What is Different about Homeschooling High School?

Penny was invited to write this article as part of CHEA’s “Homeschool 101” series.  CHEA is the Christian Home Educators Association of California and you can read the entire series on its blog, Homeschool411.

High school is different even if you’ve been homeschooling for multiple years already. It’s all about the “D” word – diploma! Applications and interviews for the rest of your student’s life will likely ask if a high school diploma was earned.

A diploma is more than a certificate of attendance for grades 9-12. It usually means completion of a certain number of classes in specified subject areas: a course of study spelled out by the institution granting the diploma. And, yes, a homeschooled student can earn a diploma!

Additionally, in California, a high school diploma or the student’s 18th birthday marks the end of compulsory school attendance. So, the question becomes – what next? The answer to that question is of key importance when planning your high school student’s education. In the lower grades, what to study can largely be determined by the student’s interests and abilities as well as your family’s goals and values. While these are still crucial in the high school years, education now needs to reflect more of the outside world’s criteria as well. If your student hopes to attend a college or university, the high school classes must be planned to comply with college admissions requirements. If your student is planning to seek employment sooner rather than later, then the high school coursework must satisfy the demands of the workplace.

The outside world will evaluate the quality of your student’s education through a document called the transcript. The transcript is like a resume of the student’s high school experience and includes all the information from the grades 9-12 report cards plus test results, graduation date or targeted date, and oftentimes a brief summary of extracurricular activities. Transcripts are prepared by the school the student is enrolled in. If you are your own school (you file a PSA – private school affidavit), then you will be responsible for producing the transcript. There are multiple websites that will walk you through the process of preparing one for your student as well as several vendors who will do it for you for a fee. CHEA has a free transcript service for members although it is temporarily unavailable.

Besides the diploma and transcript, the other major difference in high school is the fact that coursework is measured in credits. A usual one-year-long class in a campus-based setting earns 10 credits (or 1 Carnegie unit in other parts of the country). So coursework in your homeschool which covers an equivalent amount of content will also receive 10 credits. A semester’s worth of content can be pro-rated to 5 credits and so forth. Sometimes, credits are based on time, rather than content – especially for classes like physical education. If your student is enrolled in a PSP or public school program, then that program will specify how to calculate credits and determine when graduation requirements are completed. If you have filed a PSA, you will determine when and how credits are earned and what the graduation requirements will be from your school. To learn more about credits, transcripts, and graduation requirements in California, I recommend The High School Handbook by Mary Schofield.

Because the diploma is earned upon completion of certain courses and credits, students who find it necessary to change programs during their high school career should understand that it is up to the incoming institution to determine which credits and classes will be accepted. The new school has total latitude in this process. Sometimes public high schools are reluctant to accept transfer credits from a homeschool program. There are ways around this obstacle, such as the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) or dual enrollment in community college. But you would be wise to carefully evaluate high school options before your student begins 9th grade to minimize the need to transfer programs partway through high school.

One challenge of homeschooling a high schooler is how to meet diploma requirements while prepping for what comes next after high school graduation without losing the freedom and flexibility of home education. For example when teaching Algebra I, you need to cover specific skills and topics in order to adequately prepare for Algebra II. But you still have the flexibility to choose from many different resources, learning approaches, and pacing of the material to master the skills and concepts. Don’t allow yourself to be strait-jacketed into a curriculum or method that doesn’t work for your student or for your family just because you’re homeschooling a high schooler!

Be careful not to lose sight of the individual God has created your student to be. He has created your student for a purpose. High school can be an exciting time for both you and your student as you seek to discern some of that purpose and to uncover the gifts, talents, and abilities God has placed within your student to achieve that purpose. In other words, while the diploma, transcript, and credits of your student may look semi-standardized, the actual education received by your student can still be very much individualized.

For example, my daughter studied Latin along with her older brother in middle school and high school.  He was content to stop after the minimum college admission requirement for foreign language. However, she loved her study of a foreign language so much that she went on to study ASL (American Sign Language) and Spanish also while still in high school. The flexibility of homeschooling allowed us to customize her schedule to accommodate group classes and dual enrollment in community college to pursue her interests and passions in foreign languages.

Legally, homeschooling high school is the same as in the lower grades. You can choose from private independent homeschooling (filing a PSA – private school affidavit),  private homeschooling through a PSP (private school satellite program) or public school homeschooling through a charter school or school district. A diploma can be earned through each of these options. With a professional-looking transcript plus good college admissions test scores, your student can gain admittance to most colleges and universities (although some will have additional requirements for homeschooled students; check each institution’s website to verify). The major difference between high school homeschool options is who determines the requirements for your student’s diploma. A customized diploma with an individually tailored high school education is usually most achievable through private homeschooling.

Homeschooling high school offers a wonderful opportunity to interact with your teens in an entirely different manner. As their analytical skills mature, you have the opportunity to engage in great conversations and to further think through how our Christian faith is impacted by our society, culture, and current events. I think I learned more about a Biblical worldview as I interacted with my teens than in many years of church attendance! We lived out the truth of Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (ESV).

Yes, it can be quite challenging to cover the content of a high school education. But, thankfully, there are options such as tutors, co-ops, and groups classes to help you. Don’t panic at the thought of teaching high school. Instead welcome the opportunity to disciple your teen and to teach important lifeskills as he or she prepares to transition into adulthood.

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