Dr. Matthew McDill, a homeschooling dad and Executive Director of North Carolinians for Home Education, discusses the most common characteristics of homeschool families in North Carolina, as well as the safeguards and resources available for those who might want to begin homeschooling in our state.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. While we know that the vast majority of North Carolina students are educated in our public schools, many of us may be surprised to learn that the next largest school system—so to speak—here in North Carolina is actually the homeschool community. Of the more than 20 percent of North Carolina students who do not attend a traditional public school, more than 142,000 of them—that’s 8 percent of all North Carolina students—receive their education in one of over 90,000 homeschools. That’s more than either public charter schools or private schools. Well, despite being the fastest growing education option in North Carolina, a lot of misconceptions remain about homeschooling. So, we have invited in Dr. Matthew McDill, a homeschooling dad who was, for years, a pastor and professor at Appalachian State University, and now serves as Executive Director of North Carolinians for Home Education.
Dr. Matthew McDill, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
MATTHEW MCDILL: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, let’s start off with the legalities of homeschooling. They do vary widely state by state. So start us off by telling us about the legal and regulatory aspects of homeschooling here in North Carolina.
MATTHEW MCDILL: Well, I’m really honored to be a part of North Carolinians for Home Education because this is the foundational homeschool group in North Carolina that helped work to legalize home education in North Carolina to begin with. And then we also worked diligently to make more and more freedom, more and more friendliness to homeschooling from a legal perspective. At this point, North Carolina is one of the friendliest states for homeschool families, as far as the laws are concerned. There are just a few basic requirements. You have to notify the Division of Non-Public Education that you intend to operate a homeschool. The person who will be guiding the instruction has to have a high school diploma or its equivalent. The parents need to maintain attendance and immunization records, and operate on a regular schedule during at least a nine-month calendar year. Then finally they need to administer each year a nationally standardized test, or other equivalent test of some kind, and keep that record for up to a year. So those are the basic requirements in North Carolina, which again are pretty low compared to other states.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, give us a bit of demographic perspective on this. Who is choosing to homeschool in North Carolina, and why do you suppose that is?
MATTHEW MCDILL: The most recent study that we’ve done is from 2011. We asked Brian Ray from the National Home Education Research Institute to do a study in North Carolina. Even though that’s not super recent, the results of that were that the median income of homeschool families was $70-75,000, which is a little bit lower than the national average. Around 60 percent of parents had at least a Bachelor’s degree—those are, of course, parents who are homeschooling. In general, homeschool families are larger. About 60 percent, more than 60 percent, have three or more children. Over 90 percent of homeschool families are white. From my observation, we’re guessing and hoping that over the last years that has been changing with more diversity, but that’s how it has been recently. Another interesting finding was that about 80 percent of moms do not work outside of the home in a homeschooling family. So those were the main kinds of demographic conclusions, or observations, they made in 2011.
TRACI GRIGGS: Dr. McDill, I think our listeners—and I know I was—will be surprised to learn that homeschooling is the fastest growing educational sector in North Carolina. Why do you think that is?
MATTHEW MCDILL: Well, it’s funny because our board for North Carolinians for Home Education has been wondering that. We hope, and think probably it’s because like I said before, we have such great homeschool laws here. It’s very appealing to do it. It’s easy to do. We know why people are choosing to homeschool; I’m just not sure why it’s exploding in North Carolina in particular.
TRACI GRIGGS: What are the safeguards to help ensure that homeschooled children are being well-served academically, and that they’re being properly prepared for either higher levels of education or professional success?
MATTHEW MCDILL: I think that just like all families and students, the best thing we can do is to provide the information and the resources to prepare students for college, to prepare students for the workforce, or whatever area they want to go into. That’s what North Carolinians for Home Education—as well as a lot of other organizations—are doing; that’s our mission. Our mission is to help parents with confidence and joy. We do that by protecting their rights to homeschool in North Carolina by equipping them with information and resources that they need, and connecting them to other homeschooling families. So this goes back to the equipping part. There are so many amazing resources for homeschooling for high school, for transcripts, for preparing for college. If people want to know how to do it well, they can, because the information is there and the resources are there. It’s really up to the parents to make sure that’s happening. That’s why we’re here; that’s our mission: to help make sure that they have everything they need to accomplish that, and prepare them for those areas of life.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, spend some time talking about that, because people who aren’t familiar with the homeschooling of today may not realize the number of resources that are available. Could you walk us through some of those?
MATTHEW MCDILL: Sure. Well, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, of course, is I think the most prevalent, national group that helps to defend the rights of parents to homeschool all across the nation, and in fact across the world. They have amazing resources. In North Carolina, there really isn’t another group that has the presence or the resources or the leverage that North Carolinians for Home Education does. We also have so many local groups. There are groups all across the nation that have groups, clubs, or a presence in North Carolina. So what we’ve done on our website, for example, is to try to include a place where people can find those groups and find those resources. We have lots of pages on our website with helps for high-schooling, or for getting started, or for what the laws are and how to comply with those laws. We also have an event coming up for parents who are homeschooling children with learning needs or special needs. That’s another reason people are homeschooling is because they have children with special needs and they want to give them a certain kind of attention. So we have a conference especially for parents like that.
TRACI GRIGGS: Walk us through what you might consider a typical day, but someone else might not consider so typical. As far as how the students might co-op with other families or do online classes, or that kind of thing? Tell us what a day might be for some of these homeschoolers?
MATTHEW MCDILL: Well, it’s probably easier to look at a week if we’re talking about students who are definitely involved in like a co-op, for example. A co-op is where parents and students will meet maybe twice a week. Different parents will teach different subjects, and then the students can take part in certain classes. So for the most part, three to four days a week if you’re in a co-op, you’re still at home doing your schoolwork with your parents or on your own. There are so many online classes or computer-based curriculum that people use for particular subjects. So they’ll probably have a heavy workday in the morning— most that I know do a lot of schoolwork in the morning and try to knock it out before lunch. Then especially for high school, they’ll have several more hours in the afternoon. But then, one or two days a week if they’re in a co-op, they’ll go to that location—sometimes at a church or another community center—and have those classes with the other students.
TRACI GRIGGS: Very interesting. So now you are a homeschool dad, so tell us a little bit about what that was like on a personal basis.
MATTHEW MCDILL: Well, you’re using the past tense, but I’m right in the middle of it. I’ve graduated a couple of children, but I also have a six-year-old. Well I have nine kids, and so I have almost all the grades right now. So, we’re in the middle of it. It really is, on one hand, a big commitment and a lot of hard work. I wouldn’t trade it for anything because of the time that we’re able to spend with our children, developing relationships with them, being able to talk about what it means to follow Christ, and what it means to develop a biblical worldview. We’re also able to give them amazing work opportunities and educational opportunities that are sometimes difficult to get when you’re in the middle of a normal public-school system. For example, my high schooler works two full days a week, and then really spends a lot of time on the other four days on school, because he really wants to work as well. That’s just an example of the flexibility of being able to work, but also being able to get all your school in if you schedule it well. So yes, it’s amazing and I would recommend it to anybody…I was going to say who thinks they can, but most people don’t feel like they can. But with the Lord’s help and with community, parents can definitely homeschool their kids.
TRACI GRIGGS: Alright, so give us some encouragement. Give the parents out there some encouragement about why you think they could do this.
MATTHEW MCDILL: There are two or three important points here. Number one is there are so many groups and resources; you don’t have to do it on your own. So that’s a big point is that we do this in community and we have others who can help. We also have so many amazing curriculum resources today. I mean, it’s a huge, huge market and you don’t have to make it up. I mean, you don’t have to make up all the subjects. You are able to find maybe a curriculum that has a great template. Of course, you want to modify that for your kids and personalize it for their needs, but you don’t have to make it up. Another thing is that there are areas, especially in high school, where I may not have expertise in math or science or certain things. But there are so many opportunities, whether that’s to do dual enrollment in our great community colleges across North Carolina. A lot of homeschoolers take advantage of that. There are so many online courses, or like I said computer-based programs. So you don’t have to be an expert in all the subjects. All you have to do is facilitate those subjects, encourage your children to be learners, and help facilitate their discipline in doing those things.
TRACI GRIGGS: We’re just about out of time for this week, so before we go, give us information one more time about where people can go to learn more about homeschooling here in North Carolina.
MATTHEW MCDILL: Well of course, I think the best place is with North Carolinians for Home Education. That’s nche.com and all sorts of helps and resources. The Division of Non-Public Education is the North Carolina location also for giving information, for the legal requirements and things like that. Those are probably the two best places to start in North Carolina.
TRACI GRIGGS: So that was nche.com, right?
MATTHEW MCDILL: Yes.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well thank you Dr. Matthew McDill for being with us on Family Policy Matters and for your work to help all families serve the educational needs of their children.
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