120 or 180? Why?

I’ve seen many homeschoolers tell other homeschoolers that, while a minimum of 120 hours of study equals one high school credit in most subjects, 180 hours are required for science lab classes. In fact, I’ve seen some cite statements from HSLDA to back up this claim. And of course, if a group of homeschooling lawyers say it, it must be true. Or must it?

Before becoming a homeschool mom, I taught various subjects in various American middle and high schools. Though I mostly taught math, science is another subject I taught several times in several different schools. When I tally up the total number of hours my students spent in their classrooms, it numbered about 120 hours. That’s assuming that they came to class everyday. But the number of hours of class time did not increase when I taught science lab classes. Science classes were given the same number of hours as classes in any other subject; none of the schools had additional time put in the schedule for labs. In college classes, where labs often are separated from the lecture portion of the course, the student does put in more time for science lab classes than for other classes, but not a single high school (or middle school) that I’ve worked for required more classroom hours of science lab classes. So why do some try to burden homeschoolers with a heavier load than that practiced in schools?

Perhaps it’s because science students spend more time outside of class writing up lab reports? As someone who taught a variety of math and science courses, I know that the average student generally puts more time into their math homework than that required for science mostly because math classes tend to assign more homework overall. So that doesn’t make sense as reason to require more hours for science classes.

And honestly, it’s not as though all the brick-and-mortar school classes actually have students working and learning a total of 120 hours. I’ve seen reports that claim that the average school class has students on-task and actually learning only about 12 to 18 minutes out of every hour. In a school class, time in the classroom is what really counts, even if a lot of it is wasted time as students sit through announcements, teachers deal with discipline or administrative tasks, wait for papers to be handed out, or wait while everyone gets out their materials and finds the correct page, or such. The class time still counts towards earning those credits even if the time is wasted. And a student doesn’t even necessarily have to be present in the classroom for all of those 120 hours as the student can be absent several days–whether the student is absent from school entirely or is elsewhere such as in the clinic, or down in the guidance counselor’s office, or off on a field trip for another class, etc.–and yet will still receive credit for the class.

So where does this requirement come from? Was it made up by lawyers who put their memories of college lab classes into what they thought should happen in high school classes done at home? Maybe. Was it made up by people who want to do more than the public schools do and therefore feel a need to push everyone else to do so? Perhaps. Was it made by lawyers who want to be sure that they have clients with superior records if the lawyers ever have to defend them in court? Seems likely. Was it made up by people who’ve forgotten, or don’t realize, what’s actually happening in schools? Also quite likely. Did it come from people who confuse 120 hours total with 180 days in a public school year? Could be.

I find it very annoying when I see others pushing homeschoolers to do more than schools even attempt to do. Sure, if people want to go above and beyond, that’s great. In fact, even if they try to just meet what schools are doing, they’ll likely go above and beyond since homeschool parents are less likely to count lots of wasted time as time spent on a particular high school subject. But let’s not frighten other homeschool parents into thinking that they must stress themselves out trying to do more when they don’t have to. Let’s not overwhelm those who are new and trying to figure out what they are doing with unrealistic expectations. If a homeschooled student does 120 hours of study in some high school subject, any subject, that is definitely enough to grant one high school credit for–even if the subject is science. In fact, feel free to count time spent in the bathroom or waiting while someone takes a phone call as time spent on the class since schools count time spent on all of that and more as actual class time.

Cheryl
chavivah@yahoo.com

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