Each state can set standards for the teachers in its public and private schools. In public schools, this first of all often means that teachers are required to have an explicit teaching degree. Not only must a teacher be competent in mathematics, history, English, or biology as a subject area, but he or she must also be qualified by coursework and licensure to teach in his or her area of expertise. For teachers of younger students, it is particularly important that knowledge and understanding of child development be exhibited.
In addition to these areas of expertise, teachers are also expected to be adept at creating lesson plans to meet the curriculum, administering assessments, and adapting instruction for students with special needs ranging from gifted and talented students to students with disabilities. After their initial licensure, teachers are required to invest in further education and improvement of their skills with ongoing professional development in order to qualify for renewal of their licenses every so often. This professional development may be achieved through a combination of coursework, workshops, and other intensive experiences, and it is ongoing throughout a teacher’s career in the classroom.
In many states, there are absolutely no requirements that the instructors in a homeschool environment must meet. Parents are deemed qualified instructors by virtue of the fact of being parents. This raises some questions about homeschool standards and about whether children are best served by the lack of homeschool standards for their instructor in the homeschooling situation.
Some people who raise the question of homeschool standards are not saying that all parents are necessarily unqualified to teach, but that, without the application of any homeschool standard, we simply do not know. But there are also some opponents of homeschooling who point out that many parents have no expertise in the subject matter, no understanding of pedagogy, no concept of the overall aims of education, and are open to the preponderance of misinformation available on matters from subject area facts to child development.
Standardized testing plays a different role for homeschoolers in different states. Even when testing is required, states may have different homeschool laws about who may administer and score the test and what type of test is required.
For some states, no standardized testing is required, period. For others, participation in testing at some point is mandated. For example, standardized tests are not required for homeschoolers by California or Illinois or Texas. In Vermont, parents may choose between an annual assessment that is in one of three categories: an assessment for a Vermont state certified teacher; a report by the parent or the instructor or an advisory service, accompanied by a portfolio; or the results of a standardized achievement test.
Some state mandates are more complicated with regard to standardized testing of homeschooled students. In New York State, parents have a choice of an annual assessment through a norm-referenced achievement test or through an evaluation conveyed in a written narrative, through grade 3, with the norm-referenced assessment required in every other year for grades 4 through grade 8. But yearly standardized testing is required from ninth grade on. Florida is even more complicated in offering a wider variety of options and more stipulation about how some of them are carried out.
Since it looks like the new Obama administration will begin to have an impact on the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation this year (2009), if you are a homeschooler, you may wish to keep abreast of developments so that you can understand if they will affect you and have your say, if you have an opinion.