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Home schooling in Alabama

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One of our Facebook friends wrote to ask about home schooling. Paul Baker asked, "What is required to home school and effectively teach a child while keeping them on par with education for their age?"

There are no guidelines set forth by the state Board of Education on how parents should home school their children. However, parents in Alabama are required to home school under the supervision of what the state calls church schools. Church schools do have rules and regulations laid out by state law. Still, when it comes to curriculum, schedules, even grading, that is up to the parent.

Elizabeth McDowell homeschools her three children, ages seven, five and two. She says her decision to do so was based on her own upbringing.

"I was public schooled up until sixth grade until my mom decided to home school me," she said.

McDowell says she was a gifted child, and her mother didn't believe she was allowed to reach her full potential. When McDowell married and settled in Cullman, she came to the same conclusion and decided to homeschool as well.

"It was kind of dependent on where we ended up living at the time because some school districts are really awesome, and if you have that available to you that would be really great. But I pretty much was set on home schooling," she said.

Alabama does not have a law addressing home schooling specifically, but parents are required to enroll in what the state calls a church school.

"You basically have to be in a cover school to home school and there are different ones all over the state and each one of them has their own subset of criteria that you meet," she said.

McDowell says cover schools serve as a resource to guide parents through the home schooling experience. Aside from that, parents are free to educate their children however and whenever they choose.

"I am very eclectic. There are pre-packaged classes and also classes that you take completely online."

McDowell combines text books, iPad lessons, and hands-on projects. So how does grading work? And what if a child struggles in a subject?

"The grading system is up to you. You can choose a pass fail, or the school system's a b c d. You know your kid, you know what they're good at, you know what frustrates them," said McDowell.

Some critics of homeschooling say one concern is whether children who are homeschooled develop adequate social skills. McDowell believes her children get plenty of interaction with other children their age.

"We have Cullman home schoolers on facebook, there is a field trips guide in Birmingham, and we have our regular group of friends," she said.

Many parents who homeschool do not have degrees in education. It's a factor that does not sit well with some. McDowell admits her husband  needed convincing.

"My husband was the devil's advocate. I had to fight you know, and say I can do this, I'm smart enough to teach my own children. and just because I don't have a degree in that particular field doesn't mean I'm not qualified."

McDowell says standardized testing is not required in home school, but she says many parents give their children practice tests. Colleges may still require transcripts, which are kept by the student's church school.

As for attendance, the state does require the parent to keep record of class time each day. Parents can turn in paper work to their local board of education.
 

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