It wasn’t until 1991 that the Iowa Legislature acknowledged homeschooling as a legal activity, the 49th state in the union to do so. In Iowa, the compulsory school attendance age ranges from six to sixteen, meaning those who are six years or older, but not yet sixteen, must be enrolled either in an accredited public or private school, or a legally defined alternative.
When the Perrys decided to keep their daughter home for school, they had some decisions to make, based on those alternatives the state defined as legal. The option they chose involved working with a licensed supervising teacher, to whom they reported to at the end of each quarter.
“We were accountable to her and she was accountable to us,” Veronica explained.
“She had the records that we kept that tracked JoEll’s progress,” she added.
Over the past six years, the Perrys have enjoyed a positive working relationship with two different supervising teachers, both of whom they described as “wonderful, knowledgeable and good resources.” The decision to change supervising teachers was one based primarily on convenience, when JoEll’s piano instructor, a licensed teacher, took on the additional duties of supervising her schooling.
In addition to the oversight of a supervising teacher, the Perrys were also required to complete and submit a form to the state each year related to their homeschooling efforts.
In 2013, Iowa lawmakers made sweeping changes to homeschool provisions in the state. In the blink of an eye, a state with one of the worst reputations as being homeschool-friendly granted unprecedented freedom to those who choose to educate at home. Beginning July 1, 2013, homeschooling families now had three basic options from which to choose.
One choice is Competent Private Instruction (CPI) with reporting. This option allows parents to deliver home instruction that is either provided by or supervised by an Iowa licensed teacher. While this option involves more oversight from the local school system, it provides the possibility of dual enrollment for the homeschooled student. The choice to dual-enroll is ultimately one made by parents and allows access to textbooks, classes, extracurricular activities and other school resources. Parents who wish to use the CPI option without the involvement of a licensed teacher can do so, however, they must use annual assessments (testing) to demonstrate students are making adequate academic progress.
A second option available for homeschooling is CPI with no reporting. This option allows homeschooling to occur and makes the completion of CPI forms and the administration of annual tests optional. Dual enrollment is not allowed for parents who choose this option.
A third choice for parents who homeschool is called Independent Private Instruction (IPI). Using this model, homeschoolers are completely independent of the local school system. The rules state that no more than four unrelated students can be enrolled in an IPI program and no tuition can be charged for the “private or religious based instruction in the subjects of math, reading, language arts, science and social studies.” There are no reporting requirements for the IPI option, though parents must respond to any written request received from their resident school’s superintendent or the Department of Education director.
When the law took effect July 1, 2013, the Perrys chose this option to school completely independent of their local school district. While the new law does not require it, Veronica continues to keep detailed records of JoEll’s academic progress.
“We felt like it would make us more accountable, that we could not slack off. If the school came in to check our work, I would be able to present everything, including her portfolio. We still complete all the paperwork for our own records. It’s as much for JoEll’s future as it is for answering any questions that may arise later,” she explained.
While the Perrys very much appreciate the freedom the new law affords Iowa parents, they remain focused on providing educational experiences they believe are the best and most appropriate for their daughter. For now, those lessons will continue to come from home, where the school year begins in September and continues beyond the 148 days state law mandates for private instruction. JoEll’s lessons in science and social studies, for example, are extended throughout the year, which allows visits to museums, summer camps and other activities outside the classroom to be used as teachable moments. It’s not uncommon for JoEll to document what she has learned on such visits in a journal or written report.
For the Perrys, choosing to homeschool has resulted in making fundamental changes to the family’s lifestyle.
“There’s pluses and minuses with that,” Rodney acknowledged.
Veronica’s dual roles as mother and teacher could create challenges some families would rather not face. When asked if it is difficult to separate being mom from teacher, Veronica is clear about the distinction.
“I have to. If I want to be a good teacher to her, I have to. When I’m done teaching, then Mom is there,” she said. With the occasional conflict, though, come rewards.
“It builds a closer-knit family,” Rodney added.
“They have a stronger bond than a lot of moms and daughters do. She [JoEll] can be frustrated with her mom, but at the same time she doesn’t want to be away from her. When I get my time to be teacher, I enjoy that too,” he added.
Spending time with the family is just as important to 11 year old JoEll, who cited family time and the ability to work at her own pace as the two most enjoyable aspects of being homeschooled. Self-paced learning has multiple benefits, her father noted.
“She’s not kept waiting to move on when she gets the concept and other don’t,” Rodney said. There is also less pressure to scrape by on the concepts that are more challenging.
“We can make sure she knows it before moving on to the next concept,” he added.
The challenges associated with living with her teachers does not appear to be too much for the girl who aspires to be an actress,  singer or cosmetologist. Are her teachers mean?
“No,” she replied with a smile and a sigh. “It’s tough love.”
As the Perrys look to the future, they remain open to the educational opportunities that await JoEll, even those outside their home.
“As she gets older, we may decide to look at dual enrollment,” Veronica said, citing JoEll’s enjoyment of the fine arts as activities she may wish to participate in during her high school years.
“For us, it is one year at a time. We will continue to look at [public and parochial] schools and the programs they offer,” she added.
In Iowa, the changes in state laws regarding homeschooling last year provide many options from which to choose for parents. While the Perrys are strong advocates for educating their daughter at home, they understand the lifestyle is not for everyone.
To those families considering homeschooling, their advice includes spending time with families who school at home, while they are schooling, to better understand what the experience is really like. They also encourage parents to attend the NICHE (Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators) Conference in Des Moines, to learn more about the resources that are available to parents.
“Don’t just dive into it,” Veronica advised.
“What we’ve found is that homeschooling is not for everyone. It definitely is for our family. Research it. Pick and choose what works best for your family.”