A dramatic increase has taken place in homeschooling in the United States over the past twenty years. While aware of this increase, NAfME is neither “for” nor “against” homeschooling. Whether children receive their education in a public, private, or parochial school, or at home, music education remains a core subject, and NAfME maintains that adequate music education resources should be available to all students, regardless of how children obtain their education.
Homeschooling became lawful in all 50 states by 1993. By 2003, about two million students were being homeschooled, and the number of children being homeschooled in the United States continues to grow with every academic year. Homeschooling parents across the country represent all income brackets, education levels, races, and political and religious affiliations, and every state has at least one homeschooling association. Several states have begun to develop regional associations, and there are now several national homeschooling organizations.
In some states, education is still mainly controlled at the local school district level, while in others, policy applies to all districts in the state. Depending on the state, homeschoolers may be treated as a private school or as some other category, neither public school nor private school. The federal government has determined that each state must make its own rules, so there are no all-encompassing laws for homeschooled students.
In recent years, more students who are not enrolled in public school want access to public school resources, activities, and classrooms, especially in the areas of the arts, sports, and advanced math and sciences. As a result, schools are increasingly obliged to rethink the boundaries of public education.
Parents of homeschooled children argue that their tax dollars help pay for public school facilities, faculty, staff, and instructional materials, as well as curricular and extracurricular programs such as music instruction. This can be an additional point of contention. In some states, districts receive funds for education based on district enrollments that are then divided into site allotments. Although their parents pay taxes, homeschooled children are not counted in enrollments. If the numbers of homeschooled children requesting public school services increase significantly, funding issues will need to be addressed by all who are affected by them.
Currently, homeschoolers’ participation in music education is affected by three issues: whether the district is required to provide the service, the problem of how to determine student eligibility, and the creation of a financial burden for the district. In addition, issues arise regarding performance requirements for participation in extracurricular and co-curricular activities and about priority for enrollment due to limited space and availability of classes, activities, and materials.
Unfortunately, because of these issues, or because of a philosophical reluctance by some school districts to cooperate with homeschoolers, an “us against them” atmosphere has been fostered in some areas. Consequently, the families, the communities, and the children involved can miss out on an opportunity to create a positive, empowering relationship.
The Music Educator’s Role
Participation in curricular or extracurricular programs by homeschooled students is determined by state and local school district policy, and policies vary from district to district. Within these limits, the music educator’s role is to maintain positive working relationships with all involved. This effort does not, however, assume that the question of how music education is provided remains unaddressed. Homeschooling is not a music educator’s business, but music education is, regardless of where it takes place.
Whether the concerns are practical or philosophical, music educators are encouraged to take a position of neutrality except when it comes to the right of every child to receive a music education. Serving in this capacity demands tact and sensitivity. Teachers are advised to model the same skills and behaviors that form the heart of character education: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.
If homeschooling is unavailable:
- Be mentally prepared for the possibility that homeschooling may become available to parents in your district.
- Remind decision makers that music education is a core subject and should be included in every child’s curriculum.
- Take the time now to explore ways that will improve your music program’s capability to meet all students’ needs. Consider emphasizing the advantages qualified music specialists offer to every child in any educational setting.
If homeschooling is available:
- Let homeschooling parents know, in writing, the terms of district, residency, and registration requirements regarding student attendance and achievement. Emphasize the specific rules and regulations as outlined by the school district that are imperative for participation in public school music programs.
- Adopt minimum academic requirements for homeschoolers equivalent to those that conventional students must meet in order to participate in cocurricular music activities where such requirements exist.
- Work with administrators to develop a set of policies and practices for enrollment in classes with limited space and availability. If the school district allows homeschoolers to enroll as part-time students in order to participate in music classes, discuss how registration will work for popular classes that accommodate only a limited number of students.
- Consider working directly with homeschooling groups and organizations to determine local needs and design programs applicable to those groups and organizations that are open to a partnership.
- Look for opportunities to build more productive relationships with the homeschooling community.
Whether homeschooling is available or not:
- Emphasize the fact that adequate music education resources should be available to all students.
- Keep lines of communication open with administration, parents, school boards, and music faculty colleagues.
- Be aware of your district’s policy on homeschoolers’ participation in school-related activities and keep abreast of changes in policy.
- Be respectful but clear with parents about what participation in school programs will entail, letting them know what will be expected of them, and what obligations they will have to the school district. Also be sure they are aware of any rules and policies to which they must adhere.
- Make an effort to include families in school activities and decision-making processes when possible.
- Be aware, and communicate to all parties involved, that state associations may comprise affiliate local or regional music education chapters that have different protocols and roles for participation in local community ensembles, music festivals, and competitions. Each chapter may make its own rulings and decisions on student participation. Be able to provide your state association’s website and contact information as a resource.
- Hold all students to the same standards for behavior, performance, attendance, grade requirements, standards for participation in extracurricular activities, and other classroom rules.
* Based on Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed., 2001), in which “homeschool” and its variants are spelled as one word.