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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.

        • HS Mom for Fifteen Years

          There are many scholarship that homeschoolers can qualify for. Research “scholarships” online, and consider buying a specific book that lists most (Barnes & Noble has these). Fill out the FAFSA before your college’s deadline to qualify for need based aid and loans (and the grants/scholarships from the college itself).

      • 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!

      • Ellen

        Something that I’m seeing more homeschooled teenagers do is enroll in dual-credit classes at their local community college. They take their upper-level high school classes (calculus, biology, etc) at the 2-year college, and then transfer to a 4-year college or university when they finish all their high school requirements. Some even take so many classes that they earn their associate’s degree before moving on to a university. They enter as a sophomore or junior, and only need two more years to get their bachelor’s degree.

      • HS Mom for Fifteen Years

        There are MANY homeschooled kids who go to college. Colleges understand that for homeschoolers grades tend to carry less meaning because parents award them, so they look to SAT or ACT scores (makes sure your child takes these in 11th or early 12th grade) and other independent evidences of accomplishment. Being very involved in academic activities (and actually winning) makes your children more desirable to colleges. Consider something like debate (google homeschool debate to find a league and local group in your area), and entering competitions such as The National Peace Essay or the Ayn Rand Essay competitions. Research this online or at a bookstore. It can and is being done!

      • Teresa Janelle

        I’m a homeschool alumna in Canada who never graduated highschool and am successfully completing my Master’s degree. My route was taking a few for-credit highschool courses and applying to a small university as a ‘mainstream’ student. Other routes include: enter as a mature student, take the GED, do online schooling to get a standard diploma, or find a school who understands homeschooling as some smaller schools will accommodate those with no transcripts (try The King’s University, in Edmonton, Alberta!)

    • Will blain

      Yes I agree the one size fits all education is difficult but again how she said it was true and rather kind.

  • 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.

    • Will Blain

      I have experience and she is putting it nicely.

  • 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.

  • Julie Woods

    Yes, very biased, one sided. I like how the line is drawn, that you can either be “faith-based” or a “Scholar”… certainly not both. That’s ridiculous, the undeniable fact is – most Homeschoolers are both. Yes, we study theology, but also classical music and theory, Fine Art, Art history, dance, culture, language, geography… We visit historical sites as a matter of course, we frequent museums, nature parks, libraries, studios, and theaters. Not to mention the fact that there are countless online / software courses and curriculums available, as well as textbooks. Our children take all sorts of classes, many hire private tutors, they play on sports teams, take missions trips, go to camp, they attend all church functions and perform community service. Surely, you don’t believe that we lock our children in closets and teach them nothing but our faith until it is time to reenter “brick-and-mortar schools. Our children are out in the world more than most. I can’t for and instant believe that they would be shocked to see that others have different opinions. Ummmm, if you have a television, then they know. They may however be very shocked at how unnatural it is to the entire day with 30 people who are the exact same age as you and who only think about experiencing the real world, but never have experienced anything beyond the “bricks-and-mortar.” I was thinking about the possibility of entering public-school for high school, due to the pressures of questions people ask, like “What about transcripts?” ” What about playing on high school teams, in high school bands, acting in high school productions, going to the prom, graduation ceremonies” aren’t you denying your children those experiences?” Clearly, I need to pray and study our options further.

    • Chris_d_a

      I totally agree Julie Woods, we have homeschooled our children for 12 years and our oldest is in college, which was easy and no GED was necessary for his entrance. We have just decided to put the other 3, ds14, dd10 and ds7 in public school because I have decided to go back to school myself to finish my nursing degree and I want to eventually further my education and who knows where it will take me.
      BUT, while we homeschooled our children it has been a VERY FULL and exciting journey. All of our children have taken/are taking music lessons. Ds7 is currently taking piano, ds16 is taking drums and has taken violin for years, ds19 has taken guitar for years. We’ve lived in 5 states since 2008 due to work, and we visited every ruin, museum, mountain and cave near Tucson. We have been to almost every museum and art display in/near Chicago. We have been to the Kentucky Derby in Lexington, KY and did many other fun things while we lived there. We have hiked Camelback Mountain in Phoenix and Mt. Lemmon in Tucson. We have been to Balboa Park near San Diego and to almost every campground in the state of Georgia and Louisiana and Indiana. I would be glad for my kids to discuss American History or World History with anyone. They know everything there is to know about Egypt and how to mummify something. My two oldest boys have participated in a mock trial at the State bar in Atlanta Georgia and played key roles (I was very proud). My boys have both taken swing dancing and my ds16 and dd10 was in swing choir and can sing and dance at the same time. They have attended dances (average of 3) every year during middle and high school. They have volunteered for wrapping/sorting gifts for under-privileged children in our area. They go to camp through our church every year with hundreds of other teens. My oldest son teaches a small group of 6th grade boys at our church and is moving up with them to the 7th grade this next year and they LOVE him!!! We have attended political parties and they are very aware of who’s running for what. DS19 has had 3 jobs and has ONLY changed jobs because we have moved 3 times since 2011. At each job he has shown such leadership ability that they have told him they wanted to train him for asst. management positions. My ds16 participated last year in a homeschool First Robotics program where they placed for creativity and they were competing against the local public schools. We have been on vacation to so many places that I don’t have time to list them. I could go on and on but I would definitely say my kids have NO ISSUES with social situations!! lol

      • Chalet N

        Wow, your kids are just so much more advanced and experienced than any other kid could ever be, it’s obvious. Give yourself a big blue ribbon.

  • Teresa Janelle

    I’m a homeschooler who had a self-initiated transition to part-time schooling in grade 10 (the start of highschool). I didn’t do any testing beforehand. We never following the official curriculum. I’m pretty academically inclined, but I had never been inside a school classroom for my own learning until age 15…and I jumped right on the honour roll and stayed there for all two years I attended. There’s so much repeating in school, don’t worry about content. The first year in school i didn’t learn nearly as much content as I learned “how to do school”. Some kids need help learning how to “do school”, depending on age. You can do that before entering school or you can just help them along as they come across challenges. A grade 5 student got a D on a test? Why were grade 5 students getting grades in the first place? And do you really CARE that she got a D on the test if she learned the material? For some I konw the answer will be yes, they do care. If so, why was this child not given test-taking skill instruction and reminders?

  • Omie Dove

    We live in a rural low-income community and I find the school to be terribly close-minded. The teachers seem unprofessional, uneducated and lacking ambition.

  • Omie Dove

    My son completed 3rd and 4th grade in the same year while homeschooled, now he wants to go back to school, but they want him to repeat 4th grade so that he will be in the same age groupings as the other kids. I don’t think it’s fair for him to have to do 4th grade all over again though! I feel like he’s being penalized for his motivation rather than encouraged to grow.

  • Will blain

    How I know several friends that have done home schooling and I know of only one that has had the same level of education as they should have. when they do get to high school they are bullied and get taken advantage because school has a complicated social structures and they are trying to fit in its way more likely then not they have challenges. Yes there are several children that do very well but more likely they do very poorly ether academically or socially sometimes both I have seen this several times at my work and also when I went to school. What is written above is very true even a little nice if you look at statistics and other pieces of information.

    • Jennifer

      I agree with you Will. I have a sister in law who is home schooling her 6 children and it is all faith based. She isn’t putting them in any extra cirricular activities, or introducing them to other children or other experiences. They don’t take field trips. They write for 2 hours a day, do busy work, and then are done. How are they ever going to exist in the real world? Sure, there are spectacular home schooling homes out there, but I think they are few and far between.

  • dc

    I am here because I have a question, what is the law on getting your kids tested back into public schools? I was told at the board of ed that you can’t, that it only applys to grade school, not high school.

    • M Ellis

      It totally depends on your state, and possibly even your local school. You need to check with your state homeschool association, they will be your best source of knowledge. (Sadly, many BOEs are woefully uneducated when it comes to the realities and/or legalities of homeschooling. Or, they purposefully give out false information in an effort to discourage homeschoolers.)

  • Anne Gregor

    Do you have a question about how to homeschool or about which homeschool curriculum is best for you? They might help –


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