Some homeschool parents get spooked about high school due to Pennsylvania’s higher regulations relative to other states but they really shouldn’t.
In this post, I’ll explain how even the most relaxed home education program can satisfy the basic graduation requirements of the Pennsylvania homeschool law while still preparing a student for his or her future plans.
The key is to use the law’s ambiguity to your advantage and guide your child according to his interests and aptitude rather than a predetermined (and narrow) notion of what high school is supposed to look like.
I won’t repeat the details of the basic graduation requirements in this post. To read all about how to satisfy the law, click the link in the paragraph above.
Number of Credits Required to Graduate
For purposes of this article, it’s good to know that PA homeschool law requires a miniumum of 15 credits between grades 9 and 12 to graduate, including 4 years of English, 3 years each of social studies, science and math and 2 years of arts and humanities.
Most conventional high schools require between 21 and 27 credits in grades 9 to 12 to graduate. Some require 4 years each of math and science and impose special graduation projects, community service hours, state and local achievement testing standards and a minimum number of electives. (I’m stressed just thinking about it all).
You might be thinking that the mimimal graduation requirements puts homeschool students at a disadvantage but I disagree. I think fewer required courses allows a student to truly explore a variety of topics, activities, hobbies, get a job (or many), start a business, or spend focused attention on one interest that often helps him discern a career path.
All of my children have attended the local high school. Choosing electives is never an exercise in interest for the time slot that’s available. “That class isn’t too boring.” “That teacher is funny/nice.” “It’s an easy A.” My 9th grader is going through the process now and there just aren’t many electives available that interest him.
It’s tempting to pile on extra requirements and courses in which the student has no aptitude or interest to mirror the course load in a conventional school but I don’t think it’s necessary or advisable.
Take advantage of the minimal course requirements to allow your student to explore interests and spend time in the community or learning a skill in depth. The world is changing so fast that a stack of skills and interests plus experience using them to create value in the real world will likely be a stronger signal to a college admissions panel or future employer than a laundry list of courses.
Early Graduation under Pennsylvania Homeschool Law
The compulsory attendance law in Pennsylania applies to children between the ages of 8 and 17 or until the student graduates from high school, whichever comes first. Clearly, the law permits children younger than 17 to graduate early.
Whether to graduate a student early is a personal decision which will depend on your family dynamics, the student’s maturity and future plans. A student with the minimum number of credits might have difficulty getting into a four year college without other interesting experiences. On the other hand, graduating early can catapult a student into productive work experience sooner than later.
Whether your child is graduating early or not, be prepared to present a basic transcript (in any form-a handwritten list is fine) for the evaluation that lists the courses that meet each requirement. You should know ahead of time what type of support or description your evaluator will require to show that the graduation requirements have been met.
One of the best ways to meet high school credit requirements is by taking advantage of local or online college courses. This is truly killing two birds with one stone since the student gets both high school and actual college credit that could allow him to earn a degree sooner. Community college is usually an affordable option and you can use funds from college savings plans.
Dual enrollment is a great way for parents who feel unprepared to guide their children through higher level courses or classes that require labs.
One other benefit of dual enrollment is that it encourages independence. My daughter takes public transportation and navigates the logistics at the community college mostly on her own.
Some homeschooled students I know who have taken full advantage of college courses to meet high school requirements have graduated high school with an associates degree or certification in a particular discipline or two full years of college credits.
Required Subjects Myth
Since Algebra, Geometry and a few other subjects are specifically identified as required subjects during the secondary leval (7-12) and are typically required to graduate in most conventional high schools, one common misconception is that a student must complete a full credit in these subjects to graduate.
It’s true that the home education program must include these topics but if you read the law carefully, there’s no time requirement or level/depth of study required. There is no “syllabus” or standard of concepts to be mastered. The supervisor has complete discretion to decide the time that the student studies these enumerated topics and which concepts are most important.
You should choose an evaluator who agrees with this interpretation of the law. If yours does not, I would suggest challenging him to point to the language which requires a full year (or credit) of study in that particular topic. If he persists, point out that speech, composition, literature and language must be covered during the secondary level but he wouldn’t expect anyone to study them for an entire year (though you could). Likewise, I’ve never heard of homeschool or traditional high school class that offered a full year of Pennsylvania history. Algebra and Geometry are the same.
There’s no reason to adhere to a typical high school curriculum when you can design one that fits your child and can move them toward their life goals without wasting huge chunks of time on courses in which they have no interest or aptitude.
Likewise, definining subjects to meet the basic requirements is discretionary. For example, “psychology” is typically considered a social science or an arts/humanities elective in a public high school curriculum. However, modern psychology is based on research and scientific data and methods and it’s perfectly legitimate to classify the subject as a science for purposes of a transcript.
My daughter is reviewing Dave Ramsey’s “Foundations” financial literacy course for high school students instead of pursuing another full textbook-based course to complete her math requirement. The videos are practical, informative and entertaining. Some high schools offer “finance” but the curriculum seems to dive right into mutual funds and interest rates rather than basic concepts like saving, budgeting, earning and managing money.
If your child plans to attend college and plans to take the SAT, prep and practice time leading up to the exam(s) can be counted as credit toward graduation. As the supervisor, you decide how to assign it based on the content and time dedicated to preparation.
My point is, feel free to be creative in designing a course of study to meet the basic requirements for graduation. You have a lot of discretion and flexibility and aren’t restricted by the typical high school curriculum or classification. Course description or support should satisfy an evaluator that the basic graduation requirements have been met. More extensive course description or transcript support might be necessary for college admission or other post-secondary plans.
You literally can learn just about anything online. From home repairs to graphic design to calculus to photography to computer programming. There are so many free and reasonably priced platforms to learn any topic, subject or skill by an expert who’s passionate and proficient in that discipline.
I listened to a podcast interview with a guy who challenged himself to complete the entire 4-year MIT Computer Science curriculum in one year. He did not get a degree or certificate but got a lot of job offers in computer science that he turned down.
Online classes present a great opportunity to design a high school education program that’s practical, engaging and free or cheap.
There are so many platforms for online learning, including university-sponsored (usually referred to as Massive Open Online Courses or “MOOCS”), that this whole post could be just a list of them.
Here’s one article that lists 250 Ivy League courses that are available for free. Other online platforms that you should check out are Lynda.com, Coursera.org, creativelive.com , udemy.com and The Great Courses.
One benefit of online learning platforms is the 24/7 accessibility from any internet-connected device. Many have apps to make learning on-the-fly even more convenient. This is great if your child travels for an activity or if you have an extended family crisis that makes being at home difficult.
Speaking of free content, I’m a huge fan of podcasts and TED Talks online. Both are high quality introductions or in-depth discussions of interesting ideas and the world’s most fascinating, smart and productive people.
I often learn about cutting edge technology and research, new authors and experts by listening to podcasts and routinely suggest episodes to my kids. It’s been fun to discuss the different ideas, especially when they get excited about a particular guest or topic.
Most hosts and guests are active on social media and it’s easy to engage and show appreciation for the work. These types of interactions have led to real-life opportunities for my children including photography and design jobs and even an apprenticeship program for my older daughter.
There are entire podcasts about history, economics, psychology, human behavior, music, child development, travel, languages, science, politics, entrepreneurship, finance, government, art, business, productivity, really, you name it. Add a personal blog to an older student’s projects and you have plenty of samples for a portfolio.
Fair warning, some of the best podcasts I listen to occassionally include explicit language and are labeled as such. I wouldn’t miss some of the excellent content for fear of a bad word here and there but that’s a personal decision and probably depends on the maturity and experience of your child. There are plenty of quality podcasts that aren’t labeled “explicit”.
I hope this post helps you design a high school education program that engages and excites your student.
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