T2I: The difference in public and homeschool regulations

DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) -- As many public school students are coming off their first day of the new school year, some 21,000 students across the state may have staved off their first day a little longer.

That’s because the two percent of Wisconsin students that are homeschooled, do not have a state mandated start date for their school year.

In anticipation for the new school year, Target 2 Investigates has been researching for months – looking at the lack of regulations that gives these homeschooled students more freedom than most students across the country.

“School for me and life, wasn’t completely separate. Like it was more just mixed together,” says Hailey Barron of De Pere.

When she was in fourth grade, Barron transferred from De Pere Public Schools to an at-home curriculum.

Instead of hindering her studies, Barron says the few homeschool regulations helped better prepare her for college.

I think that's one of the major things that I learned, is independence within my education,” she says.

Barron says that independence came because of the lack of homeschool regulations.

Those few regulations are vastly different from the hundreds Target 2 found in Wisconsin public schools: spanning from teaching human growth and development, which isn't required, but districts face certain protocols if they do, to high school graduation requirements and even regulating things like inhaler usage.

For the two percent of Wisconsin students who are homeschooled, restrictions are far less.

“Regular private schools, the idea that's set in state law, is that they're free from the sort of regulations that public schools have. Same holds true for our homeschool students,” says Tom McCarthy, Communications Director for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Homeschool students don’t have a required set of course material. Daily attendance, course grades, and graduation requirements are set by their homeschool teachers.

Wisconsin law requires all public school teachers to have a Bachelor’s Degree and professional training to qualify for a teaching license. Homeschool parents don’t face the same qualifications.

“Not to demean parents, but homeschool is generally based on the concept that you come with the information or the pedagogy to be able to train a student, or in this case, your child. Most parents don't have that capacity,” McCarthy says.

In the Barron household, Hailey’s mother Dawn acted as the teacher. While Dawn didn’t have a traditional teaching license, she did earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and was licensed to be a substitute teacher.

“[Our grades were] based on mastery,” Hailey explains. “So we did it until we felt like we really got it, and then that was our grade.”

“For me, I feel like if you’re going to do something, if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing to when you understand it, and when you understand it on a conceptual level. So mastering that,” Dawn Barron tells Target 2. “The math problem, in and of itself, its meaningless. It’s what you learn from that math problem.”

As for schooling hours, homeschooled students are required to receive 875 hours annually of instruction, but there’s no law requiring state officials, or anyone else, to monitor their house.

“It usually did take all day, because we were working really hard. But some days you could do fewer hours, way more hours. It wasn’t really a set in stone, ‘This is how long you’re going to be doing it,’” Hailey explains.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction doesn’t even have the authority to approve or deny parents hoping to homeschool their children.

But colleges don’t see an issue.

“We have some fantastic homeschool students, that are even more prepared than some of our students at public and private schools,” says Eric Wagner, Associate Director of Admissions at St. Norbert College.

Even though homeschool students aren’t required to complete any standardized testing, like the ACT or SAT, Wagner says every homeschooled applicant he’s reviewed has submitted a score of 30 or higher on the ACT.

At UW-Green Bay, admissions see similar results, saying there isn’t an academic difference between homeschool and public school students.

“To say that one group performs better than the others, my experience is, I really don’t see a difference between the two sometimes,” says Mike Gallagher, Assistant Director of Admissions at UW-Green Bay.

“We don’t want favors. We just want to be able to homeschool,” Dawn Barron says.

Hailey mother, Dawn, homeschooled her and older daughter, Maddie. She says the freedom and one-on-one learning greatly benefited her daughters.

“That's what's nice about homeschooling is that you're always working at their level. So, it's just individualized learning. So if it takes you longer at one thing, and you just wiz through the next, you can work at that pace,” she says.