A Primer on Homeschooling in Wisconsin

Nov 27, 2017

Wisconsin is home to arguably the largest school choice scene in the country, and many local parents are aware of the public and private school options available to them. But there’s one lesser-known alternative: homeschooling.

Tim Cushman of Mequon submitted a question to WUWM's Beats Me series asking for basic information about homeschooling and what it looks like in southeastern Wisconsin.

What is homeschooling?

The state defines “homeschooling” as a home-based private educational program – basically, it’s a parent or guardian providing instruction to their child.

It can take many different forms. There are no rules in state law about curriculum, so parents have a lot of latitude in choosing what their children learn – and that's part of the appeal for some families.

"We can see the possible upsides and benefits of leading their education."

Question asker Tim Cushman is a father of two boys. And, he and his wife are considering homeschooling for their young kids.

“We can see the possible upsides and benefits of leading their education…just starting to have kids who are entering school-age, and just thinking about, what are the possibilities? What are our options and opportunities for education?” Cushman explains. “The more we think about it, the more [homeschooling] seems like an attractive alternative.”

What laws does Wisconsin have on the books?

Families who choose to homeschool their children have few regulations to deal with.

The state of Wisconsin has three basic rules in place:

  1. Parents have to file a homeschool enrollment form with the state.
  2. They must provide at least 875 hours of instruction each "school year” (and the state recommends documenting those hours).
  3. Parents have to provide their kids with instruction in reading, language arts, math, social studies, science and health.

As mentioned above, the state does not have requirements for curriculum. In addition, any parent can choose to homeschool his or her kids – no special requirements or certifications are needed. Folks can find teaching resources online, as well as from several companies that sell their own curriculum.

What's the appeal?

Families have many different reasons for choosing to homeschool.

Along with his wife, Jake Curtis of Grafton homeschools two of his three children, ages 6 and 8. Curtis says the flexibility afforded to the family is a primary reason why they homeschool.

“If you’re in a traditional school setting…for the most part, if your kid doesn’t like a class, they kind of have to stay in that class,” he says. “[At home], we initially tried a few things that we didn’t think [were] a good fit for us, and we just moved onto something else.”

Of course, there are some common concerns parents have when they consider homeschooling as an option.

Some worry about their kids losing out on school activities and socializing. But Curtis says there are resources for families -- things like special programming at the YMCA, the library and local nature centers.

Parents also may worry about the stigma surrounding homeschooling.

But Curtis says that hasn't been much of an issue for his family.

“We have not seen much of a stigma,” he recounts. “In fact, a lot of people think it’s great that parents have the ability to do that, and the flexibility and the freedom to do that.”

Who homeschools in Wisconsin?

The homeschooling community in Wisconsin is vast.

According to data from the state Department of Public Instruction, approximately 20,000 kids were homeschooled during the 2016-17 school year. That’s a little more than 2 percent of the school-age population.

The majority of homeschool students are in grades 1 through 8; only about one-quarter are high school age.

The biggest homeschool populations in the state can be found in and around southeastern Wisconsin. Milwaukee has the largest enrollment of homeschooled kids, at 785; other areas where homeschooling is popular include Racine, Kenosha, Green Bay and Madison. 

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