Resources abound for area’s home-schooled students
Vicki and Dan Del Boccio take Olivia, 17, and Mario, 16, all of Park Ridge, on educational field trips around the world to complement their homeschool learning. The family most recently traveled to Patagonia, Argentina. | Contributed photo
Updated: September 13, 2012 3:20PM
While most children of Park Ridge, Niles and Morton Grove packed their book bags and returned to their local elementary and high schools the past month, some students stayed at home — and that is OK.
Parents wishing to home school their children may find Illinois to be a friendly place.
While some states require parents to provide authorities with test results or use a state-approved curriculum, Illinois leaves parents alone to decide what to teach, when to teach it — or whether to let the child’s curiosity lead the way, a philosophy known as “unschooling.”
The parent also is free to decide when a high-school-aged student has met the requirements for a diploma.
Under the state’s compulsory-attendance law parents may be asked to provide evidence that the child is being taught the same subjects as would be taught to public school children of the same age.
Technically, a parent who isn’t offering age-appropriate instruction in the English language in six specific disciplines is in violation of the law.
The required “branches” of education are language arts, math, biology and physical science, social science, fine arts and physical development and health.
Parents can obtain support for curriculum development from places both locally and remotely.
The East Maine School District 63 website has a suggested resource list by grade level for parents to help youngsters learn while at home for extended periods of time. But the district does “not offer anything concrete such as curriculum or books,” said Debbie Piazza, executive administrative assistant to the superintendent.
According to Dave Beery, spokesman for Maine Township High School District 207, the Illinois State Board of Education website states home-schooled students may enroll in courses at public schools if they find them of particular interest, though he is unaware of anyone currently doing so at the district’s three high schools.
The Park Ridge Public Library offers resources and services for parents who educate students at home as part of its children’s-services department.
In addition to providing computers equipped with Internet and Word-document programs, the library gives patrons access to online databases for help with homework and research projects, said Children’s Services Manager Kelly Durov.
She said students could also use the web for online homework help through tutor.com, in which the library covers the cost for five free tutoring sessions a week.
Other library services — such as museum-pass rentals and after-school programming — are also available to all patrons but may be particularly useful to home-schooled children, she said.
Institutions like American School provide “curriculum in a box” for high schoolers unable to attend school for a myriad of reasons — illness, location, dissatisfaction with local school options, and so forth.
Founded more than a century ago and now headquartered in Lansing, Ill., American School issues an accredited high-school diploma to about 3,000 students a year across the world, spokesman Jeff Cox said.
“Students really like the ability to work at their own pace,” he said. “They’re not going to be slowed down by a traditional classroom.”
Cox said Illinois is home to many of the institution’s pupils but was unable to provide an exact figure.
How prevalent is home schooling in the suburbs?
Jim Even, director of special education/pupil services at Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, couldn’t say how many students in the district’s service area are educated at home because of the lack of a reporting requirement.
The same is true for District 63, where administrators said “we do not or could not know how many kids are home-schooled as they do not have to register with us in any way,” Piazza reported.
The state’s hands-off stance makes it impossible to keep good statistics.
Parents aren’t required to register their schools, which the state views as private schools by virtue of a 1950 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court.
While a voluntary form on the website states “please remember to register every September,” it also points out the exercise is voluntary.
According to the State Board of Education, only 684 home schools representing 810 children registered for the 2011-12 school year. Of the few parents that registered, 185 were from Cook County, while another 27 were from Lake County and 14 from McHenry County.
When the National Center for Education Statistics last reported on home-schooling in its 2009 Condition of Education report, the number of home-schooled students was pegged at 1.5 million students, or 2.9 percent of all children and teenagers between 5 and 17. If the national ratio holds true for Illinois, the number of home-schooled children in the state would be closer to 66,800.
When asked their reasons for home-schooling, 36 percent of parents said the primary reason was to provide religious or moral instruction.
Another 21 percent were concerned about the school environment, while 17 percent were dissatisfied with the academic instruction in their local schools.
Regional school superintendents are charged with investigating reports that a family is in violation of the school attendance law. If the regional superintendent has evidence the home school isn’t in compliance, he or she can ask a truancy officer from the local school district to investigate the home school. The district could take the parent to court. A parent found in violation of the compulsory attendance law is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor.
— Karen Berkowitz contributed to this report.