As a teacher, I thought homeschooling was for crazy, overcontrolling parents and for religious extremists. My only exposure to homeschooling had been during childhood through religious fundamentalists in the rural town where I grew up who took some of my friends out of school to concentrate more on Biblical teachings and to limit their exposure to scientific concepts, such as evolution, and to unwholesome influences (like me, I suppose, and my obsession with the movies Footloose and Dirty Dancing).
But then I stopped teaching and started a doctoral program. Soon after, I began to tutor a girl who was a former student in the private day school where I had taught. Her parents had taken her out of both public and private schools to home school because they felt that these educational options were not meeting her needs. She was exceptionally bright, delightful, and curious, and I began to question my prior assumptions a little bit.
As a researcher who is interested in both current sociological and cognitive trends in education, I’ve learned more and more about how the homeschooling movement has changed and will become a powerful influence on American schooling.
Here are new facts that I have learned and that surprised me:
1. The number of home schoolers is growing rapidly as more and more parents perceive homeschooling as a viable option for their families. In the 1970s, when I was born, there were probably only around 10,000 to 15,000 children who were home schooled. Today there are around two million. That’s still only 2% of the total student population, but it’s growing each year, according to Professor Joseph Murphy’s definitive study of home schooling in America.
2. While still the most common reason for home schooling, with about a third of families citing it as their main motivation, religious or moral rationales are becoming less and less common as families become increasingly dissatisfied with public schools.
3. New technology has revolutionized home schooling education. Home schoolers are not sitting around with dog-eared encyclopedias and old library books. Home schooled kids can increasingly customize their educations. Thousands of platforms and technological options abound for kids to stay connected and to participate in online classes.
4. More and more, homeschooled kids are not in “the home.” The options for them to take classes and participate in structured educational experiences at museums and other community resources are limitless. Meet-ups, support groups, specialist classes at public schools, and play groups are common in many communities, and homeschoolers don’t need to be isolated.
5. Home schoolers seem to do fine academically.
6. They appear to do well socially as well. According to Professor Murphy, they generally score well on standardized tests, are accepted and go to college in similar number than children in traditional schools, and suffer from no social deficits.
6. More research is needed on home schooling. While it’s probably the case that home schoolers do just as well as other students, scholars in the field advocate for more data collection about what home schoolers are doing and their educational outcomes. While the debate about charter schools includes a rich discussion of data, there is much to learn about homeschooling.
7. Parents are more and more likely to leave public schools when they become overcrowded, when more low-income students enroll, and when test scores decrease. Many education scholars write about charter schools and private schools as educational options, but forget to consider the increasing impact of home schooling.
8. There are many other reasons why families choose home schooling: concerns about the special education, frustration with mental health services, requirements for frequent travel in parents’ jobs, even nut allergies.
9. Thus, the “typical homeschooler” does not exist. They come from all social classes and from all religious backgrounds. In fact, Muslims are the fastest growing religious group who homeschool.
And here is my last thought, my biggest concern about homeschooling, as a teacher, parent, and researcher of education:
10. Public schools are at risk for a “death spiral“: as more and more children exit public schools because their parents perceive them unable to meet their needs, they are more likely to become even more “inadequate” with less funding and parental support. Funding, which is calculated on a per-student basis, disappears for these schools. Even more services and individualized attention for students could disappear from public schools, and even more parents may opt to take their kids out of these “failing” schools.
What happens to other kids — the ones “left behind” in struggling public schools — when the best kids and many involved parents leave for charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling?
Please let me know what else I should know to understand the homeschooling experience. What do educators and scholars not understand about why families choose homeschooling and about their experiences?