You’ve heard of them… but what in the world are they? An umbrella school may be life saving to one high school homeschooling family, while absolutely useless to another. To cut through the confusion, an umbrella school is typically part of a private school or an entity created specifically for the protection and assistance of the homeschool family. In some states the regulations on homeschoolers are incredibly stringent. In fact, some states require homeschoolers to have an umbrella school. This is where the umbrella school becomes a necessary option for some. The official definition of an umbrella school would be a type of support group for homeschoolers that is organized and often recognized under the state’s private school laws. The umbrella school is designed to take the burden of paperwork (grades, immunization and attendance records), standardized testing, transcripts, and diplomas off of the parent and help them fulfill state requirements. In some cases, certain colleges will view the transcripts from an umbrella school as more “verifiable” than scores reported only by parents. This has more to do with the idea of accountability than anything else. The size of the umbrella school does not directly affect the “legitimacy” of the school, yet having an umbrella school with a good reputation will definitely go far.
The benefits that an umbrella school provides will vary from state to state. In some states like Alabama it is a state requirement to either have your own teaching certificate or to be under an umbrella school. Typically parents will pay a fee for the umbrella school services. The more the umbrella school offers, the more the fee will be. For the most part an umbrella school will help the homeschooling parent by:
Providing homeschool legitimacy by law
Issuing report cards
Keeping permanent records (transcripts)
Hosting field trips
Holding co-op meetings (or something similar)
Provide ID cards for students (convenient benefit for discounts, etc.)
Standardized testing is often one of the most appreciated benefits of umbrella schools. While almost every state requires a standardized test of some kind for homeschoolers, those test requirements vary. Time4Learning has a great standardized testing resource on improving your child’s scores and what each state requires. Homeschooling in a state with restrictive homeschool regulations can get tricky, and umbrella schools can help alleviate the pressure and stress related to fulfilling those requirements.
Some umbrella schools will also include curriculum in their cover price. However, this may also mean that they require that you use their curriculum. Before agreeing, make sure to take a look at the curriculum to see if it is a good fit for you and your family.
One of the other desirable perks of the umbrella school is the high school diploma. The umbrella school diploma is usually equal to the diploma that a student would receive from a private school (again check with your state for confirmation). In most situations, the umbrella school diploma would be of greater benefit than the GED. This is simply due to the fact that most colleges will want to conduct additional testing, and may even require GED students to take remedial courses until they have proven themselves.
The first step to successful homeschooling is to research state homeschool laws. LHSHS has a great resource to help the new homeschooler find state homeschool requirements. Once you understand what is expected of you, you can then move on to determining if a homeschool umbrella program is a good fit for your family. Another point of interest is to determine if your state has limits on their college financial aid policies regarding in state vs. out of state umbrella programs. You would also want to check the homeschool policy in your area regarding athletic participation. Some local schools will not allow students who are enrolled in umbrella schools to participate in their athletic programs.