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Required Days/Hours of Instruction

Note: This page refers to the PA Home Education law. Most families in PA homeschool under this law, however there are several alternatives.

What does the law require?

The Law requires that you provide

"a minimum of one hundred eighty (180) days of instruction
OR nine hundred (900) hours of instruction per year at the elementary level,
or nine hundred ninety (990) hours per year at the secondary level."

While the grammar in the law is confusing at best, this section is commonly taken to mean that you must do 180 days or 900 hours per year in grades 1-6 (the elementary level), and 180 days or 990 hours per year in grades 7-12 (the secondary level). Note that you do not need to do both days and hours – just one or the other. It is totally your choice which one to do. Most people find counting days to be easiest. (High school students sometimes count hours, if they plan to document their work in terms of "credit hours".) You can do whichever works best for you.

A bit of common sense:

Keeping attendance records in a homeschool? Aren't the kids home every day? Does this whole thing seem a bit silly? I think so. Counting “school days” or “school hours” is often not a good way to assess or quantify a home education program. For young children, especially, it can be downright impossible, as, in many homes, life and learning, as well as teaching and parenting, are inseparably intertwined. 

Was that a bedtime story, or an English lesson? Did you ride bikes, or take a phys ed class? Did your kids buy some candy at the store with their own money, or do a hands-on math exercise? Did you tell them why they have to brush their teeth, or give them a health lesson? Are you playing that game for fun, or to teach counting and probability? 

The key is to find a way to play the "school days" game that works for you. Don’t get too hung up on this, OK? Now let’s continue.

What counts as "instruction"?

There are no legal rules that I am aware of about what "counts" as instruction. Remember that many families consider child-initiated activities, like bike riding, playing board games, bedtime stories, and the like to be part of their schooling. Remember that, along with traditional textbook work, things like weekend trips to museums, sports, active play, summer camp, trips to the library, family vacations, and dinner table discussions are often "instructional time" for homeschoolers. Relax.

How much is a "day" of instruction?

There is no legal definition I am aware of for a "day" of home education. Some parents count a day only if they have done textbook work for a certain amount of time, while other parents count any day in which any learning has taken place. (For many homeschoolers, the distinction between a "school day" and "not a school day" is absurd and reflects a misunderstanding of how homeschooling works.) You could drive yourself crazy trying to figure out which days are "school days" and which aren't. Don't obsess about this. Hire an evaluator whose expectations are a good match for your approach to homeschooling.

How can I show that I have met the days/hours requirements?

Records showing the days/hours are not specifically required in The Law. However, as I read the law (and others may read it differently), the <portfolio + evaluator's certification > should "demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring". "Appropriate education" is defined as "a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program". Thus an argument can be made that the <portfolio + evaluator's certification > should contain something that speaks to the idea that the student's home ed program included instruction for 180 days or 900/990 hours.

That "something" could be one of a number of things. Below are some ways that families have shown that they have met the days/hours requirement.  

Detailed Daily Log: 
Some (but far from all) PA home educators keep a detailed, dated, daily record of instruction, including a list of what they did and/or what materials they used during each of the 180 days (or 900/990 hours). If you include this kind of log in your portfolio, it will document your days/hours and probably most if not all of your required subjects as well. Nonetheless, there is some controversy as to whether this approach is more than is required. (See my log page for more discussion of this issue.)  While this approach was widespread ten or fifteen years ago, it seems to me to be dying out. Before the October 2014 law change, home educators who felt this level of detail was unnecessary and burdensome challenged this in many districts (often by changing to the book log + attendance calendar approach), with mixed but generally positive results. Many newer home educators, especially those with young children, have never kept this kind of detailed records. Note that some families still keep this kind of log for their own purposes, such as documenting high school credit hours, but do not include it in the portfolio, preferring to use one of the approaches below.

Book Log + ...: 
Regardless of your approach to documenting your days/hours, you are required to keep a "log which designates by title the reading materials used". Many families choose not to keep a detailed daily log, and fulfill the log requirement by keeping an undated list of the books they have used. Because this style of log does not specifically speak to the days/hours, if you want your <portfolio + evaluator's certification> to demonstrate appropriate education, you may wish to use one of the approaches below.

Book Log + Attendance Calendar:  <--Most Popular
Many families show that they have done 180 days by submitting a simple, one-page attendance calendar, with 180 (or a few more than 180) "school days" checked off. There are several versions of these calendars at my handy-dandy forms page. My perception is that this is the most popular approach nowadays. It's very easy to do, and while I can't guarantee that every evaluator will accept it without question, it seems to be widely accepted and generally goes smoothly. Many home educating moms create their attendance calendar by refering to the family calendar at the end of the school year, rather than keeping it as they go along.

Book Log + Supervisor’s Statement: 
One homeschooling family includes a page in the portfolio, signed by the supervisor, which states that they have completed the required time. 
Another family told me: “I sent a cover letter which explained: Our homeschooling lifestyle ensures life and learning are inextricable and as such I state that we have completed more than the minimum 180 days of learning this year. The paperwork was accepted.” 
See my handy-dandy forms page for several similar print-and-use statements. This is a more minimal approach, and as such may not be accepted without question by every evaluator.

Book Log + The Parent’s Word + The Evaluator's Statement: 
Some evaluators will accept the parent's word that the appropriate number of days or hours of instruction has occurred, without further documentation, and will state in their report that the requirement has been met. In this case, no formal attendance records are given to the evaluator.  Because with this approach there is nothing in the portfolio that specifically speaks to the days/hours, those choosing this approach should be prepared to defend it in the rare circumstance that the home education program is challenged.

Book Log + The Affidavit: 
A few home educators choose not to include anything in their <portfolio + evaluator's certification> that specifically speaks to the days/hours. Some specifically attest in their affidavit that they will do the required days/hours, and feel that this is sufficient. (Not all affidavits include such a statement.) Others do not specifically state in their affidavit that they will do the days/hours, but point out that since all affidavits must state that “the home education program shall comply with the provisions of this section and that the notarized affidavit shall be satisfactory evidence thereof", the parent has already attested to the intent to meet the days/hours requirements. Will this be accepted? Some evaluators may not agree that it is enough - they want to see something in the portfolio that speaks to the days/hours requirement. If you choose the "affidavit only" approach, be prepared to defend your choice.

Attendance Forms

Many families keep their attendance records on a piece of loose leaf paper or in a spiral notebook. Others like to have a simple form to fill out. If you wish to keep attendance records (whether or not you turn them in to the district), you may like one of my handy-dandy attendance forms. You'll find several different attendance and log forms for you to print out and use. Choose the ones that work best for you, or make your own, or just use an ordinary notebook.

Which approaches will my evaluator?

There are a number of approaches to documenting your days/hours. I cannot tell you what your evaluator will expect, what they will accept, or how they will interpret the law. Only they can tell you that. 

Your Evaluator: The evaluator must determine, based on the documentation you provide, whether or not "appropriate education", which includes "instruction ... for the time required", has taken place. You decide who to hire as your evaluator. Discuss your approach to documentation with prospective evaluators. Choose an evaluator whose expectations/standards are a good match for your style. Evaluators vary widely, and most folks should be able to find one who accepts their approach to documentation. See my list of evaluators, or ask around to find someone local.

Your District: In October 2014, the home education law was changed. As per that change, you only need to submit the evaluator's certification to the school district at the end of the school year. You no longer need to routinely submit your portfolio to the district.

If you are concerned about potential challenges to your home education program, and you choose one of the more minimal approaches, consider keeping back-up records of your “school days”, so that you will have documentation to fall back on if you need it later on. (See the law and my district problems page.)

What if my school district expects more than I believe the law requires?

Some school districts have a history of asking homeschoolers for things that are not required by law. If you feel this may be the case in your district, see my District Problems Page. Remember - there is no substitute for reading The Law yourself!