Student Accountability for Distance Learning and Homeschooling

Homeschool parents, it’s time that we had a serious conversation about student accountability for distance learning and homeschooling. Don’t worry, this is going to be fun and easy. What’s neither fun nor easy is being unaccountable, irresponsible, and thus creating a situation in which your homeschool slowly spirals out of control. 

I promise that neither you nor your kids are going to be happy with the outcome of an unaccountable homeschooling experience in the long run. On the other hand, in my decades of personal experience, homeschool student accountability is almost always associated with happy families that produce successful young adults.

If that sounds vague and general, allow me to be extremely specific here. What I mean by student accountability is the utter elimination and destruction of stressful, ruined holidays. It’s just a simple fact that unaccountable families have stressful holidays, while homeschooling families who are accountable generally have longer, more enjoyable, and relaxing holidays and vacations. It’s time to choose whether your next holiday is enjoyable or not. Our lives are defined by the choices we make, and this simple logic definitely applies to school and homeschooling.

So, let’s get serious for a moment about homeschool student accountability for distance learning and online classes. I’ve never personally met a single person who failed to make a dramatic improvement in his or her life by simply choosing to be accountable. It’s an easy recipe for success. And, as a busy parent, I might suggest that easy recipes for success are going to save you a lot of time, money, and frustration over the next decade or two (or five or six).

In other words, let’s consider the possibility of saving time with homeschooling, not wasting it fruitlessly.

Why I Care About Student Accountability for Distance Learning and Homeschooling

My personal interest in writing this article, as a homeschool teacher, is that I’m simply fed up with homeschooling families and students being stressed out before school even gets started. Students and teachers alike need a relaxing holiday between classes to perform their best. I have to say, there’s a pandemic with in the COVID-19 pandemic of absenteeism, students failing classes, not graduating high school, not getting into college, and generally not being even remotely prepared for life.

There’s a Difference Between Accountability and Responsibility

Let’s start this discussion by distinguishing the difference between accountability and responsibility. 

Responsibility means taking the time to do what needs to be done. And, furthermore, developing the skills to do what needs to be done efficiently. In other words, responsibility is the complete opposite of time wasting.

Accountability means taking the time to confirm that what needed to be done did, in fact, actually get done. Accountability doesn’t mean doing things, it means checking, verifying, and confirming that it gets done. In other words, accountability is the complete opposite of recklessness.

If you don’t mind, I’d like you to pause reading this article for a moment and ask yourself a question. Would you prefer a time wasting and reckless family? Or a responsible and accountable family?

Now, let’s take a moment to be accountable. Did you actually pause reading and to do what the previous paragraph asked? Or are you already choosing to be unaccountable? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that you know the answer, which is all that really matters anyhow. It’s never too late, so, if you didn’t already do it, why not take a short pause and choose to be accountable? Like Nike said, the big idea here is to just do it. It’s really that simple and easy to be accountable.

Accountability for School

It’s really, really, really, really, really, really, really, easy to have accountability for school. There are just 3 simple steps.

  1. Set clear expectations for your children in the form of rules.
  2. Enforce those expectations with consequences for breaking the rules.
  3. Actually do Steps 1 and 2. Just thinking about them is neither accountable nor responsible.

Step 1: Expectations

The magical, seemingly secret recipe for success in school is setting expectations. It’s the job of adults to set clear expectations for our children, and it’s your child’s job to meet these expectations. 

I fortunately learned this simple trick in my second year as a college science professor. My first year as a college professor didn’t go so well. I spent a lot of time crafting amazing science lessons that just didn’t promote learning or success. In my second year, I chose to spend less time actually teaching and more time explaining the classroom expectations to the students. As a result, we didn’t have enough time in class to even get through all the important material. The students, however, took the responsibility to learn all the material, beyond what was taught in the classroom, simply because they understood how to meet my crystal clear expectations.

Unfortunately, teaching good classes just doesn’t matter, because it rarely works. Setting expectations does matter, because it always works.

Step 2: Consequences

More often than not, when adults communicate their expectations to children, the learning happens automatically. When it doesn’t, though, it’s time to proceed to step two, which involves enforcing those expectations with consequences. If step one is properly conducted, the expectations for school work, as well as the consequences for not doing school work, are clearly understood. If step one is done properly, you’re probably not ever going to have to get to step two in the first place. It’s much, much, much, much, much easier to focus on step one and simply set clear expectations, which include an expectation of the consequences for not meeting expectations.

It’s important to keep in mind that parents are in complete control of what their children are allowed to do or not. The basic idea here is that if the expectations are not met, it’s absolutely and definitely going to result in a loss of privileges. Specifically, it’s extremely convenient for parents, and profoundly inconvenient for students, to have the expectations met during the time that their favorite activity would have occurred, but instead resulted in a loss of privileges. Don’t get upset, and don’t fight with your kids. Just be accountable and enforce the consequences, just like you promised your child. To do otherwise makes you appear to be a liar to your own kid. Ouch!

That is, you need as a parent to figure out what activity your child values most, and schedule school time instead of fun time when your kid is expecting fun instead of meeting school expectations. In other words, fun time gets replaced with school time until the expectation is met. I’m talking about homework accountability, meaning that parents might need to show their children their infinite parental power and authority to replace progressively dwindling amounts of fun time with ever larger piles of homework. There’s no better way to make your kids be responsible than by taking away their fun time, thus proving that you, the parent, are in full control at all times. And, the real beauty of this strategy is that it’s going to result in more fun time, in the long run. After all, unaccountability and irresponsibility produce stress, not fun.

It’s also important that parents are accountable for having their kids actually go to school. One thing I’ve noticed since the COVID-19 pandemic started is that it’s just too easy to skip an online homeschool class. Just hiring a teacher for your kids doesn’t count as being accountable. You have to make sure they’re actually going to the classes. There was a lot of homeschool absenteeism in 2022, in which parents hired a teacher, kids clicked a Zoom link at the proper time, and nothing else substantially happened. I know that our society places a lot of value on being on time; however, being on time for a class while being mentally checked out and doing other activities such as texting or video gaming is unaccountable, irresponsible, and decidedly non-educational.

Imagine for a moment a world in which there were no consequences for, say, paying your taxes. It sounds like a lot of fun and freedom, right? Yet, would anybody pay their taxes if there were no consequences for not doing so? What would happen to the structure of our society if nobody paid taxes, and our roads, water pipelines, and garbage collection services simply vanished? We’d all end up being buried in our own waste and trash, without the ability to clean up and take a bath. I think we all agree that this wouldn’t be fun in the long run. In other words, a future lacking consequences literally stinks. A lot.

Step 3: Just Do It

The third step is to always keep in mind that thinking and talking about accountability is pointless and meaningless. Like I said before, you have to just do it. It’s not about doing it well. It’s just about doing it, and you will gain skill with being accountable simply by being accountable.

A popular topic these days is finding an accountability partner, also known as an accountability buddy. In these modern times, we might consider the possibility of a parent being the accountability buddy for his or her child’s homeschooling. On the other hand, simply being your child’s buddy, or “nice” friend, without any accountability, tends to result in a lot of wasted time. Unfortunately, just being nice to people usually doesn’t produce nice results. Being accountable does.

Why Is It Important to Have Structure within an Organization?

What I’m trying to explain here is why it’s important to have structure within your organization, whether it’s your family, your homeschool, or your life in general. Kids simply don’t know how to create the structure that leads to fun and success. Teaching kids to have structure is a parent responsibility, from the perspective that it creates true freedom and better, more enjoyable lives. Parent accountability leads directly to more academic motivation for students and also academic confidence.

If you don’t like the word “accountability,” then let’s refer to it as confidence building activities for students. If you don’t like the word “homework,” then let’s refer to it as a set of self esteem building worksheets. School does involve accountability and homework; however, the real purpose here is building confidence and self esteem for our kids.

Now, I’m definitely not suggesting we should be pushing kids beyond their limits. An increasingly important parent responsibility is to distinguish between a child’s physical limitations and legitimate medical disabilities versus a lack of academic motivation.

Conclusions on Homeschool Student Accountability

If you disagree with anything that you’ve heard above, it’s definitely going to be the case that your family is not going to like my homeschool program. Why? Because I’m accountable for both myself and my organization. Why? Because time wasting is my mortal enemy, and it’s my life goal to utterly destroy it to the point that it’s annihilated out of existence. Why? Because I choose to enjoy my life, not be a victim of its mere circumstances.

If you don’t mind, I’d like you to pause your life for a moment and ask yourself the same questions. And, if you don’t like your answers, you might choose to change them. After all, it’s your choice, and your choice alone, to have an accountable and responsible homeschooling experience. Trust me, my decades of experience have produced a mountain of evidence showing that it’s true.

Alternatively, you, the parent, will face the absolute and severe consequence of a non-relaxing holiday. The choice is yours.

Scientific Literature on Homeschool Accountability

Please note that this article is not my opinion. It’s science grounded in fact. It’s also what we used to call plain common sense before approximately December 31, 2019. Not at all coincidentally, this is the accepted date on which the COVID-19 pandemic started. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how accountability can improve your homeschool experience, you might read the below research on which this article is scientifically based.

Educational Activities and the Role of the Parent in Homeschool Families with High School Students
Dan Carpenter & Courtney Gann
Educational Review, Vol 68, Issue 3, pages 322-339, 26 Oct 2015.

Educational Cooperatives and the Changing Nature of Home Education: Finding Balance Between Autonomy, Support, and Accountability
Kenneth V. Anthony, Mississippi State University.
Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, 2015, Vol. 9 Issue 18, pages 36-63.

Parental Role and Support for Online Learning of Students with Disabilities: A Paradigm Shift
Smith, Sean J.; Burdette, Paula J.; Cheatham, Gregory A.; Harvey, Susan P.
Journal of Special Education Leadership, v29 n2, p101-112, Sep 2016.