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Reentry: When Homeschool Students Enroll in Traditional Schools

Teen girl in school hallwayNot all homeschool families make a lifelong commitment to homeschooling; as family circumstances change or as children age (and approach calculus-level math) some choose to switch from home-based to in-school learning. But while the notion of a fresh-faced homeschool student entering the crowded halls of public high school and struggling to open his locker may sound like the premise of a John Hughes movie, the truth about homeschool students entering (or reentering) traditional schools is a bit more nuanced.

Jeffrey Koonce, a school superintendent in Miller County, Missouri, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject. His findings? While every student’s experience is different, the keys to academic and social success seem to lie with the parents. “Homeschooling means so many different things. … It all boils down to [parental] leadership,” he says.

Koonce’s research suggests that children of parents who opt to homeschool for pedagogical reasons—that is to say, because the parents want to try a different academic approach than might be available in a traditional school—tend to do better when they enter public schools than the children of parents who homeschool for ideological or moral reasons. Koonce theorizes that that’s because the former group tends to be more academically focused, while the latter tends toward a more “shoot-from-the-hip approach.” As he writes in his dissertation:

    Parents need to have a home school structure and curriculum solidly within their grasp before starting to home school. An unstructured, undisciplined approach will academically hurt their children, regardless of the nobility of one’s motives in home schooling.

But as any high school freshman can attest, getting along in school isn’t just a matter of academics. Kenneth Bernstein, a high school government and social studies teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland, estimates that about half of his previously homeschooled students experience “some difficulties in adjusting,” though, he adds, “once they form networks of friends, these largely disappear.”

A larger issue than finding friends, says Bernstein, is the fact that some students who come from a homeschool setting have not been exposed to “diverse points of view,” and thus aren’t used to being in settings where their patterns of thinking get challenged by students or teachers whose ideas are very different. For these students, a high school government class can feel foreign—or even hostile. But, he adds, every homeschool experience is different; for every homeschooler who struggles in high school government class, there’s likely to be another who is excited by the exchange of ideas.

Aside from academic and social concerns, traditional school can also usher in some unexpected logistical challenges—including waking up early, catching the school bus and managing time during tests. Laura Brodie, an English professor who decided to homeschool her middle daughter for fifth grade in an effort to “give [her] a break from the usual routine,” made it a point to keep up with the fifth-grade math and science curricula, because she knew that her daughter would be returning to the classroom after a year. Still, upon her return, Brodie’s daughter Julia scored a D on her first math test.

“I was shocked,” remembers Brodie, who later wrote about her experiences in the memoir Love in a Time of Homeschooling, “because I knew we had thoroughly covered and exceeded the fifth-grade math requirements. So I asked her what happened, and she said that one of the word problems in the middle of the test was interesting, so she spent the rest of the period thinking about it and didn’t finish the second half of the test.”

Preparing homeschool students to enter traditional schools can be tricky—after all, what parent could anticipate their child being sucked in by an “interesting” word problem? Although each homeschool student is likely to experience a unique set of challenges, there are some basic guidelines that homeschooling parents can follow to help ease the transition to bricks-and-mortar-based schooling. Here are six tips:

  1. Follow an academic curriculum that corresponds roughly to that of your school district, and have your child take yearly standardized tests so that he’s familiar with the tests he will be faced with in school.
  2. Document your child’s academic progress as a homeschooler and be ready to share it with school officials if need be.
  3. Help your child form social networks by engaging her in community activities and sports teams well before the first day of school begins.
  4. Teach your child according to your own philosophical or moral beliefs, but try not to shelter him from opposing viewpoints.
  5. Arrange for your child to visit the school and sit in on a class or two before enrolling her.
  6. Send your child to school with a good attitude. “Public schools are not the big bad ugly monsters” people might think, says Koonce. “Go in with an open mind: these people are here to help [you]. That’s their job.”
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  • Justina Jones

    I have an older sister, Elizabeth. My older sister attended Arbor Station from grades K-5. My older sister attended Chestnut Log Middle School in 6th grade. She attended Chapel Hill Middle School for 7th and 8th grade. My cousin John has an older brother, Matthew. I wanted to do school at home instead of Arbor Station. Miss Holt was my second grade teacher. Mrs. Rigdon was my first grade teacher. Ms. Conforti was my third grade teacher. I was born in 1987. My older sister was born in 1985. My older sister got a 3.9 average in high school and graduated in 2003.

  • Wilma Warner

    I was born in 1987. My older sister, Elizabeth was born in 1985. Miss Holt was my second grade teacher. Mrs. Chaffin retired in 1995. My older sister attended Arbor Station Elementary  School from 1990 to 1996. I entered Kindergarten in 1993. My older sister attended Chapel Hill Middle School from 1997 to 1999. She attended Chestnut Log Middle School for 6th grade. My older sister attended Chapel Hill High School from 1999 to 2003. My older sister attended Berry College from 2003 to 2007. Mrs. Rigdon was my first grade teacher. Mrs. Jacquet was one of my Kindergarten teachers. Ms. Conforti was my third grade teacher.

    • SomeMum

      That is so incoherent, that my eyes are rolling back in my head. Ugh.

      • Alex


        Good article. We are thinking about sending the kids back for jr high. I worry about the transition, but know jr high is an adjustment for everyone.

  • Dee

    I found the article patronizing. My daughter homeschooled K-12 and is a senior at our state college. She’s a top student and has many friends and a job. I am a product of public schools and was very disappointed in the one-size-fits-all education system. There is also nothing wrong with homeschooling because of moral beliefs. In this age of iPhones, Facebook, etc., it is impossible for students not to be exposed to multiple opposing viewpoints.

    • Orlando

      Hello Dee,

      Can you please tell me how do you go about enrolling in College when you homeschool your kid and therefore there are no transcripts or diplomas etc.. I really appreciate any info about this subject as I don’t know all the technical details.

      • Lindsey

        I was homeschooled and now have a bachelors of science in biology. I first obtained my GED and then took the entrance (asset) test at the college. It was not a hard process. Though I obtained my GED you can get a state issued high school diploma for homeschooled kids in some states. This will suffice for college enrollment.

      • Kristi

        Really, it depends on your state, and how you go about it. Most homeschoolers compile their own HS transcripts. Many issue their own diplomas. In our case, we’re enrolled in an umbrella school, that will issue a diploma for our children. Our oldest has already decided that she wants to go to college, but take a non-traditional route. We’re looking for colleges that fit her goals, and most of them are incredibly homeschool-friendly. In fact, most colleges and universities anymore are extremely homeschool-friendly. If you’re thinking of homeschooling, getting into college should not be a worry that keeps you from pursuing this amazing lifestyle choice.

      • Jason Mink

        Orlando, applying for college will not be that hard, but it is my understanding that qualifying for scholarships the first year is very difficult, so you may want to look at that aspect.

      • CyberchaseLover

        Check out Lee Binz, The Homescholar. She has a lot of excellent resources relating college and high school.
        Also, If kids don’t have to go to school, why do they have to go to college again?
        I mean, I get it it, they have to go to college to get a job.
        But the book “College Unbound” by Jeffery J. Selingo is worth checking out, just to understand the other side’s point of view.
        It really made me think about whether I want to go to college. I might just be a small business person… Or I could be something else. I haven’t decided yet. I don’t have to just yet. I’m only 14!

  • krista fox

    This is so biased, I cannot even fathom how it is being published as truth. It’s completely out of line with what and why people decide to homeschool. One of the reasons that many people homeschool is because of the poor education being provided at their district, and to suggest to follow one that closely aligns with it seems ridiculous. There are so many more issues with this article that, for the sake of time and space, I will not go into. However, from the voice of this article it seems to be written by someone who has many opinions about the subject, yet lacks any real experience in it.

  • Victoria

    I really believe that all of the negative comments below are not addressing the reason for the article. The purpose of the article (IMO) is to educate parents that may plan on only homeschooling their kids for one or two years and are worried about their reintroduction into the public school system.

    I have three kids that I am contemplating homeschooling and they are various ages with various needs. My intent of searching for information is to feel confident that my kids will not be hindered reintroducing them into public school.

    As far as a review of this article, I was hoping for logistics on reenrolling them rather than the emotional/social side of the question.

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