Opinion: Why Homeschooling Has Gone Mainstream

Studies show homeschooled kids, on average, are better educated than public school children.

A few months ago at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, I saw a mom showing a very well-behaved 8-year-old boy flashcards with Chinese characters on them in Panera Bread.

Homeschool alert!

I figured this woman was either a very conservative Christian or a crunchy granola type. Being annoyingly curious and inappropriate, as is my M.O., I struck up a conversation with her. She wasn’t either of those narrow-minded stereotypes.

She was very nice and talked to me for a while about her experiences homeschooling her kids. I learned that homeschooling is way more organized than I thought and very in vogue at the moment. 

In 1980, home schooling was illegal in 30 states. Now, it is legal in all 50 states with about 1.5- million to 2 million children being homeschooled in the U.S., roughly 3 percent of school-age children nationwide, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

In the same study, it was found that between 1999 and 2007, the number of homeschooled children rose 77 percent. The actual number may be even higher because not all parents who homeschool report information to the government. However, the general consensus is that the stigma associated with homeschooling is gone as it becomes more and more mainstream.

As for why more parents are homeschooling, it is not surprising that the highest percentage listed religious and moral instruction (36 percent), the next most popular reason being concerns about the school environment (21 percent), followed by dissatisfaction with academic instruction (17 percent). 

There is also a trend toward co-op homeschooling where small groups of parents take turns teaching the children and/or hiring tutors to assume some of the responsibility. The image of homeschooled children spending their days sitting at the kitchen table are long gone. Today’s homeschooled are out and about with many museums offering programs to homeschoolers as well as other hands-on activities, such as nature centers. There are endless websites dedicated to non-traditional learning opportunities in addition to websites offering support and resources for homeschooling families

I can teach a classroom of 28 fifth graders who, between them, cover every learning and behavioral issue under the sun (note to my former colleagues: I said I could, I didn’t say I was good at it), but the thought of teaching my own boys scares me to death. 

I always believed it was better to leave their academics in the capable hands of those who did not give birth to them, thus eliminating the emotional turmoil involved in getting them to open a book. But statistics indicate that this might not have been the wisest choice. According to the Homeschool Progress Report 2009: Academic Achievement and Demographics, homeschoolers, on average, scored 37 percentile points above their public school counterparts on standardized achievement tests.

Almost every study touches on a few other facts. It seems homeschooled kids are far from isolated from peers, do well in social situations, and are more likely to be involved in their community. The education level of the parents had little effect on the success of their children, as did state regulations, gender of the student or how much parents spent on education.

Speaking of spending per student, in public school about $10,000 is spent on each student, each year, as opposed the $500 spent on the average homeschooled student. This number sounds a little fishy since the last time I took my kids to the aquarium I spent $74 on three tickets. Bad puns aside, when I began this article I was dead set against homeschooling, as are many certified teachers. But, after doing research, I’m not so sure. Maybe the public school system could learn something from the homeschool community.

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PJ July 31, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Interesting opinion, but professional educators have known for decades that small class-sizes, individualized attention, and experiential learning are best practice. In fact, these have been the norm in suburban schools in NJ until recent political attacks aimed at teachers unions have greatly damaged the public education system. Misinformation campaigns about ineffective public schools ignore the success of suburban schools in favor of blanket statements about tenure and teacher effectiveness. They use the failures of urban schools (and more importantly, urban communities) to push a political union-busting agenda. The problem is, in the name of tax relief and austerity, politicians have robbed a vast majority of state aid from suburban schools, eliminating valuable experiences like field trips and increasing class size by eliminating teaching positions. As far as the expenditure per student, I find those numbers fishy as well. It must be considered that public schools are required to provide services for all special education students, which drives up the cost per student, as well as the money needed to run and maintain school buildings. I doubt many, or any of the home-schooled children in question are getting special education services such as speech/occupational/physical therapy, as those can be extremely costly. Wouldn't it be nice if public schools could escape the yoke of standardized tests altogether and teach children the way they should be taught?
Susan Schaefer August 03, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Yes it would, PJ!
jeff goldstein August 03, 2012 at 05:54 PM
As you can see in the comments from from PJ and Susan Schaefer above, public school teachers, their lobbiests and the teaching colleges that train them don't like competition. When an untrained parent with no teaching experience can help their child learn more than their peers in public schools as measured by objective criteria like standardized tests they feel tremendously threatened and try to fight back. School spending in recent years has exploded but with no improvement in learning. Parents need as many choices as possible in deciding how their children are educated. One new group of home schooled students has been gifted students. Currently large parts of the education establishment have stressed special needs, English as a second language and other disadvantaged students in an effort to "eliminate the gap" between the best and worst performers. This has led to the gifted students being ignored. Many parents seeing this have felt compelled to home school their children who otherwise would not be challenged academically. Many more would be home schooled If there was a viable method for their children to participate in school sports and other extracurricular activities.
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