views updated Jun 27 2018


Homeschooling is a form of education for children and youth that is based mainly in the home and is clearly directed by their parents. Parents retain the main responsibility for and authority over their children's education and training, rather than sending them away to classroom institutions where their education would be controlled and conducted largely by nonfamily state or private teachers.

Homeschool students typically study and learn most of their subjects (e.g., reading, writing, mathematics, science, history, geography, art, music) in their homes using a variety of curriculum materials, such as classic literature, textbooks, periodicals, newspapers, computer software, Internet resources, and common household materials (e.g., kitchen equipment; cooking supplies; and tools for carpentry, gardening, and farming). Research has consistently shown that children who are home educated score fifteen to thirty percentile points higher on standardized academic achievement tests than do public-school students (Ray 2000b; Rudner 1999). They also commonly participate in educational cooperatives with a few other families and in a wide variety of community activities, such as Boy and Girl Scouting organizations, 4-H, political associations, as well as activities associated with churches, synagogues, and temples. A growing body of research shows that homeschool children do well socially, emotionally, and psychologically (Medlin 2000).

Although home-based and parent-led education was the norm throughout many centuries of history in most nations, it waned to near extinction in most countries by the mid-nineteenth century. Homeschooling has experienced a remarkable renewal, however, in several Western nations such as Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and the United States. It is also beginning to increase in such other nations as Japan, South Africa, Russia, and Germany (Ray 1997). It was estimated, for example, that about 1.8 million primary and secondary students were homeschooled in the United States and 78,000 in Canada during the spring of 2002 (Ray 2002).

Many scholars and social commentators think that homeschooling is one of the most notable familial, social, and educational phenomena of the late twentieth century. For example, Patricia M. Lines wrote in The Public Interest (2000, pp. 74, 85):

The rise of homeschooling is one of the most significant social trends of the past half century. . . . It is too early to tell whether homeschooling will establish itself as a major alternative to the modern school. But some things are clear: Home-schooling is becoming more common and more widely accepted. American families from diverse backgrounds resort to home-schooling because they are dissatisfied with the philosophy, the content, or the quality of American schools. The great majority of homeschooling families are not separatists and isolationists but active members of civil society. They seek to improve this nation, but they want to raise and educate their children in the meantime. Ultimately, they may help to inspire a great renewal of American education, or at least preserve values and ideas that are out of fashion within the education establishment.

Although Lines specifically mentioned home-schooling in the United States, research and popular writings make it apparent that her observations apply internationally to the parents, children, and youth involved in homeschooling.

Family Connectedness and Relationships

Homeschooling clearly puts fathers and mothers in a position of being connected to, responsible for, and having authority over their children. This is because homeschooling returns a critical social function—the education of children—to the family. A long and gradual history of social events and accepted conventions over the past 150 years, however, placed specially trained persons into the role of teachers of children. These events also drew many crucial educational functions out of the home environment, away from parents and into institutions, most state-controlled but some private. Allan C. Carlson, historian and organizer of the international World Congress of Families held in Switzerland, explains much of this in From Cottage to Work Station (1993) as he describes ". . . the steady dismantling of the home-centered economy . . ." (p. 17). Institutional schooling places institutionally trained teachers in authority over children and puts these teachers in loco parentis (i.e., in place of the parents). Children and youth in schools, therefore, ascribe to these teachers great prestige and influence in their own lives regarding matters of knowledge, values, beliefs, and worldview (Good and Brophy 1987; Blizek 2000; Brophy 1996).

Whereas historically children once accepted their parents as the primary authorities in their lives, increased institutional schooling shifted the locus of authority and control to state and private schools and personnel. Modern home-based and parent-led education reverses this trend because parents continue the education of their children under their own direction (or retrieve them from institutional schools where they had sent them). The parents, therefore, are able to select learning activities, curriculum materials, and community and social activities that are consistent with their own family's values and beliefs and what they think is best for the upbringing of their children. Research shows that institutional school children are more peer-dependent than are homeschooled children; that is, institutional school children exhibit a ". . . significantly greater focus on peers and nonfamily individuals than do the home educated" (Delahooke 1986, p. xiv). Research also indicates ". . . that there are stabilizing forces within home school family systems which allow most of these families to accommodate higher levels of both adaptability and cohesion than the population of families whose children are more conventionally schooled" (Allie-Carson 1990, p. 17).

Many professionals and laypersons today assume, without research evidence, that for normal social and psychological development, children need day-long interaction with same-age peers for five to six days per week. Modern homeschoolers, however, are providing evidence to the contrary and supporting centuries of social history. Research is revealing that due to the increased time together and sharing of experiences between parents and their home-educated children, their social capital (i.e., social relations such as trust and love) is increasing (Coleman and Hoffer 1987; Ray 1990). Their daily increased time, adult-child interaction, and opportunities to reach common goals allow them to establish stronger familial bonds, more trust, and enhanced communication into and through the years of young adulthood than would be possible if the children and youth spent less time with their parents and more with their peers (Allie-Carson 1990; Delahooke 1986; Wartes 1992).

In a similar manner, home-educated children spend more time with their siblings and therefore have more opportunity to develop close ties with them. Rather than focusing large amounts of attention on their nonfamily same-age peers, home-schoolers are able to learn with their brothers and sisters, teach and care for their younger siblings, model after their older siblings, and share in daily real-life experiences with one another. There is evidence that this is leading to stronger life-long bonds among siblings than is likely among siblings who spend about forty hours per week with non-sibling same-age peers (Ray 2002).

Many homeschool families are also integrating multiple generations into the education of the children. Education based at home and in the family increases the likelihood that grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other older community members will participate in the education of the children. The more organic and flexible time schedule and the inviting nature of the home environment are welcoming to extended family members to participate in the educational enterprise. The children and youth then learn from a wider variety of ages of family and local community members. Simultaneously the grandparents and others have an important role to play in the family and society during their senior years of life (Lowe and Thomas 2002; Sheffer 1995).

Finally, research indicates that the overall effect of homeschooling on children and youth is to prepare them for healthy and virtuous relationships within and outside of their families. The psychologist Richard G. Medlin stated in "Homeschooling and the Question of Socialization" (2000), a review of research to date, that several conclusions could be made about homeschooling and socialization, although many unanswered questions remain. The conclusions were, first, that homeschool children are taking part in the daily routines of their communities. Second, they are not socially isolated and, in fact, associate with—and feel close to—many kinds of people. Third, home-school parents are concerned about their children's long-term social development and actively encourage their children to participate in social opportunities outside the family. Fourth, home-school children acquire the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes that they need for successful living. Fifth, they have healthy self-esteem and are likely to display fewer behavior problems than do those in institutional schools. Sixth, they may have better leadership skills and be more socially mature than others. Finally, they appear to be functioning effectively as members of adult society.

Effects on Marriage

Homeschooling affects marriage in several ways. First, homeschooling provides an opportunity for husband and wife to have much greater authority over the historically most intimate and significant gift and asset in their lives, their children. Modern society, especially in the more developed nations, puts great emphasis on specialization of labor roles. This specialization has removed many roles from the husband/wife unity and the sphere of the family. Husbands/fathers daily go off to the workplace and perhaps a majority of wives/mothers do the same, while their children go off to be taught by specialists over whom the man and woman generally have minimal influence. The married couple has little control over the role models their children will have, the information that they will be taught, and the values and beliefs with which they will be indoctrinated for twelve years, two hundred days per year. Communicating in general, formulating personal philosophical and religious beliefs, and working together to fashion the education of their offspring gives new life to one of the historically most significant functions of marriage—procreation and the nurturing and upbringing of children. In turn, this strengthens the marriage by providing a common goal that the couple has increased potential to achieve. They are empowered as a marriage unity. The shared task of the education of their children brings them together as a duo that is working toward a noble end (Carlson 1995; McDowell 1998).

Second, homeschooling one's children gives adults—parents—something significant to do. This is especially important because many adults in industrialized and technological societies have little they do in life that they consider important in terms of communal, national, or international significance (Carlson 1993, 1995; McElroy 2002; Sheffer 1995). That every society thinks that schooling is a crucial issue and the colloquialism "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" together under-score the consequential nature of education. Doing something important together increases the self-confidence and sense of personal value of these adults and therefore enhances the marriage bond.

Third, the homeschooling of children keeps with or returns to the couple a time- and energy-consuming task. Rather than depending on others to teach their children, they must cooperate and develop an effective plan for doing it themselves. Homeschooling may yield long-term benefits (e.g., fewer learning difficulties, fewer social problems with peer pressure) that will save time and energy, but in the short term it is hard work. It is especially hard work for the one parent, usually the mother, who does most of the daily formal teaching. If not maturely approached, this may present stress, imbalance, or tension that will lead to degeneration of the marriage relationship. On the other hand, the husband and wife may use it as an opportunity to work well together and strengthen the marriage bond and reap the long-term benefits of an academically successful and emotionally and socially well-adjusted adolescent (Allie-Carson 1990; Mc-Dowell 1998; Page 1997).

Fourth, home-based education generally requires either the husband or the wife to be at home most of the time. Therefore, only one will probably work outside the home, which may reduce the family's income potential. In turn, this may reduce their standard of living by some physical measures. Many homeschool couples argue, however, that the intangible benefits of improved marriage unity, family cohesiveness, and children's academic and social successes actually increase their holistically viewed standard of living (Lyster-Mensh 2000; McElroy 2002; Ray 2002; Lyman 2001).

Edification of the Natural Family

Carlson directly addresses homeschooling in an essay subtitled "Family Lessons from the New Agrarians" (2001). He explains that although the Agrarians—those writers and thinkers who, grappling with modernity, moved ideas toward decentralization during the twentieth century— understood that the weakness of families largely derived from surrendering key family functions, none of them saw the possibility of restoring home-based education as a first step toward family reconstruction. Several scholars and social, religious, and political leaders, internationally, present parent-led education and upbringing as a key function of the natural family to be protected, if not encouraged, by society (Pruzan 1998; World Congress of Families 2001). Many began during the end of the twentieth century to see home-based education as a robust way to rebuild the natural family. Carlson (1995, pp. 7, 8) argued:

The education of children must be home-centered, where parents impart their visions, values, virtues, and skills to the new generation. These statements reinforce the historical significance of home schooling, rising throughout the globe . . . , as the necessary and powerful step in family reconstruction. Households, in turn, adhere to kin groups—extended or "stem" families—that give focus to ambition and talent, and grant protection to individuals from the grand ambitions of ideologues. These kin groups, in turn, form communities: villages, towns, or neighborhoods. . . . This sense of close community also offers the only effective protection of individuals from pathologies within households, . . . without threatening the normative pattern of family living.

State Versus Family

The majority of children worldwide, the future citizens and leaders of the nations, are taught, trained, and indoctrinated in state-controlled schools (World Bank Group 2002). The trend over the past 150 years has been for ever-increasing state education of children. In the United States about 88 percent of all citizens are educated in public schools for their primary and secondary school years. Homeschooling is the antithesis to this arrangement. Home-based education moves the locus of control over academic education, skill training, and indoctrination to the parents and the family system, both nuclear and extended.

Many people who consider themselves advocates of children's rights and of the protection of children from the limitations or abuses of their parents argue that children should regularly be under the supervision of and in contact with agents of the state or otherwise qualified professionals. For example, in some nations, professionals (e.g., teachers, school counselors, school nurses) are required to report to the government any suspected physical or sexual abuse of children. Portions of the state school community and the public think of this reporting capability as an integral and increasingly important function of state-run schools (Fantuzzo et al. 1997; Berkan and Kadushin 1993; Klicka 1995; National Education Association 2000; Skillen 1998). As another example, some scholars argue that state institutional schools provide a forum that frees children from the regressive, selfish, or antipublic influences of their parents and gives the population at large a way to evolve into a more benevolent or broad-minded societal state (Apple 2000). In other words, it is argued that one of the chief functions of state schools is to protect children from the behaviors, beliefs, and world-views of their parents (Richman 1994).

Most homeschool parents, on the other hand, think it is better for children to remain under their guidance and supervision and be protected from the state (Klicka 1995; Mayberry et al. 1995). The family, they explain, is the natural and nurturing buffer between the child himself and the state and the wider world. They think that they, rather than the state, should be training their offspring, the future citizens and leaders of the nation. These parents would agree with the political scientist James W. Skillen (1998, p. 3; see also Carlson 1993) that free societies should have a high view of the relationship between parents and their children as opposed to the state's intervention in families' and children's lives (Adams, Stein, and Wheeler 1989; Arons 1983; Klicka 1995; Mayberry et al. 1995). He writes that the public should not misidentify the family as a totalitarian place in which parents may do whatever they want to their children. At the same time, however, it is ". . . true that every public-legal attempt to 'liberate' minor children from parents makes the minors subject to whatever legal, medical or other authority is then authorized to direct or influence their actions."

Homeschool parents and advocates argue that parent-led, family-based education retains parental authority and primary influence over a child's education, protects the child from the state, and increases the familial bond between children and their parents, siblings, and kin groups. In contrast, when the state takes power and authority over education for itself and away from parents in the form of state-run schools, children are not only not liberated from all external authorities but one of the most important nongovernmental institutions of society—the family—is weakened by the ample power of the state (Adams, Stein, and Wheeler 1989; Klicka 1995; Apple 2000). Home-based education is consistent with the concept of the natural and strong family with human beings identified, as Skillen explained, ". . . as persons-in-community and the family as the foremost community for children. . ." (p. 5). Home-school parents are reclaiming for the family at large in society, and for their families in particular, the powerful and influential political, social, philosophical, and generational role they once had by reclaiming the education of children (Farris and Woodruff 2000; Lines 1994; Ray 2000a).

Advocates of institutional schooling, state-controlled in particular, continue to promote these schools as the key opportunity of advancement for disadvantaged persons and families (i.e., lower class, poor, minorities). In fact, the largest teachers' union in America, the National Education Association (2001), believes that state-controlled schooling is the cornerstone of social, economic, and political structure, and homeschooling cannot provide students with a comprehensive education experience. Now, however, an increasing number of scholars (Carlson 1995; Loberfeld 2001; Ray 2000a) and parents (Aizenman 2000; National Black Home Educators Resource Association 2001) are considering the proposition that keeping education under the direct authority and control of parents may better ensure an offering of intellectual, social, political, and spiritual freedom to individual children and youth—regardless of class, minority status, or advantage—who will eventually be the political citizens of any nation. For example, although state (public) schools had been desegregated in the United States since 1954, black (African American) students are still far below their white peers in terms of academic achievement in public (state) schools a half-century later. During the early 2000s, a new wave of parents, internationally (Large 2000), are expecting homeschooling to raise their children's academic achievement, improve their social success, increase their thinking skills, and enhance their potential for personal and national freedom.

See also:Academic Achievement; Family Literacy; School


adams, b.; stein, j.; and wheeler, h. (1989). who owns the children? compulsory education and the dilemma of ultimate authority. austin, tx: truth forum.

allie-carson, j. (1990). "structure and interaction patterns of home school families." home school researcher 6(3):11–18.

apple, m. w. (2000). "the cultural politics of home schooling." peabody journal of education 75(1–2):256–271.

arons, s. (1983). compelling belief: the culture of american schooling. new york: mcgraw-hill book co.

berkan, w. a., and kadushin, a. (1993). child abuse andneglect prevention: a resource and planning guide. eric reproduction service no. ed368990.

blizek, w. l. (2000). "ethics and the educational community." studies in philosophy and education 19(3):241–51.

brophy, j. (1996). enhancing students' socialization.eric reproduction service no. ed395713.

carlson, a. c. (1993). from cottage to work station: thefamily's search for social harmony in the industrial age. san francisco: ignatius press.

carlson, a. (1995). "preserving the family for the newmillennium: a policy agenda." the family in america 9(3):1–8.

carlson, a. (2001). "the task for conservatism: familylessons from the new agrarians." the family in america 15(3):1–6.

coleman, j. s., and hoffer, t. (1987). public and privatehigh schools: the impact of communities. new york: basic books.

delahooke, m. m. (1986). "home educated children'ssocial/emotional adjustment and academic achievement: a comparative study." ph.d. dissertation. los angeles: california school of professional psychology. (see also dissertation abstracts international 47(2):475a.)

fantuzzo, j. w.; stevenson, h. c.; weiss, a. d.; hampton,v. r.; and noone, m. j. (1997). "a partnership-directed school-based intervention for child physical abuse and neglect: beyond mandatory reporting." school psychology review 26(2):298–313.

farris, m. p., and woodruff, s. a. (2000). "the future ofhome schooling." peabody journal of education 75(1-2):233–55.

good, t. l., and brophy, j. e. (1987). looking in classrooms, 4th edition. new york: harper and row.

klicka, c. j. (1995). the right to home school: a guide to the law on parents' rights in education. durham, nc: carolina academic press.

large, t. (2000). "stay-at-home kids shunning the system."the daily yomiuri, september 2, p. 7, tokyo, japan.

lines, p. m. (1994). "homeschooling: private choices and public obligations." home school researcher 10(3):9–26.

lines, p. m. (2000). "homeschooling comes of age." thepublic interest 140:74–85.

loberfeld, b. (2001). "freedom of education: a civil liberty." ideas on liberty 51(8):26–32.

lowe, j., and thomas, a. (2002). educating your child athome. london: continuum.

lyman, i. (2001). "motherhood gets a face-lift." the newamerican 17(9).

mayberry, m.; knowles, j. g.; ray, b. d.; and marlow, s.(1995). home schooling: parents as educators. newbury park, ca: corwin press.

mcdowell, o. s. a. (1998). home sweet school: the perceived impact of home schooling on the family in general and the mother-teacher in particular. doctoral dissertation, peabody college of vanderbilt university, nashville, tn.

mcelroy, w. (2002). "can a feminist homeschool herchildren?" ideas on liberty 52(2):8–11.

medlin, r. g. (2000). "homeschooling and the question of socialization." peabody journal of education 75 (1-2):107–23.

page, r. e. (1997). families growing together: a study of the effects of home schooling on the development of the family. master's thesis, maryvale institute, birmingham, united kingdom.

pruzan, a. (1998). toward tradition on educationalvouchers/school choice. mercer island, wa: toward tradition.

ray, b. d. (1990). "social capital, value consistency, and the achievement outcomes of home education." a paper presented at the annual meeting of the american educational research association, april 16–20, boston, ma. (available from the national home education research institute, salem, oregon.)

ray, b. d. (2000a). "home schooling for individuals' gain and society's common good." peabody journal of education 75(1-2):272–93.

ray, b. d. (2000b). "home schooling: the ameliorator ofnegative influences on learning?" peabody journal of education 75(1-2):71–106.

ray, b. d. (2002). worldwide guide to homeschooling.nashville, tn: broadman and holman.

richman, s. (1994). separating school and state: how toliberate america's families. fairfax, va: the future of freedom foundation.

sheffer, s. (1995). a sense of self: listening to home-schooled adolescent girls. portsmouth, nh: boynton/cook publishers, heinemann.

skillen, j. w. (1998). "justice and civil society." the civilsociety project 98(2):1–6.

wartes, j. (1992). effects of homeschooling upon theeducation of the parents: comments from the field. woodinville, wa: washington homeschool research project.

other resources

aizenman, n. c. (2000). "blacks in prince george's joinhome-schooling trend." the washington post, october 19, a01. available from

lyster-mensh, l. (2000). "is homeschooling sexist?" home education magazine. available from

"national black home educators resource association offers services and information on." (2001). "who we are." in the national black home educators resource association web site. baker, louisiana, usa. available from

national education association. (2000). nea 2000-2001 resolutions [c-10]: child abuse, neglect, and exploitation. available from

national education association. (2001). nea 2000-2001resolutions. washington, dc: author. available from

ray, b. d. (1999). home schooling on the threshold: asurvey of research at the dawn of the new millennium. salem, oregon, usa. available from

rudner, l. m. (1999). "scholastic achievement anddemographic characteristics of home school students in 1998." educational policy analysis archives 7(8). available from

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world congress of families. (2001). rockford, illinois.available from

brian d. ray


views updated May 14 2018


Sections within this essay:

Homeschooling Laws by State
Additional Resources
U.S. Department of Education
Home School Legal Defense Association
National Home Education Network


According to U.S. Department of Education estimates, 1.1 million students were homeschooled in the United States in 2003. These students comprised 2.2 percent of the school-age population in grades Kindergarten through grade 12, compared to approximately 850,000 students (1.7 percent of the school-age population) in 1999. The Home School Legal Defense Association believes the number of students homeschooled is significantly higher; the organization estimates that in 2002–2003, 1.7 to 2.1 million students were homeschooled.

Slightly less than one-third of homeschooling parents surveyed by the Department of Education cited concern for the environment in public schools as their main reason for homeschooling. Nearly an equal percentage decided to homeschool to provide moral or religious instruction. Sixteen percent of parents homeschooled their children because of dissatisfaction with the academic instruction in other available schools.

The United States Supreme Court has not addressed the issue whether states may prohibit homeschooling. Some lower courts have addressed the issue, and concluded that it is constitutionally permissible to ban homeschooling. For example, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled in State v. Eddington in 1983 that the state's compulsory attendance law did not violate Equal Protection guarantees in the United States and New Mexico Constitutions. The court determined that the compulsory attendance law promotes a legitimate state interest by exposing children to "at least one other set of attitudes, values, morals, lifestyles and intellectual abilities," in addition to those provided by parents, guardians, or other immediate family members.

Prior to 1980, states generally either expressly prohibited homeschooling, or they did not address the issue. Some states still have laws that ban homeschooling. In those states, parents typically are able to homeschool by other means, such as following laws applicable to private schools. However, most states have enacted homeschooling statutes and regulations. In court challenges alleging that it is unconstitutional to treat home schools differently than public schools, courts have typically sided with the state and allowed the differential treatment in part because it is more difficult to asses the quality of home instruction.

Some states specifically permit homeschool students to enroll in public school classes or extracurricular activities. In other states without such statutes, when challenged by homeschooling parents, courts have found that a student does not have a right to participate. Oftentimes, state rules concerning sports or other competitive interscholastic activities preclude participation by students who are not full time. According to U.S. Department of Education figures for 2003, about 80 percent of homeschoolers were homeschooled exclusively.

States vary on how they approach enforcing the statutory restrictions on homeschooling. In some jurisdictions, home instructors bear the burden to show they are complying with the law. In other states, the state bears the burden to show that a home school does not meet legal requirements. Some states have not addressed the issue.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 does not apply to homeschooled students. However, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, children with disabilities are entitled to a "free, appropriate public education." This entitlement applies to homeschooled children as well, and means that a homeschooled child with a disability is entitled to special education and related services at public expense with public supervision and direction. The services must be provided in conformity with a child's individual education plan.

Homeschool statutes and regulations typically fall into four categories:

  • Instructor qualification requirements: A handful of states require home instructors to possess a teaching certification or a bachelor's degree. Some other states have a general requirement that parents be qualified to teach.
  • Pupil assessment requirements: More than half the states require homeschooled pupils to be tested or assessed for academic progress. Visitation requirements: Some jurisdictions require that home schools allow visits and observation by state education officials.
  • Instruction requirements: Depending upon the jurisdiction, home schools may be required to provide instruction that is "equivalent," "substantially equivalent," or "comparable" to public school programming. Certain subjects may be required.

Homeschooling Laws by State

ALABAMA: Alabama does not have any laws that specifically address homeschooling. Parents may opt to enroll children under the church school option, which does not require teacher certification. Church schools have little regulation, other than some requirements to report attendance. Under the private tutor option, teachers must be certified. The tutor must teach for at least three hours a day for 140 days each calendar year, and must file with the proper authorities a report describing subjects taught and periods of instruction.

ALASKA: Exempts children from compulsory attendance when they are educated in their home by a parent or legal guardian. There are no prescribed teacher qualifications, nor any requirements to assess or file any information. The state has the burden to show that the child is not receiving proper instruction.

ARIZONA: Within 30 days after homeschooling begins, the parent or guardian is required to file an affidavit of intent to homeschool. The affidavit is filed with the county school superintendent. The state does prescribe any teacher certification requirements for homeschool instructors, nor are there any requirements for assessment or standardized testing. Required subjects are reading, grammar, math, social studies and science.

ARKANSAS: Parents are required to notify the local public school superintendent of the intent to homeschool, and provide information on the curriculum, the schedule, and the qualification of the parent/teacher. There are no subjects specifically required for instruction. Most students are required to take achievement tests selected by the state board of education. Refusing to participate in testing may result in a prosecution for truancy.

CALIFORNIA: The state does not have a specific homeschooling statute. Several options are available. First, the homeschool may qualify as a private school if, among other requirements, the teacher is "capable of teaching" and instruction is in English. As a variation, students may enroll in a private school satellite program and receive independent study from that school. Another option is instruction provided by a certified private tutor. Finally, students may enroll in an independent study program at home, through a public school.

COLORADO: Statute provides that homeschooling programs "shall be subject only to minimum state controls." Instruction must be by a parent, guardian, or adult relative designated by the parents, but teacher certification is not required. Parents must give notice that they are homeschooling, must keep certain records, and submit students for testing or evaluation per state requirements.

CONNECTICUT: Although no statutes address homeschooling, Connecticut State Department of Education regulations permit it when the instruction is "equivalent" to public school instruction. Teacher certification and testing are not required, although a portfolio review with school authorities is used to determine whether instruction in required courses has been provided. Required courses are reading, writing, spelling, English, grammar, geography, arithmetic, United States history, and citizenship. Parents must file a notice of intent to homeschool.

DELAWARE: There are three options provided by statute: single-family homeschool, multiple family homeschool, and single-family homeschool coordinated with the local school district. Attendance and enrollment must be reported. There are no requirements for teacher qualifications or testing.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Homeschooling falls under laws regarding "private instruction." There are no requirements for teacher certification or student testing. No specific subjects must be taught.

FLORIDA: Florida has a notification requirement in its homeschool law. The state also requires that instructors maintain a portfolio containing specified information. The portfolio must be preserved for two years and be available for inspection, although there is no requirement that authorities actually inspect it. Parents are not required to be certified. However, where the private tutor law is used, instructors must be certified. There is also a statutory provision describing how multiple home schools may operate as a private school. Students must be tested or evaluated annually only where the homeschool is operated by the parent or guardian.

GEORGIA: Parents must file a declaration of intent. Instruction must include, but may not be limited to, reading, language arts, math, social studies, and science. The school day is four and one-half hours. Parents must write an annual progress report, and retain it for three years. The parent must have at least a high school diploma or GED equivalency, and students must submit to a national standardized achievement test every three years, beginning in third grade.

HAWAII: Parents must provide a notice of intent to homeschool and keep a record of planned curriculum. There are no certification requirements. Students must take standardized achievement test of the parent's choice in grades 3, 5, 8, and 10. Parents must submit an annual progress report.

IDAHO: Students are exempt from compulsory attendance if they are "comparably" instructed to those in public schools. There are no teacher certification requirements, nor are assessment tests mandated.

ILLINOIS: A homeschool is considered to be a private school. A statute provides that children in a private school are in compliance with the compulsory attendance law where they are instructed in English and where the instruction corresponds to that given to children of a corresponding age and grade in public school. Teacher qualifications and standardized testing are not prescribed.

INDIANA: Children may attend an alternative form of "equivalent" instruction when it is conducted in English. Teachers need not be certified; testing is not required. Parents must maintain attendance records.

IOWA: Parents must submit an annual private instruction report. For students age eight and older, instruction must be by or under the supervision of a certified teacher, or alternatively, provide instruction which results in "adequate progress" for the student. For students not under the auspices of a certified teacher, yearly assessments are required. Several options are available to satisfy the assessment requirement.

KANSAS: Homeschoolers may register as a nonaccredited private school, for which there are no required subjects of instruction. The teacher must be "competent;" there is no testing requirement.

KENTUCKY: Although there is no specific statute on homeschooling, students may be homeschooled by following laws for private, parochial, or church regular day schools. Standardized testing is not required. Teacher certification is not required. Enrollment reports must be made to the local school board.

LOUISIANA: Home school students are exempt from compulsory attendance requirements if a parent applies and receives approval for a program offers a "sustained curriculum of quality at least equal to that offered by public schools." The state also provides for home-based private schools. Standardized tests are required under the first option, but there are no requirements regarding teacher certification.

MAINE: The state has a home school statute, or has an option for non-approved private schools. Under the first option, there are no specified teacher requirements, but students must submit to an annual assessment. Under the private school option, teacher competence is subject to approval, but students do not need to submit to assessment.

MARYLAND: Three options are available to exempt a student from compulsory attendance laws. The "church umbrella option" provides instruction under the supervision of a bona-fide church organization. Students may also be homeschooled under a state approved "non-public school umbrella." The "portfolio option" requires supervision by a public school superintendent. None of the options requires teacher certification or testing.

MASSACHUSETTS: Students are excused from compulsory attendance laws if they are being instructed in a manner that has been approved in advance by the superintendent or the school committee. Required subjects are reading, writing, English language and grammar, geography, arithmetic, drawing, music, history and constitution of United States, citizenship, health, physical education, and good behavior. There are no teacher certification requirements. Students must take standardized tests or submit to an approved, alternative form of assessment.

MICHIGAN: A child may be educated at home by a parent or legal guardian in reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, literature, writing, and English grammar. Parents are not required to notify the state, and the burden is on the state to show that a child is not receiving an adequate education. The teacher certification requirement was held to be unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court. The state also has a nonpublic school option, which does require certified instructors.

MINNESOTA: Parents may qualify to teach their children in one of six ways, including certification, working under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor, or by holding a baccalaureate degree. Students must take achievement tests, but the results do not need to be submitted to the school district. Required topics are reading, writing, literature, fine arts, math, science, history, geography, government, health, and physical education. Parents must either submit to an on-site visit or provide documentation to show compliance with education laws.

MISSISSIPPI: Parents must file a certificate of enrollment. The child must be enrolled in a "legitimate home instruction program." There are no teacher certification requirements and no provision for mandatory testing or assessment.

MISSOURI: Homeschools must maintain specific records, although there is no requirement to submit them. There are no mandatory testing or teacher certification requirements. Students must have 1,000 hours of instruction, including a minimum 600 hours in reading, math, social studies, language arts, and science. At least 400 hours must be in the home school location.

MONTANA: 720 hours of instruction are required for grades 1-3, and 1,080 for grades 4-12. Home schools must provide the same basic instructional program as public schools. Parents must notify authorities of the intent to home school. There are no mandatory testing or teacher certification requirements.

NORTH CAROLINA: Annual standardized testing is required for English, grammar, reading, spelling, and math. The school must operate for a nine-month period of instruction. Parents must possess a high school diploma or GED. Parents must keep certain records and must provide a notice of intent to homeschool.

NORTH DAKOTA: A certified teacher must administer standardized tests to students in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10. Parents who are not certified teachers may fulfill teacher requirements in other ways, including possession of a baccalaureate degree, and supervision by a certified teacher for those who possess a high school diploma or GED. Parents must file an annual notice of intent to homeschool and must maintain annual reports.

NEBRASKA: Home schools operate under private school laws. Parents must affirm under oath that instruction in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and health are being provided to the child. There are no mandatory testing or teacher certification requirements. Elementary students must have 1,032 hours of instruction; high school students must have 1,080 hours.

NEVADA: English, science, math, and social studies are required subjects. Parents must provide evidence that they are providing "equivalent instruction of the kind and amount" as public school students. Parents must provide annual notification of homeschooling status. There are no mandatory testing or teacher certification requirements.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Parents must provide notification of homeschooling. They must also maintain a portfolio of records and materials used. There are no teacher certification requirements. A number of choices exist to satisfy testing and assessment requirements.

NEW JERSEY: There are no specific statutes addressing homeschooling. Students may be homeschooled under a law that provides for instruction for "equivalent" education elsewhere than a public school. There are no mandatory testing or teacher certification requirements.

NEW MEXICO: The law contains a notification requirement, and parents must possess a high school diploma or a GED. There is no requirement of mandatory testing. Instruction must include reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.

NEW YORK: The law requires specifies numerous required subjects that vary depending upon grade level. Instruction must be "at least substantially equivalent" to public school instruction. Parents must provide notice of homeschooling, file individualized instruction plans, and file other required reports in a timely manner. Teachers must be "competent." Most students are required to take one of five approved standardized tests at specified intervals. The student must achieve a composite score above the thirty-third percentile.

OHIO: The homeschool law requires instruction in language arts, geography, U.S. and Ohio history, government, math, health, physical education, fine arts, first aid, and science. Parents must provide annual notification of homeschooling, which includes an outline of the intended curriculum. Teacher requirement can be satisfied several ways, including working under the direction of someone with a baccalaureate degree. Parents have three options to satisfy standardized testing requirement. Ohio law also provides for non-chartered schools for parents who object to government-controlled education because of "truly held religious beliefs." Different requirements apply to these schools, including a waiver of the testing requirement.

OKLAHOMA: The state has a constitutional provision which appears to guarantee the right to homeschool, but no specific statutes on the subject. There are no mandatory testing or teacher certification requirements.

OREGON: The parent or legal guardian must provide initial notification to the school district, but need not file annually. Teacher qualifications are not prescribed. Students must be assessed in grades 3, 5, 8, and 10; more testing or oversight over the home school may be required when students perform below specified limits. Children with disabilities will be assessed according to the individualized education plan (IEP).

PENNSYLVANIA: Parents must provide affidavit initially and annually thereafter; affidavit must include information on the courses taught, assurances that instruction will be in English, and certification that none of the adults in the home have been convicted of certain criminal offenses within the last five years. Parents must annually provide a portfolio for review, which includes an annual review by qualified personnel who will determine whether the child's education is appropriate. The program for a special needs child must meet special approval requirements. Parents must have a high school diploma or equivalent, and standardized testing must be done and reported for students in grades 3, 5, and 8. Other statutes provide alternatives, including instruction by a private tutor (who must be certified to teach in the state), and teaching in the home as an extension of a religious day school. The state has mandated an extensive list of required subjects, which vary with grade level.

RHODE ISLAND: Rhode Island requires attendance that is "substantially equal" to public schools. Required subjects include reading, writing, geography, math, U.S. and Rhode Island history and principles of government, English, and physical education. Instruction must be "thorough and efficient." Teacher qualifications are unspecified. There is no statutory requirement of standardized testing.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Statutes in this state delineate three different homeschooling options. First, parents may teach at home with an approved program of instruction. School must run for four and one-half hours per day for 180 days. Parents must have at least a high school diploma or GED, and students must be assessed annually. Second, parents may become members of the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools and comply with the association's standards. Finally, parents may join an association of home schools with no fewer than 50 members. Students in the latter two categories are not required to undergo annual testing.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Children are permitted to be homeschooled if the program provides for instruction for an equivalent period of time as the public schools. Required subjects are language arts and mathematics. Parents must apply for permission to home school, and students in grades 2, 4, 8, 11 must take standardized tests. No teacher requirements are prescribed. No person may teach more than 22 students.

TENNESSEE: Three options exist. Parents or legal guardians may homeschool, after they notify the local school district. Instruction must be four hours per day. Other options are to associate with a church-related school, or to operate as a satellite of one. Teacher qualifications and testing requirements vary depending upon the option selected.

TEXAS: The state does not have a specific homeschooling statute, but court decisions have established the right for homeschools to operate under private school rules. Required subjects are reading, spelling, grammar, math and good citizenship. No requirement of standardized testing. State law specifically prohibits Texas colleges from discriminating against homeschooled applicants.

UTAH: Parents must file an annual affidavit with the local school district. Required subjects are language arts, math, science, social studies, arts, health, and computer literacy. The law does not prescribe teacher qualifications or standardized testing. Parents are responsible for evaluation of instruction.

VERMONT: The law requires instruction in reading, writing, math, citizenship, history, United States and Vermont government, physical education, health, English, American and other literature, science and fine arts. Annual notice is required; notice must include a detailed description of the program of study. Teacher requirements are not specified, but students must be evaluated annually. Several options exist to satisfy the evaluation requirement.

VIRGINIA: This state has four statutory options for homeschoolers. First is the typical homeschool statute, which requires notice to the district. Parents must set forth the program of instruction and teach language arts and math. Parents may qualify as teachers in one of four ways. The second option is for students and parents who are conscientiously opposed to attendance at school due to a bona fide religious belief. These students are exempt from the requirements in the homeschool statute. Third, the state has a certified tutor statute. Fourth, groups of homeschooling families may band together to become a private school. These schools are not regulated. Only students under the first option must submit to an annual standardized test or assessment.

WASHINGTON: Students may obtain their education either under the homeschool statute or operate as an extension of a private school. Under the first option, parents must provide equivalent hours of instruction as public schools. Planned and supervised instruction must include occupational education, science, math, language, social studies, history, health, reading, writing, spelling, and art and music appreciation. Teacher qualification requirements can be satisfied in a number of ways. Standardized tests on an annual basis are required, but need not be submitted to the school district. Under the second option, parents must be supervised by a certified teacher who evaluates the student's progress.

WEST VIRGINIA: This state provides for homeschooling either under an "approval" or "notice" method. The approval method must be approved by the board and is for a term equal to that of the school district. Under the notice option, parents submit evidence that they possess a high school diploma or its equivalent, and provide an outline of the program of instruction. No testing is required under the first option; testing and evaluation under the latter option may be fulfilled in several ways.

WISCONSIN: A homeschool program must include at least 875 hours of instruction. Instruction must provide a "sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction" in reading, language arts, math, social studies, science, and health. Parents must provide information annually to show compliance. Standardized tests are not required, and no teacher qualifications are specified.

WYOMING: Parents must annually submit curriculum plan to the school board. This program must provide a "sequentially progressive curriculum" in reading, writing, math, civics, history, literature, and science. The law does not delineate teacher requirements or call for standardized testing.

Additional Resources


U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20202 USA
Phone: (800) 872-5327

Home School Legal Defense Association

Purcellville, VA 20134 USA
Phone: (540) 338-5600

National Home Education Network

P.O. Box 1652
Hobe Sound, FL 33475-1652 USA
Fax: (413) 581-1463


views updated May 29 2018


Back to the Future?


By: Lyman, Isabel

Date: January 7, 1998

Source: Lyman, Isabel. Homeschooling: Back to the Future? Cato Institute, 1998.

About the Author: Isabel Lyman is a homeschooling parent who holds a doctoral degree in the social sciences. A former newspaper columnist, Lyman writes on various issues related to education, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and other national publications.


Compulsory education laws in the United States began in Massachusetts and spread throughout the nation during the latter half of the nineteenth century. By 1929, every state had some form of legislation concerning compulsory education. While many of these laws exempted mentally and/or physically handicapped children from attending school, by the 1930s high school attendance rates in the U.S. had reached sixty percent; by 1940 the rate was closer to eighty percent.

The concept of school at home was familiar to the wealthier classes of most colonial powers; governesses and tutors trained the male children of the wealthy in preparation for university studies. Girls in such families received a different form of tutoring, with lessons in foreign languages (usually French), music, reading, and needlework. In the United States, such "school at home" situations were rare by the 1940s; private schools and college preparatory academies filled the needs of the wealthier classes, while public schools, funded through taxes, provided education for all children. At the same time, the quality of public schools differed widely, especially for non-white children. The 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education ended the former "separate but equal" doctrine that had permitted race-based schools, changing the social landscape of public education in the U.S.

The modern homeschooling movement did not begin with one particular person or family. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, education reformers such as John Holt, Ivan Illich, and Drs. Raymond and Dorothy Moore published books on child development, the evolution of modern schools, and analyses of the impact of schools as social institutions on children and society at large. John Holt's 1964 book How Children Fail stressed the negative effects of forced schooling on children; according to Holt, compulsory curricula strips the natural curiosity and drive to learn from children, forcing them to learn only enough material to please authority figures, and to inhibit intrinsic motivation. The 1971 publication of Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society viewed all structured schools as tools for maintaining social class and for training children to stay within their place in such a hierarchy; Holt used Illich's ideas to fight for children's rights, a relatively new legal and social concept in the mid–1970s.

While education reformers debated such concepts, a quiet but steady stream of parents began to homeschool. Some worked as religious missionaries abroad and needed a flexible education method; others addressed their children's special needs through a homeschooling approach. In the early 1980s, changes in federal tax laws forced many small Christian schools to shut down; the parents of the children enrolled turned to homeschooling as a viable opportunity to preserve family culture, keep secular influences to a minimum, and to teach their children a parent-approved curriculum. Curriculum publishing houses such as Calvert and A Beka had met the needs of missionaries or itinerant families needing educational materials, and soon these companies filled a growing demand for at-home work.

In the mid–1980s, David and Micki Colfax gained national attention when three of their four home-schooled sons attended Harvard. The Colfax's story was the subject of an article in Time magazine, bringing attention to the emerging homeschooling movement.

By the early 1990s, homeschooling came to be associated with the religious right in the U.S.; Christian homeschoolers seeking an education free from secular influences, sexuality education, or science education that included evolution removed their children from public schools and chose homeschooling over private school education. The Home School Legal Defense Association, founded in 1983, works with all homeschoolers, though nearly eighty percent of the group's membership homeschools for religious reasons. Groups such as HSLDA helped to pass laws that protect the right to homeschool in all fifty states.



What Homeschooling Is

Homeschooling is defined simply as the "education of school-aged children at home rather than at a school." Homeschools, according to those who have observed or created them, are as diverse as the individuals who choose that educational method.

They [homeschools] range from the highly structured to the structured to the unstructured, from those which use the approaches of conventional schools to those which are repulsed by conventional practice, and from the homeschool that follows homemade materials and plans to the one that consumes hundreds of dollars worth of commercial curriculum materials per year.

Homeschoolers like to say that the world is their classroom. Or, as John Lyon, writing for the Rockford Institute, has observed,

Schooling, rather obviously, is what goes on in schools; education takes place wherever and whenever the nature with which we are born is nurtured so as to draw out of those capacities which conduce to true humanity. The home, the church, the neighborhood, the peer group, the media, the shopping mall …are all educational institutions.

Modern learning theories aside, homeschoolers believe that the student who receives his instruction simultaneously from the home and the community at large will be a more culturally sophisticated child than the one the bulk of whose learning experiences is confined to a school. The historical record offers noteworthy examples of the "world is my teacher" model. Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, Andrew Wyeth, Pearl Buck, and the Founding Fathers were all taught at home. Those famous Americans' parents were pioneers.

The Origins of Homeschooling: Raymond Moore

The seeds of what has grown into the modern-day American homeschooling movement were planted by two unrelated individuals about 30 years ago. In 1969 Raymond Moore, a former U.S. Department of Education employee, laid the groundwork that would legitimatize homeschooling as one of the great, populist educational movements of the 20th century.

Moore, who holds an Ed.D. from the University of Southern California, along with his wife, Dorothy, a reading specialist and former Los Angeles County elementary school teacher, initiated an inquiry into previously neglected areas of educational research. Two of the questions the Moores and a team of like-minded colleagues set out to answer were, Is institutionalizing young children a sound, educational trend, and what is the best timing for school entrance?

They sought advice from over 100 family development specialists and researchers, including Urie Bronfen-brenner of Cornell University, John Bowlby of the World Health Organization, and Burton White of Harvard University. Those professionals recommended "a cautious approach to subjecting [the child's] developing nervous system and mind to formal constraints." Psychologist Bronfenbrenner maintained that subjecting children to the daily routine of elementary school can result in excessive dependence on peers.

In the process of analyzing thousands of studies, 20 of which compared early school entrants with late starters, the Moores began to conclude that development problems, such as hyperactivity, nearsightedness, and dyslexia, were often the result of prematurely taxing a child's nervous system and mind with continuous academic tasks, like reading and writing.

The bulk of the research, which overwhelmingly supported distancing young children from daily contact with institutionalized settings, convinced the Moores that formal schooling should be delayed until at least age 8 or 10, or even as late as 12. Raymond Moore explained the upshot of his research, stating, "These findings sparked our concern and convinced us to focus our investigation on two primary areas: formal learning and socializing. Eventually, this work led to an unexpected interest in homeschools."

The Moores went on to write Home Grown Kids and Home-Spun Schools, which were published in the 1980s. The books, which are written from a Christian perspective but offer a universal message for all interested parties, have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and offer practical advice to parents on how to succeed as home educators. The Moores advocate a firm but gentle approach to home education that balances study, chores, and work outside the home in an atmosphere geared toward a child's particular developmental needs.

The Influence of John Holt

During the 1960s and early 1970s, another voice emerged in the public school debate, a voice for decentralizing schools and returning greater autonomy to teachers and parents. John Holt, an Ivy League graduate and a teacher in alternative schools, was decrying the lack of humanity toward schoolchildren, even in the most compassionate school settings. Holt was also a critic of the compulsory nature of schooling. He wrote,

To return once more to compulsory school in its barest form, you will surely agree that if the government told you that on one hundred and eighty days of the year, for six or more hours a day, you had to be at a particular place, and there do whatever people told you to do, you would feel that this was a gross violation of your civil liberties.

Holt, who had long advocated the reform of schools, became increasingly frustrated that so few parents were willing to work toward change within the system. Consequently, after his own years as a classroom teacher, he observed that well-meaning but overworked teachers, who program children to recite right answers and discourage self-directed learning, often retard children's natural curiosity. He chronicled his litany of complaints in How Children Fail.

Holt came to view schools as places that produce obedient, but bland, citizens. He saw the child's daily grind of attending school as preparation for the future adult grind of paying confiscatory taxes and subservience to authority figures. Holt even compared the dreariness of the school day to the experience of having a "full-time painful job." Ultimately, Holt concluded that the most humane way to educate a child was to homeschool him.

To disseminate his views, in 1977 Holt founded Growing without Schooling, a bimonthly magazine about and for individuals who had removed their children from school. The magazine became a tool that allowed home educators, particularly those who might be described as the "libertarian left," an opportunity to network and exchange "war stories."

In summary, Holt espoused a philosophy that could be considered a laissez faire approach to home-based education or, as he called it, "learning by living." It is a philosophy that Holt's followers have come to describe as "unschooling."

What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn't school at all. It is not an artificial place, set up to make "learning" happen and in which nothing except "learning" ever happens. It is a natural, organic, central, fundamental human institution, one might easily and rightly say the foundation of all other human institutions.

The constituencies Raymond Moore and Holt individually attracted reflected the backgrounds and lifestyles of the two researchers. Moore, a former Christian missionary, earned a sizable (but hardly an exclusive) following among parents who chose homeschooling primarily to impart traditional religious mores to their children—the Christian right. Holt, a humanist, became a cult figure of sorts to the wing of the homeschooling movement that drew together New Age devotees, ex-hippies, and homesteaders—the countercultural left.

The two men earned national reputations as educational pioneers, working independently of one another, eloquently addressing the angst that a diverse body of Americans felt about the modern-day educational system—a system that seemed to exist to further the careers of educational elites instead of one that served the developmental needs of impressionable children. In the 1970s the countercultural left, who responded more strongly to Holt's cri de coeur, comprised the bulk of homeschooling families. By the mid—1980s, however, the religious right would be the most dominant group to choose homeschooling and would change the nature of homeschooling from a crusade against "the establishment" to a crusade against the secular forces of modern-day society.

Buttressed by their national media appearances, legislative and courtroom testimony, and speeches to sympathetic communities, Holt and Moore worked tirelessly to deliver to an often-skeptical public the message that homeschooling is a good, if not a superior, way to educate American children; that it is, in a sense, a homecoming, a return to a preindustrial era, when American families worked and learned together instead of apart.

Homeschooling Becomes Mainstream

Today, the growing popularity of homeschooling is evidence that the work of Moore, Holt, and other similar-minded reformers snowballed into a grassroots revolution. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute posits that homeschooling is growing at the rate of 15 percent to 40 percent per year. Conservative estimates were that the number of homeschooled children in 1985 was 50,000. Patricia Lines, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Education (whose data, used for estimating the homeschooling population from the fall of 1990, were updated for the fall of 1995) estimates that the number of homeschooled children is between 500,000 and 750,000.

In a working paper on home education, Lines explains how she gathered those data:

The 1990 data came from three independent sources—state education agencies that collect data; distribution of complete, year-long graded curricular packages for homeschoolers from large suppliers; and home school associations' memberships. As each represented the tip of an iceberg, each was adjusted based on data from other sources, including surveys of homeschoolers indicating the extent to which families filed papers with the state, used particular curricular packages, or joined associations.

The Home School Market, published in April 1995, estimated that the number of homeschooled children had doubled since 1990 to 800,000 and would double again in the next five years. The Home School Legal Defense Association maintains that the number is already much higher—1.23 million. The estimate is based on HSLDA's analysis of the numbers provided by major curriculum distributors (such as Calvert, A Beka, and Konos), which supply complete, year-long packages to homeschoolers. HSLDA's estimate is larger than the federal government's because they have calculated high numbers of home-schoolers for populous states, like Texas, that do not monitor or regulate homeschoolers and figured in "underground" homeschoolers who have no contact with schooling authorities or homeschool groups.

A more exact count of homeschoolers is expected when the results of federal government household surveys are published. The Census Bureau, working with the National Center on Education Statistics, has begun to include questions on homeschooling.


By the early twenty-first century, religion was no longer the main reason that parents chose to home-school; a 2004 report from the National Institute for Educational Statistics showed that thirty-one percent of families homeschool out of "concern about environment of other schools" while thirty percent home-school for religious reasons. Secular homeschoolers cite a wide range of reasons for homeschooling: teaching to the test, social conditions that foster bullying and intimidation of students, consolidation of school districts that breeds large schools, and under-funding or poor quality education.

Two growing sectors in homeschooling include parents of gifted children making the choice to home-school as well as parents of children with special needs, ranging from autism to ADHD to Down Syndrome choosing to educate such children at home. Unlike early twentieth century "homeschooling" of children with physical or developmental difficulties, modern homeschooling typically includes school services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, and psychologists for such children; in return for taxpayer-funded services, the parents in some states must agree to allow homeschooled children to sit for standardized tests, allowing the school district to access state money for such students.

The racial breakdown of homeschooled children shows that white homeschooled children represent 2.7 percent of all school-aged children; African-Americans 1.3 percent, and Hispanic children seven percent. African-American homeschoolers, however, are the fastest growing group of any race, with more than 110,000 children homeschooled as of 2003.

As homeschoolers opt out of traditional schools, some social critics and educators question how such children will fit into civil society without the social networks and shared educational experience that traditional schooling brings. Homeschooling advocates point to greater participation rates in community service, higher achievement scores, success in such national competitions as spelling bees and geography bees, and homeschoolers' admission into every Ivy League and high-ranked college in the country as proof that homeschoolers do not experience social problems or difficulties assimilating into society without having experienced traditional school.

As of 2003, more than 1.1 million children in the U.S. were homeschooled, and the rate continued to increase by seven to fifteen percent per year. This figure represents approximately 2.2 percent of all children ages five through seventeen.



Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 2005.

Holt, John C. How Children Fail. New York: Perseus Publishing, 1995.

How Children Learn. New York: Perseus Publishing, 1995.

Web sites

National Center for Education Statistics. "1.1 Million Home-schooled Students in the United States in 2003." July 2004. <> (accessed June 15, 2006).

U.S. Census Bureau. "Home Schooling in the United States: Trends and Characteristics." August 2001. < twps0053.html> (accessed June 15, 2006).


views updated Jun 11 2018


Schooling has historically often occurred both formally and informally at home. Most colonial children in the United States were homeschooled in what were called Dame schools. The children in each rural area would gather at a neighbor's kitchen table to read and reread the hornbook, a catechism, passages from the bible, The Pilgrim's Progress, and other improving material. This family-centered learning, along with apprenticeship, continued to be the primary mode of education until well into the nineteenth century.

For most of human history schools were exclusionary rather than inclusive. Latin grammar schools were only for boys from wealthy families. Harvard was founded in 1634 for the young male graduates of the grammar schools. It was nearly two hundred years later, in 1827, that the first institution of higher education for girls opened. In most southern states, it was illegal to teach African-American slaves to read. Some of those who could not go to school were occasionally schooled at home.

In the early nineteenth century, common schools were opened to educate all, but many children did not attend. The growing industrial revolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw thousands of European immigrants coming to the industrial cities of the North. By the twentieth century, they were joined by a migration of blacks from the South. The children often did not attend school. They worked in the factories alongside their parents and other relatives. Together with child labor laws, compulsory attendance laws began to remove children from the factories. The state needed a safe place to warehouse children. School became a place you could goif your family could spare you. In reality most children attended school only through the fourth to the sixth grades, after which they were needed to help support the family.

Access to schooling increased steadily from the middle of the twentieth century. High school attendance burgeoned following World War I and again after World War II. In 1954, the Supreme Court decided that African-American children should be allowed to attend local public schools instead of the separate schools they had been attending since the end of the Civil War. Desegregation of public schools was finally enforced in the 1960s by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Thus, by the end of the 1970s the United States saw high school graduation occurring for the largest percentage of its population ever beforeor since. In response to this and other issues, the decade of the 1980s ushered in the era of school reform. One of those reforms was homeschooling. It has always been available to the privileged, some of whom were tutored at home. But when large numbers began to homeschool, district officials began to arrest parents, saying they were encouraging truancy. This led early homeschoolers to band together, to litigate, and to lobby.

Who was homeschooling at the turn of the twenty-first century, and why? The demographics are elusive. Detractors say only two hundred and fifty to three hundred thousand children are homeschooled. Supporters claim the number is closer to one and one-half million. A 1999 report from the Center for Educational Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education estimated that eight hundred and fifty thousand students nationwide were being homeschooled. Families choose homeschooling for a variety of reasons, but most are concerned either with ideology or with academic achievement. Ideologues, from fundamental Christians to New Agers, prefer the moral climate of their own homes and communities to that of school. Pedagogues are more concerned that their children will be academically handicapped if they are required to learn at the pace of classroom instruction.

Homeschooled children excel academically, despite the early concerns of educators and truant officers. Research shows that their test scores are at or above the norm, and the longer children are homeschooled the wider the gap between their test scores and those of conventionally schooled youngsters. The household income of homeschoolers in 1999 was no different from their conventionally schooled peers, but the homeschooling parents had higher levels of educational attainment. Another early concern, the socialization of homeschoolers, eventually dissipated as well. Homeschoolers form networks. They issue newsletters, have play groups, organize soccer teams, share resources, and interact in multiage social groups.

State statutes that regulate homeschooling come in three different categories. The most restrictive recognizes no exception to public school attendance except qualified private schools, but these statutes are rarely enforced. A second category gives implicit approval of homeschooling through language that allows "equivalent education elsewhere." A third is an explicit statute providing for home instruction and specifying some criteria and procedures. This last category allows superintendents to count the homeschoolers in their districts for the purpose of receiving state subsidies. Homeschooling remains controversial but has also become a much more ordinary choice and is now seen as one alternative among many in a society deeply concerned about educational achievement.

See also: Education, United States.


Cremin, Lawrence A. 1970. American Education: The Colonial Experience 16071783. New York: Harper & Row.

Marrou, Henri I. 1982 [1956]. A History of Education in Antiquity. Trans. George Lamb. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

National Center for Education Statistics. 2001. Homeschooling in the United States: 1999. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

Simon, Joan. 1966. Education and Society in Tudor England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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

Van Galen, Jane, and Mary Anne Pitman. 1991. Home Schooling: Political, Historical, and Pedagogical Perspectives. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Mary Anne Pitman