Are North Carolina’s homeschooling laws really helping students?

The lack of homeschool regulation in North Carolina may mean that the State has inadequate information and data on homeschooled student success.

Photo by Mr. T in DC (Flickr).

The State of North Carolina provides its citizens with public school education through high school.  However, North Carolina permits parents to send their children to public schools, private schools, nonpublic schools of religious charter, homeschools, or other qualified nonpublic schools at the parent’s choice and expense (though there may be the option for certain vouchers or scholarships from the State for particular student and parent circumstances).

Homeschools were first recognized in North Carolina in Delconte v. State, when a father challenged North Carolina’s compulsory school attendance laws by providing homeschool education to his children. 

It took until the 1980’s before homeschools were recognized in the State of North Carolina as a legitimate form of education to comply with compulsory attendance laws.  Homeschools were first recognized in North Carolina in Delconte v. State, when a father challenged North Carolina’s compulsory school attendance laws by providing homeschool education to his children.  The State implemented compulsory school attendance laws in 1913, and prior to the 1970’s, if a student attended a private school or a nonpublic school that was not approved by the State of North Carolina, the school was, and the parents were, in violation of the compulsory school attendance laws.

In 1985, with the Delconte case, the question of whether homeschool education was a prohibited form of education by North Carolina’s compulsory school attendance laws had not been addressed.  The State had recognized “qualified nonpublic schools,” but had not yet recognized homeschools.  Delconte argued that homeschools were entitled to recognition as qualified nonpublic schools, and further, that his constitutional religious freedoms under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I of the North Carolina Constitution were violated if his homeschool was not recognized.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that homeschool education was not a qualified nonpublic school.  The Court went on to say that the State’s compulsory school attendance laws, and the subsequent prohibition of homeschool education was not a violation of Delconte’s constitutionally protected religious freedoms.

The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed.  The Supreme Court held that not only was Delconte’s particular homeschool satisfactory for classification as a qualified nonpublic school, but providing a child with a homeschool education does not violate North Carolina’s compulsory school attendance laws. The Supreme Court did not touch on the constitutional issue brought by Delconte, but simply determined that homeschools were adequate forms of nonpublic education. As such, the General Assembly passed a law inputting requirements for homeschools.

Homeschools and other nonpublic schools are not housed under the North Carolina Department of Education, but instead are housed under the North Carolina Department of Administration. 

Homeschools and other nonpublic schools are not housed under the North Carolina Department of Education, but instead are housed under the North Carolina Department of Administration.  Of its homeschools, North Carolina requires that the parents or guardians of the students within the homeschool have at least a high school diploma or the equivalent, send a Notice of Intent to Operate a Home School, and determine whether the homeschool will operate as a Part One religious school or a Part Two qualified non-public school.

The homeschool instructor is also required to operate the school on a regular schedule during at least nine calendar months, maintain disease immunization and annual attendance records, and have each student participate in a nationally standardized test.  They must also maintain these records for one year.  The State has the right to inspect the homeschool, as well, but it is not required, nor does it appear a priority of the State.

That is it.  There is no requirement for what should definitely be included in a homeschool curriculum, that the parent take a course or be certified to teach, or that the State will inspect the homeschool at particular times.  The State has not conducted an approval of a nonpublic school since 1979.  The students are to take a national standardized test, not the same state standardized test that students in public schools, the same students that these homeschooled students will be competing with for jobs and college admissions, are required to take.

Also, disturbingly, the homeschool parent instructor is not required to report the student’s test score or any other form of academic progress to the State of the Department of Administration.  The homeschool parent instructions also are not required to get the standardized test proctored, but can proctor the test on their own at their home.

Other states in the region require standardized test score reporting, curriculum proposals or curriculum reporting, record-keeping and reporting of student academic success and progress, or another form of student educational evaluations.

Other states in the region require standardized test score reporting, curriculum proposals or curriculum reporting, record-keeping and reporting of student academic success and progress, or another form of student educational evaluations.  For instance, South Carolina requires its homeschooled students to participate in state standardized tests.  Further, South Carolina is able to monitor and view student test results and determine whether a homeschooled student is adequately performing, or whether inspection of the homeschool needs to be conducted.

Tennessee also requires its homeschooled students to take the same state board approved standardized test as other students in the State to determine if a homeschooled student’s test scores are adequate, and whether the State needs to step in for the benefit of the student.  Tennessee goes even further and requires homeschool parent instructors to submit proposed curriculum plans to the local director of schools when they provide their annual notice of intent to conduct a home school.  Virginia also requires homeschool parent instructors to submit a description of curriculum with evidence of the parent instructor having met the qualifications to be a homeschool instructor.

Why should we be concerned?  North Carolina has gotten national news in recent years for being on the lower end of the spectrum of States for education issues, including teacher pay.  Further, North Carolina has been in the news for the issues with the Common Core curriculum in public schools and the North Carolina Supreme Court’s involvement in this curriculum issue.

North Carolina certainly has a vested interest in the students of this State – the future of our State.  North Carolina should desire to have the best, most prepared students so it can continue on its innovative streak of having incredibly innovative companies and innovative citizens.  However, the question remains of how it is supposed to accomplish this when the only accurate information the State has on its students are those students in public schools, and maybe some of the homeschooled, private-schooled, and nonpublic school educated students who actually report their test scores?

The State Board of Education attempted to overly regulate private and nonpublic schools to effectively require those institutions to have the same requirements … as the State’s public schools. 

The lack of regulation could be a direct result of the historical challenges between the State of North Carolina through the State Board of Education and the private and nonpublic schools.  The State Board of Education attempted to overly regulate private and nonpublic schools to effectively require those institutions to have the same requirements for curriculum, teacher qualifications, and testing standards as the State’s public schools.

While there has been historical conflict between the State Board of Education and nonpublic and private schools in their attempts at overregulating those institutions, there is little excuse to not have requirements of these institutions to provide the State with accurate progress and success information of its students so the State may determine whether its citizens are prepared to enter society.  The State has a vested interest in ensuring its citizens and the students within the schools of the State of North Carolina are receiving an education, and whether they are showing progress and success.

How can North Carolina get an accurate picture of how students in the State are learning and progressing without accurate information on them?  The answer is simple, they can’t.  Without accurate data, there is no way of determining how all North Carolina students are performing, and additionally, there is not a way of determining whether the alternatives to public schools are actually preparing students.

Regan Gatlin, Ethics Editor
About Regan Gatlin, Ethics Editor (42 Articles)
Regan Gatlin is a 2016 graduate and served as the Ethics Editor for the Campbell Law Observer for the 2015-2016 academic year. Regan graduated from North Carolina State University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Sociology. Regan has previously clerked for the Insurance Section of the North Carolina Department of Justice, The General Counsel of The Select Group, and Safran Law Offices. During her experiences clerking, she gained civil litigation and research experience in the areas of insurance, construction law, labor and employment, and compliance. She also competed on a Campbell Law Trial Team in the Buffalo-Niagara Mock Trial Competition and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Mock Trial Competition. Regan is from Smithfield, North Carolina.
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