As a teacher, I thought homeschooling was for crazy, overcontrolling parents and for religious extremists.  My only exposure to homeschooling had been during childhood through religious fundamentalists in the rural town where I grew up who took some of my friends out of school to concentrate more on Biblical teachings and to limit their exposure to scientific concepts, such as evolution, and to unwholesome influences (like me, I suppose, and my obsession with the movies Footloose and Dirty Dancing).

But then I stopped teaching and started a doctoral program.  Soon after, I began to tutor a girl who was a former student in the private day school where I had taught.  Her parents had taken her out of both public and private schools to home school because they felt that these educational options were not meeting her needs.  She was exceptionally bright, delightful, and curious, and I began to question my prior assumptions a little bit.

As a researcher who is interested in both current sociological and cognitive trends in education, I’ve learned more and more about how the homeschooling movement has changed and will become a powerful influence on American schooling.

Here are new facts that I have learned and that surprised me:

1.  The number of home schoolers is growing rapidly as more and more parents perceive homeschooling as a viable option for their families.  In the 1970s, when I was born, there were probably only around 10,000 to 15,000 children who were home schooled.  Today there are around two million.  That’s still only 2% of the total student population, but it’s growing each year, according to Professor Joseph Murphy’s definitive study of home schooling in America.

2.  While still the most common reason for home schooling, with about a third of families citing it as their main motivation, religious or moral rationales are becoming less and less common as families become increasingly dissatisfied with public schools.

3.  New technology has revolutionized home schooling education.  Home schoolers are not sitting around with dog-eared encyclopedias and old library books.  Home schooled kids can increasingly customize their educations.  Thousands of platforms and technological options abound for kids to stay connected and to participate in online classes.

4.  More and more, homeschooled kids are not in “the home.”  The options for them to take classes and participate in structured educational experiences at museums and other community resources are limitless.  Meet-ups, support groups, specialist classes at public schools, and play groups are common in many communities, and homeschoolers don’t need to be isolated.

5.  Home schoolers seem to do fine academically.

6.  They appear to do well socially as well.  According to Professor Murphy, they generally score well on standardized tests, are accepted and go to college in similar number than children in traditional schools, and suffer from no social deficits.

6.  More research is needed on home schooling.  While it’s probably the case that home schoolers do just as well as other students, scholars in the field advocate for more data collection about what home schoolers are doing and their educational outcomes.  While the debate about charter schools includes a rich discussion of data, there is much to learn about homeschooling.

7.  Parents are more and more likely to leave public schools when they become overcrowded, when more low-income students enroll, and when test scores decrease.  Many education scholars write about charter schools and private schools as educational options, but forget to consider the increasing impact of home schooling.

8.  There are many other reasons why families choose home schooling:  concerns about the special education, frustration with mental health services, requirements for frequent travel in parents’ jobs, even nut allergies.

9.  Thus, the “typical homeschooler” does not exist.  They come from all social classes and from all religious backgrounds.  In fact, Muslims are the fastest growing religious group who homeschool.

And here is my last thought, my biggest concern about homeschooling, as a teacher, parent, and researcher of education:

10.  Public schools are at risk for a “death spiral:  as more and more children exit public schools because their parents perceive them unable to meet their needs, they are more likely to become even more “inadequate” with less funding and parental support.  Funding, which is calculated on a per-student basis, disappears for these schools.  Even more services and individualized attention for students could disappear from public schools, and even more parents may opt to take their kids out of these “failing” schools.

What happens to other kids — the ones “left behind” in struggling public schools — when the best kids and many involved parents leave for charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling?

Please let me know what else I should know to understand the homeschooling experience.  What do educators and scholars not understand about why families choose homeschooling and about their experiences?


113 thoughts on “10 Thoughts by an Educator about Homeschooling (and Why I’m Still Worried)

  1. My kids spent a couple of years in public school. We withdrew them primarily because they were not academically challenged.

    We live in a very aflluent area, yet there is a high percentage of families who do not speak English in the home. As a result, much of our public schools’ curriculum is focused on the non- English speaking children. The children who are academically advanced sit through school every day learning nothing or next to nothing.

    One of my daughters who went to the public school met all of the testing benchmarks for her grade at the beginning of the school year. At some point I found out that the teacher has asked her to help one of the non-English speaking kids in the class to learn the lessons that the teacher was having trouble teaching him. I heard similar stories from other parents. One parent’s daughter was also a top student in her class. As a result, she was assigned to sit with the students who wouldn’t finish their worksheets and to help them get their worksheets done.

    Is this what you mean when you complain that parents are taking their academically advanced children out of the public schools? Do you mean that you fear there will not be enough bright students to sit with the students who are behind to help them get their worksheets done?

    I pay big taxes to my county, most of which goes to the public schools, while I pay my children’s entire cost of education out of my own pocket. I feel that I support the schools quite a bit even though I do not benefit from almost any of the money that I pay them. I am a law abiding citizen and willing to pay my taxes. However, I am not willing to donate my children to sit next to the kids who are behind to help them do their worksheets.

  2. I am currently an educator at the elementary level in the state of Hawai’i and I hope to home school my now 3 year old daughter for a variety of reasons, most not covered in this article. I appreciate your post, but I am having difficulty understanding the reasoning behind the “death spiral.” If students are being removed from schools, and the weighted student formula is changed, especially if the students with the seemingly most invested parents exit schools, school funding would decrease proportionally to the number of students within the school, which makes sense; however, public schools that increase in number of students with impoverished backgrounds and special learning needs will be allotted more funds per the weighted formula, say if they become a Title I school.

    I work at a hard-to-staff campus of nearly 1,000 elementary students where funding is not an issue. We currently have 6 teachers on staff who are “coaches” filling previously unnecessary roles and monies for classroom spending is plentiful. For this year alone, each teacher on campus has been cleared for P.O.s totalling $1,200, which has been the trend for the last 3 years. I actually have trouble purchasing more than $200 worth of necessary supplies.

    However, one thing my Hawai’i colleagues do not have is a contract or general public respect for our profession. We are currently taking nearly a 10% pay reduction from our previous contract 3 years ago and have been imposed a “best, last, and final offer” instead by our governor and his negotiators. Meanwhile, the yellow-tinged press is at work printing articles about “teachers taking 17 days of sick leave every year,” which is skewed data. We suppose they averaged the amount of “sick days” for employees on long term leave or medical leave. In short, I am not concerned that home schoolers would be the source of a death spiral. Public schools are made available for the vested public, so we will continue to serve the public who needs us. Also, there are billions of dollars allotted for education that are most likely being mis-managed, Race to the Top being a prime example of this. I am more concerned about the death of education itself as our schools are becoming more about numbers than about people, more about test scores, than about building up young people academically and personally. If the public school system “dies,” it will not be because people decide to be responsible for their own children.

    Thank you for sharing in writing what you have and for reading what I have as well. 🙂

  3. During my masters program I wrote a paper on the subject of home schooling. It is growing for very reasons noted here as well as the fact that too much control of the content in public schools is now controlled at the federal level. Schools were intended to be “controlled” at the local level and they should be. Our country is very heterogeneous and a one size fits all education does not meet the needs of the students or parents. The parents’ voice is barely heard these days. All the direction comes from the federal government and that will continue to choke the public schools.

  4. There are some presuppositions which are so vital to a good, true, and beautiful life that we can admit no discussion about them.

    Unfortunately, government schools do not merely open discussions about the non-negotiables, they actively change them. Things like: Man’s heart is naturally bad not good. There is a God. There are absolute, unchanging, timeless truths. The sexes were created different for a reason. etc.

    As long as education takes the wrong side on issues like this, they are continuing the culture war.

    1. Yeah. Disproving the “vital truth” that the Earth is flat ruined many good, true, and beautiful lives, as did disproving the moon is made of cheese. {Hoping my sarcasm is obvious to the intelligent.}

      1. Actually, very few people have historically believed that the earth was flat. Most ancient civilizations knew the earth was round. It’s really a myth that most people thought the earth was flat.

      2. This is an intelligent discussion and sarcasm has no place in it. We do not deny any facts that are proven but schools can not take sides and expect the parents to blindly follow them, especially when they teach against our moral values. It is not a proven fact that Gays are born this way if it was proven there was a geneitic test for homosexuality then gays would be the most prolife segment of the populatoin out there, It is a proven fact that men and women are created with inate differences in natures and physical attributes. You can not deny that unless you are also denying proven scientific facts like the moon is not made of cheese and the earth is not flat.

      3. Whoa there. Who said I wasn’t a Christian? And, I’m a bit confused here… are you promoting the differences between men and women for homosexuality debates or for the equal pay debate? Because your argument could apply to both.

  5. Hello there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Cheers

  6. Actually a new survey of homeschooling suggest that 4% of the public is homeschooling now. It has also grown by 75%. Some states are beginning to relax homeschooling laws as well. We are currently moving out of a red state to a more relaxed state so that we can have the educational freedom. New York can say goodbye to tax money, sales tax from family business, and school taxes because we are selling our property.

    1. By red state do you mean in the sense of red vs blue liberal vs conservative/ Because more conservatives homeschool and the more conservative states are described as the red states. Just wondering as I was confused by your description in your post.
      New York is one of the bluest states out there seconded only by California.

  7. We homeschool, and the main reason for our decision is that we want our son to be able to learn freely. He is 6 years old and reads on a 1-2nd grade level, does 3rd grade math, 4-5th grade science, and has some unique interests such as birding, repairing, collecting, and reviewing vacuum cleaners, and music/instruments.

    There’s not always much “home” in our school. We live life to the fullest, seek out new experiences and learning just comes naturally. We have friends from all walks of life, and spend a lot of time outdoors exploring.

    I don’t see myself as an educator so much as a chaperone. If my son shows interests in new topic I get books, games, videos, websites, set up outings related to the interest and so on. Then it all sort of clicks, one interest leads to another and so forth.

    The thing is, my son is a life long learner. He does not view learning as a dreaded task, but is eager to learn more. He’s happy, thriving, and very knowledgeable on many subjects. Life is so precious, and short. I choose to spend these years with my son on an amazing journey of learning and fun.

    Here’s our video from this year’s learning if anyone is curious-

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