Moving from Homeschool to Institutional School - What You Need to Know

Before we get into this topic, we must first make it clear that we do not recommend enrolling children in any form of public/government schooling at any age, and we urge caution in considering an institutional private school. Our conviction, grounded in the experiences of millions of homeschoolers across the US throughout the "modern era" of homeschooling, is that private, home-based, parent-led education is preferable for the overall well-being of every child and teen, in large measure because it is through homeschooling alone that each individual young person's unique learning needs can be truly met. Thus, our bottomline advice is simple: Don't do it. Don't move your child or teen from home into a conventional school setting.

That said, we realize that some parents may at some point - for any number of reasons - decide to stop homeschooling and send their children to institutional schools, whether public or private. Indeed, as we write - in July 2020 - millions of American parents are wrestling with whether or not to pull their children from their conventional schools for the 2020-2021 school year in response either to the COVID-19 virus itself or the schools' reaction to it, but many who withdraw this year hope to return their children to school by the 2021-2022 school year.  And these parents - particularly those in Wisconsin for our purposes - should - in order to make wise, fully-informed decisions - be aware of what they may face in deciding to move a child or teen from homeschooling into a conventional school.

The most important thing to remember as we proceed is that homeschooling is a completely legal, legitimate, and viable means of providing education in the state of Wisconsin (and in every other state); it is not the redheaded stepchild of learning. In fact, Wisconsin was - in 1984 - one of the first states to validate homeschooling in the modern era, and study after study has demonstrated that private home-based education provides at least as well as (and oftentimes better than) institutional schooling when it comes to meeting young people's academic/intellectual, physical, emotional, and relational/social needs. Thus, a home-educating parent should not approach school enrollment personnel with opprobrium, as if her child will not "measure up" compared to schooled peers. She should instead view it as an equal transfer at the very least, no different than if her family were moving from a conventional school in one state to a similar school in another state. In other words, one need not apologize to school personnel about time spent in homeschooling.

That said, the enrollment (or re-enrollment) process varies depending on the age of the child in question. 

  • Preschool: If you want to enroll your child into any type of public or private preschool (i.e., 3K, 4K) after keeping him home as an infant/toddler (or choosing not to utilize 3K but desiring to begin with 4K), it's as simple as completing the school's enrollment papers. Compulsory school attendance - and the provisions of the state homeschool law - don't kick in until the age of six, so "transferring" from home to school before then is not a legal matter;
  • Kindergarten: Enrolling in kindergarten (5K) after keeping or bringing a child home through the preschool years (i.e., you did not send him to or previously withdrew him from a 3K/4K program) is the same. You simply complete the school's enrollment papers and proceed;
  • First Grade: Beginning first grade at a private school after homeschooling through 5K is similarly easy; just complete necessary paperwork and move on. Unfortunately, enrolling a child into first grade at a public school after having homeschooled through 5K became complicated following the passage of Act 41 in 2009. This situation warrants a detailed, separate discussion, which you may access HERE;
  • Second through Eighth Grades: Act 41 applies only to those enrolling in public school for the first time in first grade. So the process of enrolling (or re-enrolling) a child into an institutional school - public or private - for the remainder of elementary school and through middle school is technically as simple as going to the school and filling out enrollment papers. School personnel should not ask for homeschool records - other than seeking information for credit transfer at the high school level, bureaucrats do not have the legal authority to make such requests - and should simply use your child's chronological age alone to determine "grade level" placement and be done with it. And, in most cases, that's what happens. Unfortunately, some school personnel "suggest" the need for "placement testing" to determine "grade level," but that is not necessary and not advised. When this happens, it's typically a sign of anti-homeschool bias (i.e., highlighting a belief in the person that a homeschooled child might be "behind"), and should be gently but firmly rebuffed. The fact is that children who attend institutional schools in any "grade level" always exhibit a wide range of abilities and are only grouped together by chronological age, not achievement level; thus, to make a special case of "testing" homeschoolers is actually discriminatory unless a school also tests all other transfer students. If pressed, you can ask what would happen if your eight-year old would test at a "7th grade" level - i.e., would they put him in "7th grade?" They would, of course, refuse to do so and would insist he be enrolled in "3rd grade" with all the other eight-year olds; likewise, the same should be true even if an eight-year might "test" at lower than "3rd grade" (i.e., he should simply be placed with other eight-year olds). Be sure to advocate for your child to be treated as any other transfer student;
  • High School: Things change a bit at the high school level. It is legal and possible to switch from homeschooling to an institutional school in the midst of the high school years, but credit transfer may become complicated. For one thing, the homeschool law empowers parents to be the administrators of their own private, independent educational programs, which legally allows them to set their children's graduation requirements as they see fit - i.e., homeschoolers are not mandated to comply with public school (or any conventional private school) graduation requirements. On the other hand, public and conventional private schools are not mandated to accept credit transfers from homeschools, no matter how rigorous a homeschool program may have been. Some schools and districts may have set policies for homeschool credit transfer, but others may make arbitrary decisions. And, while a parent should certainly advocate on a teen's behalf, there is no guarantee that credits earned via homeschooling - again, even if the homeschool coursework was demonstrably advanced compared to a school's standards - will transfer to a conventional school. Thus, a teen desiring to transfer from homeschooling in the middle of the high school years may find himself labeled as "credit deficient" going in - and there's no real way to tell in advance if that will happen. For that reason, we recommend not transferring midway through high school - there is no need to do so since parent-generated diplomas and transcripts are valid and legally-binding. Instead, if there's any chance you will want your teen to graduate from a conventional school, make the transfer at the beginning of ninth grade before he's earned any high school credits. It is possible (and easy) to transfer back to homeschooling at a later point - and to use credits earned in school on a homeschool transcript - so a teen wouldn't be stuck in "regular" high school if it didn't end up working after all.
In closing, remember that we recommend sticking with homeschooling for the long-haul once you begin; the benefits and blessings of home education make the effort well worth it. But know as well that it is possible to transfer into a conventional school after homeschooling for a time - and it's even possible to transfer back and forth multiple times. That process is sometimes a bit complicated - particularly going into first grade and in the middle of the high school years - and parents must be prepared to address unfounded but possible anti-homeschool bias from some school personnel. But do not let the possibility of enrolling or re-enrolling in an institutional school stop you from giving homeschooling a try.