that home schooled students face as they enter public schools. First, the reasons that families discontinue home schooling are addressed. Second, the various struggles, adjustments, and issues the informants faced are described by developing the major theme “Ideological Conflicts Are Persuasive.” Within this theme, four categories are developed that describe the informants’ adjustments to public schooling. These are: Adapting to the Public School Learning Structure; The Social Aspects: Fitting In as a Home Schooler; Issues of Maturity; and Values and Beliefs are Challenged. The categories are presented from what I determined to be the “simple” aspects of the transition, such as adjustments to school rules and schedules, to the more complex issues, such as a student’s beliefs and values being challenged. Finally, several recommendations are suggested regarding what parents can do to help their child’s transition from home school to conventional schooling be successful and less stressful on both the child and the family involved.
Why Families Decide to Discontinue Home Schooling
Just as there are a variety of reasons why parents choose home education, there are just as many reasons why parents and students decide to transition into public schools. These include, but are not limited to, the following reasons. Several informants had a desire to spend additional time with friends or to make new friends and they felt this could best be accomplished by enrolling in public school. There were other home schooled students who had a desire to be involved in organized team sports. They wanted to take advantage of the opportunities public schools provide in regards to athletics, so they enrolled in their local public school. They also were interested in competing for possible athletic scholarships.
Other informants suggested that academics were a factor in their decision to transition into public school. They thought that they needed a more in-depth curriculum because their parents felt they could not provide the detailed and intense study required of particular content areas such as science and math. These individuals thought that professional high school teachers could not only provide a comprehensive study but also would challenge them and prepare them for college in the areas of math and science. Several were also interested in competing for possible academic scholarships.
Another concern was the isolation of home schooling. Informants indicated that they wanted to grow and adjust to the different demands of public schools than those found in home school situations. These included facing peer pressure, meeting different types of people (diversity), having their ideas challenged, and to actively apply a particular worldview to evaluate life and peer situations.
There were other factors mentioned that played a role in the decision to discontinue home schooling. First, a child’s personality may be a factor in several of the families’ decisions. For example, one student described the decision to discontinue home schooling in the following manner; “I am an extrovert and my parents and I thought that going out to school (public school) would allow me to develop in those areas (interacting with friends and teachers and communication and leadership skills). I thought I would do well in a school environment instead of being home.” Other comments suggested that the maturity and emotional level of the student was a major factor in determining if and when enrollment in public school should take place. Finally, believing their child was ready, some parents provided their child with the opportunity to make the final decision if they wanted to attend public school.
Ideological Conflicts Are Persuasive
As home schooled students transition into public schools, they face a variety of new situations and issues that raise ideological conflicts. From their first step into the classroom, they must adapt to a new learning environment where their values and beliefs are challenged daily, they must learn and adapt to a new culture, and they cope with being labeled as different since they are home schoolers. The following discussion describes these ideological conflicts.
Adapting to the Public School Learning Structure
Public schools and individual classrooms are embedded in a culture that includes various routines and structure. School culture serves as a blueprint for the way students think and act. The way students learn the culture of public schools, including the routines and the written and unwritten rules, is through experience. As one student stated “literally enrolling in our local high school was like traveling abroad to a foreign country in which I knew no one and did not speak the language of the land.” It seems that for home schooled students, the structure, habits, rules, customs, and expectations encountered in school can all be dramatically different from those learned at home. This became evident when home schooled students entering public school noticed that the transition required them to make several adjustments regarding their new learning environment.
First, the basic structure of schooling required adjustments. The following comments describe these adjustments,
I had to learn to fit into a more structured schedule, where in home schooling, I could pick which classes I did first and where I did them. I expected this and my mom prepared me for this, but still it was an adjustment.
It was fairly hard for me to go from unstructured school to very structured school. Not so much with the order of classes but when I have to start and finish. For example in home school, I could start at 6 am and get done by 8 am but in public school you are locked into their time frame, even though much time is wasted.
For these particular students, the public school structure, that includes a rigid, daily class schedule, was part of the transition process. The students had to learn to adjust to the school’s time frame and attending classes when they were offered instead of studying particular subjects anytime during the day or when interest dictated. As one student stated, “I had to learn the system and jump through the hoops, and as a home schooler and a free spirit who used my own standards and work and study habits—it was difficult.”
Included in these adjustments was adapting to and learning the many rules and routines that make up the daily school and classroom routines. Students provided the following descriptions of rules and routines:
The rules that seemed like common sense to everyone else were hard for me to handle all at once… it took awhile but I soon learned and followed the rules… I also had to get better at meeting deadlines and keeping track of all my classes.
Teachers all have different rules to learn and different classroom expectations where as in home school you just have to know about one.
I expected more difficulty with the classroom routine—sitting still, paying attention, taking turns, learning class rules, and even some of the unwritten rules that all the other students knew. However, I picked these skills up rather quickly and the teacher told my parents that she had very few discipline problems with me in class.
For informants who identified these as adjustments, most quickly learned the rules, routines, and skills, smoothly making this aspect of the transition. Several worked on areas such as organizational skills and time management prior to their enrollment into public schooling, while others learned these needed skills throughout their public school experience.
Second, the actual learning processes of public education differ from the one-on-one tutoring style that many of the informants were familiar with during their home schooling. One student stated that “it was hard to get used to several teachers and the homework… I was not as comfortable asking questions… at first I had to wait until I got home to understand some of the information.” The large class sizes, multiple teachers, various teaching styles, and the nightly homework were all adjustments for these home schooled students. This was especially true for the nightly homework that many students thought was busy work that could be completed during school hours. One female student provided the following description of her adjustment.
Being home schooled, I was used to not only one-on-one teaching but also studying and thinking independently. There were a few adjustments that had to take place in order to learn in a classroom setting. Many times I felt as though the teacher was going too slow. She would continue to show examples when I had already figured it out from reading the instructions. It was difficult to be patient while she helped others. I used my ability to study independently to my advantage. I would get a head start on that evening’s homework in the middle of class while the other students were paying attention to the teacher’s examples.
These comments not only demonstrate the techniques this student used to adjust, but raise potential issues that home schooled students are likely to face during their transition to public school. This included the redundancy and slow pace of instruction. The following quotes further emphasize this problem.
A lot of time is wasted waiting for everyone to finish their assignments in class… It’s hard when the teacher has to teach to the lowest common denominator. I don’t think school is very challenging.
It takes so much longer to get the same amount of work done. I hated teachers yelling at students. I got tired of having to tolerate students acting up in class and talking. You waste a ton of time in the classroom. You don’t get done half the stuff you could get done at home… it gets boring.
I had to wait for the less adept kids in the subject to grasp the concepts which I already had. I was expecting this but not to the extent I experienced… many students just simply won’t work … they hated school and their attitude and behavior often took the class off task.
These informants learned to cope with the slow pace of instruction, waiting on others, wasted class time, and numerous distractions, such as teachers constantly disciplining students, that forced the class off task and interrupted the learning process. The students thought that many teachers spent too much time covering content and giving directions and that a great deal of the work was unchallenging busy work. Although most indicated that they were “worried” or “concerned” that the academic work would be difficult and that the teachers would be “hard,” these same informants found the opposite to be true.
The realities of public school and the adjustments these home schooled students experienced affected their view of school and learning. For example, several explained that because school work was unchallenging, they found themselves less motivated to learn and actually spent less time studying and engaging knowledge. Other students made comments such as, “I felt I lost the freedom to think on my own… I had to do it (work and assignments) like the teacher wanted. There was no room for creativity or individual thinking.” Doing assignments for the teacher instead of doing them for themselves seemed to be a major adjustment for many informants. Students indicated that they had to change not only the way they think but they had to conform to “the teacher’s thinking.” Several stated that the joy and desire to learn slowly eroded as they progressed in public school. As one student stated, “At home I enjoyed reading and learning … it was fun and I saw a purpose but now it is just a matter of getting the information, getting the grade, and doing other things I like.” While one student described the purpose of public education as a
restaurant service—sit them (students) down, serve them, give them their bill, and get them out. It all comes back to assembly line teaching in the end…I found myself bored and often went through the motions of learning… I found out really quick how to get good grades without having to do hardly any work.
Since public schools are quite different from most home schools in a variety of ways, these informants had to make several adjustments as they transitioned into the public school culture. These included adjustments regarding the overall structure of public school, various aspects of the learning process, and many had to adjust their purpose of learning. Informants suggested that one of the negative consequences of the transition was that their purpose for learning and desire to learn changed.
Issues of Maturity
Smedley (1992) argues that home educated students are significantly better socialized and more mature than those in public school. This thought was supported by several students’ comments.
Many of the kids in class were very immature… I often feel more comfortable and fit in better with the teachers… I could relate to the teachers much better than some of the other students.
I felt I was much more mature than my peers because I dealt more with adults than kids my own age. I had a vision for my future with goals when most of the girls my age were more concerned with their hair and make-up… I found it difficult to find things in common.
I had to adjust how I deal with people. Most of the kids were immature and many are cruel. I can’t talk to them like I talk to adults. I didn’t expect the kids to act so childish.
Not only did home school students sense that their maturity level was greater than their public school counterparts, but there were some teachers that also expressed similar thoughts. The following student expresses one teacher’s view.
My seventh grade math teacher was new to the school district, so she was unaware that I had been home schooled previously. When she found out, she was shocked. She sent a letter home with me for my parents. In it she wrote that she had just found out that this was my first year back in public school. She could not believe it because I was so well adjusted and mature. She said that I was a class leader, and that I wasn’t afraid to ask or answer questions in class.
The maturity level of students became an issue for many of the informants. As they tried to become part of the school culture, the immature level of some of the public school students made it difficult for these home schooled students to relate to their new peers and developing friendships. As one student stated “I didn’t find a lot of common interests… I was embarrassed for some of the students, you know, the way they acted and thought… often I found myself relating more to my teachers than my peers.”
The Social Aspects: “Fitting In as a Home Schooler”
“As expected, the academic adjustments were easier than the social aspects.” As this student indicates, home schooled students faced several difficult social adjustments entering public school. First, most were labeled as a home school student. This often caused problems because the manner in which administrators, teachers, and fellow students view and understand home schooling plays a role in the student’s transition. Regarding other students, it seems that the average public school student had a limited understanding of home schooling. This was reflected in comments like “Did you get to sleep in?” or “Did you wear your pajamas to school?” Other quotes illustrate public school students’ views and reactions to home schooling.
While some thought it was cool that I was home schooled others thought I was spoiled. One teacher asked me to share my experience… some said that is neat and that they wish they could have been home schooled. Others teased me or gave me a hard time.
There are no win situations. If you do well in school, people say well she was home schooled she should do well. If you do poorly, they blame home schooling. Also, in sports when I got injured and didn’t play, well that is because she is home schooled and is not tough enough… in these situations you always lose until people slowly forget you were home educated.
The amount of time labeled as a home schooler varied from student to student but the length seemed to be based on their successful interaction with other students and how well they adapted to the school. As one student stated, “By now I have learned the rules and skills and how to interact with the students. Now most people don’t even know I was home schooled.”
According to informants’ perceptions, their teachers and administrators often adhered to various stereotypes of home schooled students viewing them as being isolated, lacking sufficient academic background and social skills, and lacking discipline. Informant’ comments illustrate some professional educators’ views on home schooling.
They (teachers) think that since I was home schooled I would be smarter or not-so-smart in certain classes, so they would treat me accordingly. For example, some offered me tutors and others made suggestions that were better geared for elementary students.
The principal said to my parents and I, that he finds that homeschoolers have two problems… they need to realize that they can’t just speak whenever they want to, they need to raise their hand… students in public schools need to move around from class to class… your classes won’t all be in the same place.
These comments illustrate the sometimes-limited understanding about home schooling on the part of some educators. Because some members of the faculty and administration were skeptical about home schooling, several informants were offered tutors by administrators, others were required to undergo a series of aptitude and skills’ tests, and most students faced mixed reactions from faculty that thought they would be either well behind academically or further ahead or that home schooled students were socially deficient.
For some students, the home school identity was quickly removed. However, for others, this label sticks with them for their entire public school career in various subtle ways. The following student illustrates the long-term effect that negative views of home schooling can have on a student.
I was the valedictorian, homecoming queen, and president of several clubs in school. My senior year when scholarships were being given, I was passed up for the Principal’s Scholarship. I later found out that my principal made a comment to one of my teachers that he was “disgusted” that a home schooled student was going to be the valedictorian of his high school.
An important point regarding educators’ and public school students’ perspectives is that the individual student’s transition to public school often depends upon how many other home schooled students previously attended the school district. One of the informants was the first home schooled student to enter the school district and she described the difficulty of “being an ambassador for home schooling” and the difficulties she faced. Other students mentioned that because other home schooled students attended their school prior to them, the transition was easier. As we see a second and third generation of home schoolers who transition into public schools, the strangeness and unfamiliarity of home schooling will slowly vanish, hopefully reducing or eliminating the above issues.
Values and Beliefs are Challenged
All students “come to school as culturally whole persons with a culture and a language and concomitant values, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge” (Garcia, 1991, p. 67). Certainly some of these values and beliefs are compatible with the culture of public schools. However, it is inevitable that all students who attend public school face situations that challenge their personal beliefs and values. The amount, types, and the difficulty of these challenges vary greatly depending upon one’s beliefs. For these home schoolers, it seems that challenges to their beliefs and values frequently occurred. As one informant explains, “my morals were tested on a daily basis.”
The frequency of these ideological conflicts most likely occur because the majority of these families seem to fit into what Van Galen (1988) termed ideologues. Parents who are ideologues object to what they believe is being taught in public schools and these parents have specific beliefs, values, and skills that they want their children to learn and embrace. Because they are convinced that these things are not being adequately taught in public school, they opt for home schooling to assure that their children are provided numerous and genuine opportunities to learn these values. As their children enter public education, their deeply held values and beliefs come into frequent conflict with those of the public school culture. Not only are they recurring, but these challenges transpired in both the academic and social aspects of schooling.
Concerning academics, the perspectives and knowledge presented to students often conflicted with what these home schooled students believed and accepted as truth. For example, the following students’ comments demonstrate how the academic aspects of schooling can challenge their belief system.
I had a teacher tell our entire class that the Bible was just a book of great stories like one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. My entire system of beliefs was based on the Bible, and standing in front of me was this woman, a teacher saying it was a book of great stories. She had the authority and what could I do? … I had a tough time with this but I knew if I questioned her, my grade would suffer so I simply did the work and kept quiet.
In my high school biology class, my teacher was a strong believer in evolution and Darwinism. In his class, he was required to teach on both Creationism and Evolution. We read only one paragraph on Creationism and studied an entire section on Evolution… it was difficult because I thought it was unfair and I think he wanted us to not only learn the information but to accept it without questions and think like he did.
When we studied the classics, it seemed like there was an “anything goes” type of interpretations. I found it hard to see and accept these strange viewpoints and I thought that these were wrong interpretations… many were opposite of what I believed.
These are just a few quotes illustrating the intellectual and academic conflicts that home schooled students faced as they attended classes. This becomes problematic for these students because for many home schoolers “their religious beliefs and the education of their children were inextricably intertwined” (Marchant et. al, 1994, p. 77). This allows various conflicts to arise as knowledge is presented from particular perspectives. Other issues that provided conflict included a variety of controversial issues that surfaced and certain perspectives that were presented in classes such as literature, world and American history, U. S. government, psychology, sociology, and health classes.
How did these former home schooled students cope with these dilemmas? Most preferred to keep quiet, thus avoiding possible conflicts or consequences such as lower grades or any disdain from teachers or classmates while others viewed these predicaments as an opportunity. One student stated that “subjects like evolution open up chances to talk to other students about my beliefs.” Like this student, others decided to challenge teachers or at least present their perspective, which was often communicated to the teacher and frequently the class through class discussions, questions asked during or after class, and class assignments and papers.
The manner in which the student responded had consequences regarding their acceptance into the school and peer culture. One informant stated that “Keeping quiet made it a lot easier to fit in.” Other informants suggested that challenging teachers placed them in the spotlight and possibly reinforced their “difference” as home schooled students. However, each informant was forced to respond to various conflicts embedded in particular content areas.
Regarding peer culture and peer pressure of public schools, there were many situations that home schooled students faced, many for the first time, that challenged their values and beliefs, in turn, forcing them to question and consider their individual behavior. For example, several students discussed the acts of cheating and the acceptance and tolerance of cheating by students that often occurs in the public school classroom.
It seemed that students were open about cheating. It didn’t seem like the students care if you cheated… it was no big deal for many students.
I have always been taught and I believe that cheating is wrong. In public school, there are so many more opportunities to cheat, while at home, you are not really confronted with this problem… It was hard to see many students taking the easy way out and nothing happening to them… it seems so unfair!
The informants not only faced the cultural tolerance for cheating and the related ethical aspects but they were forced to deal with the temptation and peer pressure to engage in this behavior. Peer pressure may induce behaviors that violate students’ personal standards and some informants found themselves wrestling with the temptation to “cut corners” and were frustrated with the lack of consequences for those students who regularly cheated. Although none of the informants admitted cheating, several suggested that they “cut corners” while others admitted that they grew tolerant to the deceitfulness of their peers.
Although cheating on tests and homework was not mentioned by every informant, issues that centered on honesty surfaced as areas of conflict regarding relationships. The following comment illustrates some ways that dishonesty was perceived by these home schooled students.
… Dealing with betrayal from people that I thought were my friends. I can’t trust people. There is so much gossiping over stupid things and there is so much lying that took place. Students lie without ever considering it as being wrong. I mean, they don’t even think about it.
Honesty seemed to be stressed in the majority of the informants’ homes and many of these students embraced honesty as an important part of their character. Most had a difficult time adjusting to a culture that they perceive as considering honesty as irrelevant and dishonesty as the norm. They found it difficult to trust others which affected their relationships with other students. Because of their trusting others and assuming others hold to similar values, several cited examples of incidents where they were hurt and deceived by other students.
Another peer issue was the language found in public schools. Previously a student commented that when she enrolled in public school it was like traveling abroad and she could “not speak the language of the land.” Home schooled students had to learn that the profanity was part of the accepted language of the student culture in public schools.
When I entered public school, it was common to hear the students using profanity out loud in the halls and quietly in the classrooms. I had never really heard young people cursing. I had only heard it on “bad” movies or when an adult was very upset. It was shocking to hear people use those words so casually. It was a large part of their vocabulary. Many of my friends could not believe I had never used profanity and they would constantly pressure me to.
Even though these home educated students seem to be firmly planted in their beliefs, they soon accepted profanity as part of the culture. As one informant stated “it’s easy to become numb to the constant bad language and actions that go against your ideals and make you think about your views.” Most did not embrace profanity as part of their own character (however there were hints that some students did although they seemed reluctant to discuss this). There were other related issues that presented these students with some temptations as well. As one student stated, “sex, drugs, stealing, and doing bad things became tempting as a way to fit into the social aspects of the school… it is an easy way to be accepted.” At times, peer pressure may have induced behaviors that violated their personal standards.
Finally, as the following students explain, the value of materialism and the importance of one’s appearance emerged as an issue for many home schooled students.
I was not expecting clothing and appearance to be such a big deal… if you didn’t have the right clothes or look good it was tough to fit into the “right” crowd. So many students seem to place appearance as such an important thing… I mean I was taught that it was not that important. But in school it is!
It was tough not obsessing about my appearance or how I come across to others. So many other students were obsessed with this.
These students dealt with peer pressure to “fit in” with he right image, clothing, and possessions and faced conflict regarding the importance of their appearance. Most held to their perspective regarding the insignificance of dress and appearance while some believe that assimilation into school culture regarding dress and appearance was the best choice. The following response illustrates the concern and importance for having the “right” toys and clothes in order to be accepted.
I think an important thing to remember when sending home schoolers back to public school is that they are still children. Even though they have been home schooled and may have a firm foundation in their beliefs, they are children. Children like to fit in with other children. Make sure you can give your children the things that are important to them like cool clothes, shoes, and a book bag. I am not saying to spoil your child, and give them everything they want, but give them what you can… this makes the transition much easier.
It seems that this issue may not only be relevant to students but may also become an economic factor that parents must address.
Findings indicate that most of these home schooled students who transitioned into public schools do extremely well but face various issues and adjustments. Academically, these students (barring any learning disability or special education needs) found themselves ahead of their public school peers in their studies and, if there were any learning adjustments, most students made the needed accommodations. Most did very well regarding grades (two were valedictorians of their classes) while others did just enough to get by with average grades. This could be a result of their changed view of the purpose of learning where many saw the enjoyment of learning dwindle.
Regarding various social aspects, these home schooled students dealt with the same issues as public school students. The difference is that home school students face the various young adult issues when they are older and more mature. This seemed to enable them to make wiser choices. As one student stated;
Although, I believe, all students will face these pressures regardless of where they go to school. I think students who attend public school from kindergarten are exposed to these pressures at a much earlier age than children who are home schooled. In my case, I was at home long enough to establish my belief system, and I was mature enough to stand on those beliefs when I went back to public school.
Establishing a firm foundation and worldview based upon a student’s values and beliefs was not only a key reason parents home schooled their children but this seems to be a factor regarding how well the student withstood the peer and social pressures and academic adjustments as they transitioned into public school.
However, one student mentioned that he “did get in trouble for awhile,” and others hinted that they engaged in inappropriate behavior. As one student stated, “not letting the attitude and actions of other students drag me down” was probably a struggle for most of the informants. Nonetheless, the majority of these informants felt they held strong to their beliefs and values and that they were able to become part of the school culture in spite of their past home schooling experience.
Many of the adjustments related to being home schooled were minor and quickly eroded. Still, there is a perception of public school teachers and administrators who view home schooling as a serious threat. They often become defensive about home schooling because they consider it to be a personal attack on their profession and their abilities in the classroom. Accompanying this defensiveness is a somewhat arrogant attitude that views home educators as professionally and academically inferior. Some teachers and administrators express major objections toward home schooling “citing lack of social development, lack of classroom-provided stimulation of ideas, and lack of academic and social competition” (Duffey, 1988, p. 23). In addition, assumptions about issues such as socialization, adequacy of facilities, and the quality of instruction and academic standards all contribute to the negative views of home schooling (Mayberry, et. al 1995). Depending upon the local school district and individual teachers, these views can play a role in a home schooled student’s transition.
Overall, the majority of the students were positive regarding the decision to attend public school. These individuals reported positive aspects such as playing sports. Several informants mentioned that they have several good and caring teachers that they learned from, they developed some great relationships, were challenged to grow in a variety of areas and despite some of the negative aspects of public education and the adjustments and struggles, most seemed pleased with their decision to enroll in public school.
However, there were several students who had bad experiences that included fighting, stealing, involvement with alcohol, and an overwhelming feeling because of the demanding schedule of school, practice, and homework. One student stated, “I was happier when I studied at home.”
Limitations of This Study
Most of the research conducted on home schooling is descriptive and “located in a particular context that makes the results not strongly generalizable… no one can draw a truly representative sample of home schoolers because no one knows who exactly they are” (Archer, 1999, p. 23). Although nationwide surveys exist and show the numbers of students enrolled in public schools, charter schools, Catholic schools, and other private schools, there is no accurate data for home education. By nature independent, home schoolers lack any unifying organization which made access to these individuals very difficult. Therefore, it is challenging to obtain samples that are truly representative of all home schoolers. This should be kept in mind while evaluating this study.
For this study, not only was it required to gain access to the home school community, but individuals who left this tightly knit circle had to be located. Nonetheless, these twenty informants provide insight into the possible struggles that home schooled students face as they enter public school. Bear in mind that there is no claim for generalizability and the conclusions are loosely and generally drawn.
Suggestions for Parents Who Are Considering
the Transition to Public School
This study suggests that there are several struggles and adjustments home schooled students face when they transition into public schools. Based on these findings, I offer several recommendations regarding what parents can do to help a home school student’s transition to be less stressful and help their children achieve academic and social success in their new school environment.
First, students who experienced successful transitions to public school indicated that a major reason for this success was their previous acquaintance and relationships with a significant number of the students who attended their local public school. Developing these friendships enables home schooled students to experience smoother transitions into the public school system. Therefore, parents who are considering enrolling their home schooled children into public school should seek out and provide opportunities for their child to meet and develop relationships with students who attend the local public school. These relationships were mostly developed through community team sports. However, sports may not be an interest for some children and parents must find other available avenues for their children to interact and develop relationships with public school students such as scouting, church activities, visits to places like the public pool, and other community activities involving children. In addition, the friends of parents who enroll their children in public school can be a vital resource that may aid in their child’s transition.
Second, for many home school students, they have limited conventional schooling experiences and the experiences they do have are based on other children’s perspectives. Parents need to discuss, teach, and provide experiences for home schooled students that will prepare them for the transition. For example, one participant stated that his mother “tried to make things as close as possible to public school towards the end of my home school year. My last month of home schooling had more structure than before.” Home schooling parents should prepare their children for their transition to public schools and classrooms, answer any questions regarding public education, prepare them for academic aspects and skills that home schools might not address such as test taking, and be willing to discuss the new experiences with the students. One student stated “I talked with my parents everyday after school about issues that came up during the day… this really helped.” Finally one student suggested that
Before any decision is made to place a student into a school setting, if possible allow the student to experience the school, taking classes, doing assignments just like it would be if enrolled (as much as possible). The reality cannot be seen in one day but this will enable them to get a sense of the reality of public schooling.
Although this option may be difficult, talking to students who attend public school or better yet, students who have made the transition to conventional schooling, would be beneficial to home school students who are considering enrollment in public school.
Third, develop ways that can be used to provide students with opportunities to deal with challenges to their values and beliefs. Home schooled students need to be exposed to oppositional perspectives as they study literature, social sciences, and the sciences. For example, extensive studies that compare and contrast evolution with creation would seem to prove useful as they enter public education. Home schooled students need opportunities to be able to develop and articulate sound arguments for their beliefs and views (if these differ from public school). More important, these students should begin to think out how they will deal with conflicts to their beliefs and values when they face these in the public school classroom.
Finally, there are multiple factors that shape and influence the home school experience for each individual student. This, in turn, will affect the individual student’s experience as they enter public school. These include, but are not limited to, the primary reasons the family home schools, the number of siblings that were simultaneously home schooled, the personality and maturity of the home schooled child, and the specifics as to the structure and style of the home schooled environment. One student stated, “One must keep in mind that every child’s threshold is unique. School can work to the advantage of many students who are ready to embrace the system.” The key element is that parents must know their children very well and must be capable of objectively and honestly evaluating their child’s strengths, weaknesses, readiness, and maturity level. Only then will parents be able to meet their child’s specific needs and aid them in their transition to public schooling.
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The survey was composed of 12 open-ended questions designed to solicit initial responses from informants. They are as follows:
1. What were the reasons you were home schooled?
2. What type of school did you first attend? What grade were you in when you entered?
3. Why did you and/or your parents decide that you would attend public school?
4. Were there any adjustments that you had to make while attending school? Did you expect to be facing these situations?
5. If, so, what have you done to make these adjustments successful or what are you currently doing?
6. Are there any struggles you had to face? Please provide examples.
7. Are there any values or beliefs you hold that are now being tested in school that may not have been in home school? Were there any conflicts with your values and beliefs concerning your academic subjects and what you learned?
8. That you are aware of, how do you think the school, teachers, and students view you as a home schooled student? Be specific.
9. How do you view the school, teachers, and students from your perspective as a home schooled student? Be specific.
10. What experiences or “things” did you do in your particular home school situation that you think has made your transition and adjustment to public/private school better?
11. Do you have any problems with the style(s) of teaching or the purpose of your classes while in school?
12. Tell me anything else that I need to know that might help me understand what it is like for a home schooled student to attend public school.