Skip to main content
Select Source:

Home Schooling


The term home schooling refers to the practice of parents educating a child at home, rather than in a conventional public or private school setting. These children would otherwise be enrolled in elementary or secondary school. The parent responsible for home schooling generally does not work and is rarely a trained teaching professional. Primary concerns for most home schoolers are strengthening family bonds and developing religious values. Technological innovations in the late twentieth century made home schooling an increasingly manageable proposition, as the availability of personal computers and the Internet permitted families to access computer-driven instruction, multimedia resources, and far-flung support networks. Families provide home schooling in many different ways, with tremendous variation in curricula, teaching methods, and technology, and in the amount of peer interaction that children experience. Some home-schooling parents bring their children together for group outings and field trips to provide enhanced socialization, while others have formed cooperative schools or charter schools to support their efforts.

The estimated number of home-schooled children is unreliable, due largely to uneven record-keeping. However, in a 1999 report, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that more than 850,000 children were home schooled in the United States, and scholars purport that the population is increasing at an annual rate of between 7 to 15 percent. Researchers suggest that home educators are generally married couples with one nonworking spouse and more than two children and that their median income is generally comparable to that of all families with school-age children. In approximately one-quarter of home-schooling families, at least one parent is a licensed teacher; however, this is rarely the parent who is specifically responsible for the home schooling. The small amount of existent data suggests that very few minority students are educated through home schooling, and that three-quarters of home-schooling families are primarily motivated by religious concerns.


From the colonial period through the mid-1800s, education was generally delivered through loosely-structured community schools. In the nineteenth century, in efforts that began in the northeast, reformers increasingly came to view public schools as a vital means of "Americanizing" the nation's growing immigrant population and as an opportunity to foster a common American culture. This effort gained momentum after Massachusetts became the first state to adopt a compulsory education law in 1852. The law required parents to send their children to the state's increasingly systematic public schools. In the early twentieth century, public schooling became an increasingly central component of American culture. Growing numbers of students attended public school and Progressive reformers promoted education as a means of social betterment. As formal public schooling expanded during the first half of the twentieth century, home education became virtually obsolete.

However, by the 1960s, some education critics had begun to voice concerns that public schools were preaching alien values, failing to adequately educate children, or were adopting unhealthy approaches to child development. As a result, a "deschooling movement" took root in the 1960s and 1970s. Critics of public schooling primarily voiced two distinct ideologies, both emphasizing child-centered learning. Liberal critics of public schooling believed that schools did not adequately respect children as individuals, while conservative critics argued that public schools undermined traditional values.

Starting in the early 1980s, increasing numbers of parents chose to educate their children at home as a growing number of states relaxed their compulsory attendance laws to permit home schooling. Previously, parents who home schooled their children were in violation of compulsory attendance and truancy laws, and were therefore subject to legal action. While Nevada (1956) and Utah (1957) were the only states with home-schooling legislation prior to 1982, thirty-four states passed enabling legislation between 1982 and 1993. By 1998, under the pressure of an increasingly active home-schooling movement, all fifty states had passed home-school laws specifying attendance, subject, teacher, testing, and record-keeping requirements for home educators.

In 2002 state laws regulating home schooling vary widely regarding such matters as teacher licensure, testing, compulsory curriculum, and required paperwork. Some states impose exacting regulations on home schooling, while others legislate few requirements. Nine states place no restrictions on parents' rights to home school, providing the legal option for any parent who is interested. Ten other states simply require parents to notify the state when a child is being home schooled. On the other hand, twenty states demand that parents provide test scores or professional assessment to monitor the student's progress. Finally, eleven states impose stringent requirements that mandate that parents provide the state with test scores or professional assessment to measure the student's achievement, in addition to other requirements such as regular home visits or professional training.

Legal Background

American courts have asserted that parents possess significant authority to direct the education of their children. Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) was the first case to protect parental educational authority against the incursion of state legislation, establishing a legal precedent when the U.S. Supreme Court found that states may not prohibit foreign language education if schools offer it and parents desire it. Parents' fundamental right "to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control" was etched more firmly in Pierce v. Society of Seven Sisters (1925). The Pierce decision stated that parents should be allowed to choose the type of school their children attend, public or private, as Oregon law could not require that parents send their children to public schools. In a 1972 ruling crucial to the home-schooling cause, the Supreme Court held in Wisconsin v. Yoder that parents had the right to supersede compulsory education laws if the laws unduly impeded religious freedom. The Court ruled that it was permissible for Amish parents to remove their children from school at age twelve to maintain their way of life and exercise their religious freedom.

Although the courts have protected the rights of parents, they have also defended the right of states to require and extensively regulate educational instruction. Courts have ruled that if a state exempts home schoolers from compulsory attendance laws it is entitled to regulate their activities. States have the right to impose "reasonable" standards on home schoolers. These may include regulations as invasive as administering achievement tests to monitor students' progress (Murphy v. State of Arkansas, 1988). While most state laws include such requirements, enforcement is often sporadic due to the decentralized nature of home schooling and the lack of established overseeing bodies.

Over the course of time, several states have refused to allow home instruction on the grounds that it would stunt the social development of children and would prevent them from living normal, productive lives. The courts have determined that states are within their rights to make such determinations (Knox v. O'Brien, 1950). States may mandate that children must attend school because of the interaction it provides with their peers and the exposure it provides to different types of people (State v. Edging-ton, 1983).

Legal Trends

In the late 1990s, the parents of home-schooled children began suing schools districts that denied requests for supplemental services, classes, extracurricular activities, and additional services such as lab science instruction that cannot be feasibly provided at home. However, the courts have not mandated that districts provide such additional services. In Swanson v. Guthrie Independent School District (1998), a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a school board may deny home-schooled children the right to attend public school part-time. Previously, the courts had held in Bradstreet v. Sobol (1996) that school districts could require students to be enrolled in public schools in order to be eligible to participate in interscholastic sports.


Although no randomized field trials have been conducted, some preliminary research suggests that children who are home schooled may outperform their counterparts in public or private schools. However, given the variety of home-school settings and the uneven nature of preliminary research, it is not yet possible to reach any meaningful conclusions regarding the effectiveness of home schooling. Families who practice home schooling are often different in significant ways than families who do not. These differences, including higher levels of education, larger family size, and divergent child-rearing practices, make comparisons problematic. Moreover, it is advocates of home schooling who conduct of the research on the subject; this raises questions as to the validity and reliability of findings. The largest and most comprehensive as of 2001, conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute, examined over five thousand home-schooled students' scores on national standardized achievement tests for the 1994 through 1995 school year, and found that children who were home schooled outperformed their peers on standardized assessments.

Future Implications

In the fall of 2000, Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, became the first postsecondary institution intended primarily to serve students who had been schooled at home. Of the college's first class of ninety students, eighty had been home schooled. Patrick Henry College's curriculum has a moral focus comparable to many home schoolers' early education and values, and emphasizes traditional Christian values. The college is designed to address the typical challenges that many home schoolers face, as these students do not possess conventional educational records such as transcripts and may not be comfortable with their altered learning environment.

Home schooling poses a radical challenge to the centuries-long project of American public education. It raises important questions about how to balance the rights of family and community, of individual and state. There are no simple answers to these complex legal and ethical questions, and it is unclear the extent to which home schooling will transform educational practice in years to come.

See also: Alternative Schooling; Elementary Education, subentry on Current Trends; School Reform; Secondary Education, subentry on CuRrent Trends.


Alexander, Kern, and Alexander, David M. 2001. American Public School Law. Stamford, CT: Wadsworth Group.

Briggs, Donald, and Porter, Gerald. 1994. "Parental Choice in the USA." In Parental Choice and Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, ed. J. Mark Halstead. Philadelphia: Kogan Page.

Greene, Jay P. 1998. "Civic Values in Public and Private Schools." In Learning from School Choice, ed. Paul E. Peterson and Bryan C. Hassel. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Kilborn, Peter T. 2000. "Learning at Home, Students Take the Lead." New York Times May 24.

Klicka, Christopher J. 1998. The Right to Home School. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.

Ray, Brian. 1997. Strengths of Their Own: Home Schoolers Across America: Academic Achievement, Family Characteristics, and Longitudinal Traits. Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute.

Shepherd, Michael S. 1990. "Home Schooling: A Legal View." In Schooling at Home, ed. Anne Pederson and Peggy O'Mara. Santa Fe, NM: John Muir.

Stevens, Mitchell L. 2001. Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Home-schooling Movement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sugarman, Stephen D., and Kemerer, Frank R. 1999. School Choice and Social Controversy: Politics, Policy, and Law. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Zirkel, Perry A. 1997. "Home/School Cooperation?" Phi Delta Kappan 78 (9):727729.

internet resources

Home School Legal Defense Association. 2001. "The Home School Court Report." <>.

National Home Education Research Institute. 2000. "Facts on Home Schooling by the NHERI." <>.

Rudner, Lawrence M. 1999. "Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998." <>.

Frederick M. Hess

Joleen R. Okun

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Home Schooling." Encyclopedia of Education. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Home Schooling." Encyclopedia of Education. . (December 11, 2017).

"Home Schooling." Encyclopedia of Education. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from

Home Schooling

Home schooling


Home schooling is the process of educating school-aged children at home rather than at a school. As of the early 2000s, it is perhaps one of the fastest growing trends in education in the United States. Since 1993, the practice has been legal in all 50 states. About 1.1 million students were being home-schooled in the spring of 2003, according to the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), which was conducted by the United States Department of Education. In addition, the percentage of the school-age population that was being home-schooled increased from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 2.2 percent in 2003. Parents choose to home-school their children for a variety of reasons, though certain factors appear to be more prevalent than others. Nearly two-thirds of the parents of home-schooled students reported that their primary reason for home schooling was either concern regarding the environment of schools or a wish to provide moral or religious instruction.


Societies have practiced home schooling for centuries. In North America, home schooling was widespread until the 1870s, when compulsory school attendance laws and the development of professional educators came together to institutionalize education in the form recognized in the early 2000s as the school. Some preeminent historical figures who were home-schooled include several presidents, such as George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Other home-schooling successes in American history include Thomas Edison, General Robert E. Lee, Booker T. Washington, and Mark Twain.

Although home schooling was practiced in a limited way after the 1870s, it was not until the 1960s that this practice claimed attention from a large number of parents and educators. The writings of Raymond Moore, a former U.S. Department of Education official, and John Holt, author of several books on education, gave credence and national presence to a growing home school movement. Moore began researching the institutionalization of children's education and concluded that a child's first foray into formal education should not begin until sometime between eight and 12 years of age. Holt advocated the decentralization of schools and a greater degree of parental involvement. He believed that the most civilized way to educate a child was through home schooling.

Prior to 1993, when home schooling became legal in all states, many parents who taught their children at home often faced arrest and jail time, amidst accusations of neglect and abuse. Most of that changed over the following decade. Even so, attitudes about home schooling vary widely from state to state, and there is a patchwork of regulation across the country. Some states may require a state-approved curriculum, conduct home visits periodically, and require that home-schooling parents be certified teachers. Others may not require a parent to have any contact with the state and have no minimum educational standards for the home-schooling parent.

Despite greater acceptance, home schooling has its critics, such as the National Education Association (NEA). This organization sees the safety of children and the economics of public schools as potential home school problems. They cite a few well-publicized incidences of abuse and state a fear that in states where there is no accountability of the home-schooling parents to the government, some children may be placed at higher risk for abuse, neglect, and other problems. The NEA is also concerned that home schooling will eventually lead to a diversion of funding from the public schools.

Characteristics of home schoolers

In the 1960s and 1970s, most home-schooling parents were members of the counter-cultural left. By the 1980s, however, most home-schooling parents were part of what is often called the Christian Right. In the early 2000s, approximately 75 percent of American home schoolers are practicing Christians. However, not all home-schooling parents are Christians. The rise in home schooling is reaching a much broader range of families. For example, the fastest growing number of practicing home schoolers is among Muslim Americans. Some surveys show that the average home-schooling family has an above average income. Others indicate that the household income of home schoolers is very similar to that of non-home-schooling families. Most home-schooling families have above-average levels of education. One important factor is that home-schooling families are 97-percent two-parent families, and most home-schooling mothers do not work outside the home. The average size of a home-schooling family is three children or more.

Reasons parents choose homeschooling

The decision to home-school is not based solely on conservative religious or political views. Although parents homeschool for a variety of reasons, the primary reason is dissatisfaction with public education. Other reasons stated by home-schooling parents include the following:

  • the opportunity to impart a certain set of beliefs and morals
  • higher academic performance through one-on-one instruction
  • the ability to develop stronger parent-child relationships
  • the lack of discipline in public schools
  • the opportunity to escape negative peer pressure through more controlled interactions with a student's peers
  • an inability to pay private school tuition
  • a physically safer environment in which to learn

Home schooling involves a tremendous commitment from the parents. At least one parent must be willing to work closely with the child, develop lesson plans, keep current with government requirements, and sometimes negotiate issues with the local school district. The most common home-schooling arrangement is for the mother to teach while the father works outside the home. There are numerous educational materials available that are geared for home-schooled children. These include correspondence courses, full curricula, and single topic books in areas such as math or phonics. There are both religious and non-religious publishers of these materials. Some parents do not use these materials and develop individualized lessons based on their children's unique learning needs.

Performance of home-schooled students

One of the questions many people have is how home-schooled children perform academically. According to the U.S. Department of Education, virtually all of the data available illustrate that home-schooled students perform at an above average level on a variety of tests, including the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Interestingly, one study found that students whose parents are certified teachers performed no better than other students and that neither parental income nor parents' educational background had a significant impact on student performance. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, home-schooled students have gained admission and scholarships to such prestigious universities as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT. In 2000, Patrick Henry College opened, a university established especially for home-schooled children.

Common problems

One disadvantage to home schooling is the loss of an income in a family, since many families make the decision to live on a single income so that one parent can devote time to educating the children. Some home-schooling families find the practice of home-schooling confining. It takes a great deal of dedication and preparation for instruction and schoolwork. One of the most often voiced concerns is that children who are home schooled are not properly socialized. However, there are numerous opportunities for home-schooled students to interact with others, including libraries, scouting, 4-H, sports teams, and a variety of church activities. In addition, many local communities have formed home-schooling associations in which children have many outlets for interacting with their peers.

Parental concerns

Parents interested in teaching their children at home should thoroughly research what is involved before making the decision to do so. They need to be informed regarding the laws in their state and local school district, which may affect their decision.



Holt, John, Patrick Farenga, and Pat Farenga. Teach Your Own. Boulder, CO: Perseus Publishing, 2003.

Pride, Mary. Mary Pride's Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling. Princeton, NJ: Harvest House Publishers, 2004.


Butler, Shery. "The 'H' Word: Home Schooling." Gifted Child Today Magazine. (September 2000.)

Klicka, Christopher J. "The Facts Are In: Homeschoolers Excel." Practical Homeschooling (January/February 2004): 1214.

Postlewaite, Charlotte C. "The Home School Debate: States are Responding to the Increasing Number of Parents Who are Home Schooling Their Children." State Government News (February 2004): 1820.


Home School Legal Defense Association. PO Box 3000, Purcellville, VA 201349000. Web site: <>.

National Home Education Research Institute. PO Box 13939, Salem, OR 97309. Web site: <>.


"1.1 Million Homeschooled Students in the United States in 2003." National Center for Education Statistics, July 2004. <> (accessed December 11, 2004).

Deanna M. Swartout-Corbeil, RN

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Home Schooling." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Home Schooling." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . (December 11, 2017).

"Home Schooling." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from

Home Schooling


HOME SCHOOLING, the practice of educating one's own children, saw dramatic growth over the last two decades of the twentieth century. Home schoolers numbered about 15,000 in the 1970s; by 1999 850,000 children were learning at home. Long the normative practice on the American frontier, parent-directed education was almost entirely eclipsed with the accomplishment of universal compulsory schooling in the early twentieth century. But in the wake of the "anti-Establishment" cultural ferment of the 1960s and 1970s, home schooling reemerged, championed by advocates across a wide ideological spectrum.

The contemporary home school movement has a dual history. One branch began in the left-liberal alternative school movement of the 1960s, a cause that sought to democratize teacher-student relationships and give students greater discretion in directing their own educations. John Holt, long an advocate of alternative schooling, began to promote home education (which he called "unschooling") in the 1970s. Before his death in 1985, Holt nurtured a national grassroots network of home school converts. Another branch grew out of the conservative Protestant day school movement, specifically through the work of Raymond and Dorothy Moore, whose several books and national speaking tours advocating home education reached a ready audience of religious families already skeptical of public schools.

One of the first tasks of the fledgling movement was to secure the legality of the practice. Spurred by a small but well-organized home school lobby, judicial and legislative activity throughout the 1980s rendered home education legal throughout the United States by the end of the decade. The process of legalization was facilitated by the distinctive jurisdictional structure of American education. Because authority over schooling is largely in the hands of state and local governments in the United States, activists were able to wage localized battles and win victories in piecemeal fashion.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, home education was not only legal but also broadly accepted in the United States. Home schooling was made easier by favorable laws, an elaborate network of support and advocacy groups at the local and national levels, and a vital sector of small businesses that supplied curriculum materials of all kinds to a growing home school market.

While the home school movement is a nominally international one, with at least a few adherents in most nations of the industrialized world, it is a distinctively American invention. The basic ideas that animate home education—that each learner is unique, that government schools are not doing their job well, and that educational professionals are unnecessary for sound instruction—are in keeping with the individualism and skepticism of formal authority that have characterized the national culture throughout its history.


Bielick, Stacey, Kathryn Chandler, and Stephen Broughman. Homeschooling in the United States: 1999 (NCES 2001-033). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, 2001. The first nationally representative survey of the U.S. home school population.

Moore, Raymond, and Dorothy Moore. Home Grown Kids. Waco, Tex: Word Books, 1981. A popular defense of home education.

Stevens, Mitchell L. Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. A sociological account of the rise of home education in the United States.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Home Schooling." Dictionary of American History. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Home Schooling." Dictionary of American History. . (December 11, 2017).

"Home Schooling." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from

home schooling

home schooling, the practice of teaching children in the home as an alternative to attending public or private elementary or high school. In most cases, one or both of the children's parents serve as the teachers. Like the charter school movement, home schooling usually arises from religious or other disenchantment with conventional public schools. Home schooling may also include full-time education at hiome by hired tutors.

Although home schooling had been practiced for generations in the United States, it was largely illegal during most of the 20th cent., but since the 1970s it has become one of the most rapidly growing educational trends in the nation. The contemporary movement initially arose mainly among Protestant conservatives who wished to provide their children with religious and moral instruction forbidden in public settings. By the mid-1980s there were roughly 50,000 home-schooled children in the United States, and by 2000 an estimated 1.5 million were being educated at home. The movement has largely been an American phenomenon. In Europe, home schooling is usually illegal or tightly restricted. The largest European home education community is in Great Britain, where by 2000 approximately 10,000 children were being home-schooled. At the beginning of the 21st cent. a majority of the parents engaged in home schooling continued to be motivated by religious beliefs. The home school movement has, however, always had other components, and it encompasses a broad cross-section of Americans, both religious (in a wide variety of faiths) and secular.

During the late 20th cent. the fastest-growing approach to home schooling was generally called "unschooling." In this system, which arose largely from educator John Holt's books How Children Fail (1964) and How Children Learn (1967), teaching responds to an individual child's talents and interests rather than adhering to a conventional curriculum. Whatever their manner of practice, proponents of home schooling cite figures showing that children who learn at home generally score higher on standardized tests than their traditionally schooled contemporaries. Some critics nonetheless question the real quality of such education, and also argue that it isolates children, depriving them of necessary social interactions and inhibiting collaborative and cooperative skills.

In the United States, home schooling has been legal in all 50 states since 1993, with regulatory laws and performance-tracking procedures differing widely from state to state. Some home school opponents feel that many state laws are too lenient, permitting teaching by parents who are inept or inattentive. The Home School Legal Defense Association, founded in 1983, provides information to parents and others on home schooling and its regulations; it also actively opposes the creation of nationalized standards for home schooling. Most states also have a number of local home schooling organizations. Publishers, responding what is now a mainstream movement, are producing a variety of materials geared toward home schoolers, and most colleges and universities now have developed criteria whereby they can admit the home-schooled.

See study by M. L. Stevens (2001).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"home schooling." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

"home schooling." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 11, 2017).

"home schooling." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from