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Home Schooling in Iowa

In the 1980's the home schooling movement was driven by evangelical Christians, who wanted to incorporate their religious beliefs into their children's education. But today, a broad range of Iowa families are choosing to teach their children at home.

Families who want to home school have three options in Iowa. Dual enrollment in a school district is available with or without the supervision of a licensed teacher. The two options allow students to choose classes like art, science or foreign language taught through the school. As part of receiving those opportunities, a student's learning must be assessed annually and the district retains some state funding for serving home school students, often through a home school assistance program.

During the 2017-2018 school year, 7,044 Iowa students were home schooled and also attended classes or received services from their school district. That's according to the Iowa Department of Education.

In 2014, Iowa lawmakers approved a third option. Families can go it alone, without any interaction with a school, no assessment of a student's learning and away from the watchful eyes of teachers and other mandatory reporters. In this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe chats with current and former home schoolers about their experiences, as well as the directors of homeschool assistance programs in the Marion and Mid-Prairie School districts.

Carrie Vance, a mother of three and former substitute teacher, took a course at the Johnston County Area Education Agency to understand the learning needs of her daughter, who has dyslexia.

“Things just weren’t clicking and the classroom environment really quickly became a stressful place for her,” Vance says. “All of a sudden she’s feeling sick in the morning and strange things were happening.”

Vance worried about the social impact homeschooling would have on her kids, but says her daughter found it easier to make friends without the pressures of the school environment. She has chosen to dual enroll her children in the Des Moines Public Schools where they take art, music and language classes and participate in sports.

Tom Ertz is Director of the largest home school assistance program in the state, through the Marion Independent School District. The program offers optional enrichment classes, field trips and a resource library for students grades K-12.

“Most of the students who come for our optional enrichment classes on site, they might come once or twice week for an hour or two,” Ertz says. Teachers who work in the program must have face to face contact with students at least twice a quarter.

Rebekah Tilley’s parents home schooled her in Kentucky during the 80s. As part of a religious community, they teamed up with other families to replace what they saw as a lackluster public education system.

“If I really got stuck, my dad would help me but then otherwise I really had to figure it out on my own,” Tilley recalls about learning geometry and calculus from a textbook. “I developed a great confidence in my ability to study anything and figure it out eventually.”

The effectiveness of home schooling, however, depends on the situation. Carla Bryant always wanted to attend a public school, but says her parents insisted on home schooling their seven children with a rigorous, evangelical doctrine that made her feel isolated and sometimes humiliated.


“They believed a lot of lies were being taught in public schools and children’s minds were malleable so they wanted to make sure they got to us first,” Bryant says. “With no checks and balances there is so much more opportunity for bad people to be bad.”


Assistant director of Mid-Prairie home school assistance program Rose Schrock says although she hasn't personally witnessed any concerning home school situations, the unregulated option does raise concerns.


“It makes me thankful for families that choose home schooling but are also not afraid of the accountability aspect of it,” Schrock says. “That gives so much credibility to the home school option.”


Vance says she feels the weight of responsibility on her shoulders as a home schooling parent.

“As a Christian, I gladly give up some of my rights and freedoms for the benefits of others so that kids don’t fall through the cracks,” Vance says.



Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk