Sorting Things Out: My Rant Against PA Homeschool Laws

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

(Note- an updated post about PA homeschool law can be found here.)

As the end of the “school year” looms closer and evaluations near, I find myself obsessing over the injustice of PA homeschool regulations. I understand accountability- I really do, but from what I’ve read about other states in the US, PA has gone way overboard with its requirements for homeschoolers. While other states can choose between portfolios or standardized testing and others don’t need to do much more than notify the school district of intent, we have it much more difficult here in good ol’ PA. Homeschoolers here must keep a portfolio with work samples, a daily log recording learning and books used, and are also required to take standardized tests in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade. We must then have these items evaluated by a licensed teacher or psychologist who will decide whether or not adequate progress was made. I honestly don’t even understand why we have to waste our time and money for this evaluation because we must still submit the evaluation letter and our portfolios for them to be examined again by the superintendent. Overkill much?

This has always bothered me quite a bit, especially seeing how easy some other states have it, but I’ve never felt the sting this much until I’ve started unschooling. Since unschooling is self-directed learning, there really aren’t that many work samples in our house. Sure, I take pictures galore, but I have the feeling that the powers-that-be are looking for actual samples- not a photo album. This will be extremely difficult for us, as most of the learning done at our house is through hands-on projects that the kids initiate themselves. Are they learning? Absolutely, but it’s not through textbooks, worksheets, or reports, so I’m getting a little worked up over this.

I do keep extremely detailed records of what we do, while other people just check off a subject if it’s done for the day, but since I’ve always turned in portfolios the size of phone books before, I don’t know what the reaction will be.

This week I’ve found myself going against every instinct I have about learning, and I’ve been making my kids do an activity with me everyday for the sole purpose of having work samples. This seems so unnatural now and so pointless. My children’s learning flows beautifully throughout the day without any help from me, but here I am now throwing a wrench into the system to please, well… the system. It angers me, and it frustrates me.

Natural learning does not fit neatly into a little box where your children complete A, B, and C, and then put them in a little folder. It’s life learning, and it’s done through exploring the world around them and interacting with it. It’s done through creating and enjoying things like Minecraft towns, clay villages, homemade makeup, and beloved readalouds. The beauty is in the simplicity, and I resent the fact that I feel like I may have to dampen their passions by requiring them to do more “schoolish” projects, so that those neat little file folders in their portfolios are filled with things that, ultimately, will mean nothing to my children. Have you ever noticed what happens when you, as a parent, start showing too much interest in what your children are doing to the point of offering suggestions as to how to make it more “educational”? The light in their eyes disappears, and that passion starts to wither away. I don’t want this to happen because of a legality. Their education means more to me than that, and I wish those in charge could see that.

If you are an unschooler and have a portfolio requirement, I would love to hear how you do it.

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Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

24 thoughts on “Sorting Things Out: My Rant Against PA Homeschool Laws”

  1. Shelly,

    Sometimes I get frustrated too by having to fulfil requirements, but we have things a lot easier than you. Our kids are never tested. I do understand what you mean when you say the light disappears in our children’s eyes when we start worrying about whether they are doing anything ‘educational’. Are they doing something that will look ‘good’ to those in authority. Oh our kids know what we are doing. It really does mess up the trust between parent and child when we put pressure on them to learn particular things just so we can include it in their records. I don’t know what the answer is. I think my job is to be the person in the background, translating all my kids’ activities into suitable educational language. I do all the hard work so my kids can learn in the way they need to. Hard to explain in a short comment. I might write a post! I love sharing posts and ideas!


  2. Shelly, I hear ya, girl. I used to turn in 2″ binders, too because I thought I was supposed to. If you live within a reasonable driving distance of New Castle, Grove City or Monroeville, there’s a terrific group of qualified evaluators who conduct free evaluations over the course of a few weeks in the spring (usually meet once a week in a park). They believe in a parent’s freedom to educate a child (and really the PA law does, too). The law states that the portfolio should contain samples of “any” work, not ALL work. I’ve submitted as few as 12 pages, including certificates from activities and museum tickets which have been accepted. Finally, if you include photos, I agree with Mary Alice Newborn (who also founded the freedom evaluators) who says to save the cute photos of the kids for Grandma. Unless you’re just showing their hands doing a project or something. Once you submit the portfolio, you really have no idea who might have access to it and unfortunately, people are weird.

    Since PA law doesn’t prohibit distance evaluations, it’s something I would love to provide through my website. My vision is to have a team of homeschool friendly, affordable evaluators who understand the minimal standard of review for evaluations and that learning can happen in a variety of ways and connect them to homeschoolers all over the state via Skype, Google Hangout, FaceTime or even over the phone. The portfolio could be transmitted electronically. So far, the people who have contacted me about their trouble in finding evaluators who are reasonable haven’t expressed interest in it and I’ve hesitated to invest the time and money to add it to the site. Is it something you would be interested in?


    1. It’s definitely something I’d be interested in. I’m just curious as to how to electronically transfer the portfolio. I’m not very computer savvy. As for Grove City, I’ll have to google it because I’m not sure where that is. Thanks so much for all the information!


  3. I’m not sure yet what Ohio requires but it sounds quite similar. Also I’ve heard rumors that Ohio is going to try to institute home visits to home schoolers from a social worker!! I’m not going to worry about that until I have to. I am waiting to meet with a retired teacher who is going to give me more detail of what is required here.


    1. I did hear that about Ohio. It’s a shame because the vast majority of homeschoolers are marvelous parents. It doesn’t make sense that the parents of public school kids wouldn’t also be subjected to this because there are far more cases of abuse of children in public schools.


  4. There was a proposed Senate Bill in Ohio that would have instituted home visits. Thankfully many homeschoolers wrote letters and called their state senators and the bill was quickly withdrawn.


  5. I taught 5th gr in Philly before heading up GATE in Cheltenham. Way back in my other life. I now homeschool in CA where it’s a lot more parent-friendly. Gosh, I’d hate to be under the constraints you are.


  6. I am in PA and don’t find the portfolio that daunting. You do not need to turn in more than a few pages. is a lifesaver to help sort through the regulations. I have an incredible evaluator by the name of Lisa Hayes that I know many unschoolers use. Would love to further connect with you.


    1. It’s so funny that you mentioned her because I just found her on and will be using her from now on. I’m just nervous because we’re new to unschooling, and our portfolio will be much smaller this year. I feel so much better since I talked to her, though. Thanks for commenting!


  7. We also have a portfolio requirement, but I am in a co-op that handles that for us. So, I don’t need to meet with the state. I know there are unschooling co-ops in Maryland – that are also umbrella groups. They don’t have something like that in PA?

    When we were a part of these more liberal co-ops, the field trips and such fully satisfied all of the requirements.

    This totally soaks.


  8. Where are the free homeschool evaluations for 2013-14 school year? I’m in New Castle? I can get to Grove City (well, really anywhere in western PA.) Have car will travel. I feel the frustration because teaching in my house actually is a sun up to sun down operation. From when we go grocery shopping to when I see a situation outside my front door etc.


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