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Home SchoolingIs It for You?
AN ECCENTRICITY that has become a national movement.
That is how Time magazine recently described home
schooling in the United Statesa growing trend
championed by parents who believe that the best education
a child can receive is available in his or her own living
room, not in the traditional classroom.
Still viewed by some as eccentric or even revolutionary,
home schooling is, nevertheless, winning more
advocates every year. Researchers say the home-schooling
ranks have swelled from about 15,000 in 1970 to 500,000
in 1990 and up to 1.1 million in 2003.
Support groups for home schoolers have also sprouted up
in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Japan, and New
Zealand, indicating that interest in home schooling is
spreading around the globe.
Why are so many parents making the decision to teach
their children at home? How effective is home schooling?
Is it a choice worth considering for your family?
In its basic concept, home schooling is not as radical as
it may seem. Home, not the school, was the original
educational system, suggest Raymond and Dorothy
Moore in their book Home-Spun Schools. Until the
last century, most children who went to school started at
twelve or later.
Notable persons, such as George Washington, Abraham
Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, and Albert
Einstein, were schooled at home. In fact, compulsory-school-attendance
laws were not introduced in the United States until late
in the 19th century. So, according to author and home-school
parent Kerri Bennett Williamson, home schooling is, not
just a recent fad, but an old educational standard.
Indeed, home schooling was the standard for most people
in Bible times.
Why They Do It
Interestingly, the National Catholic Reporter estimates
that from 50 to 90 percent of U.S. parents who
practice home schooling do so for religious reasons.
These parents are generally concerned about protecting
their children from what they perceive as atheistic
influences in the schools. The backbone of the home-school
movement is the Christian Fundamentalist community, which
believes that religion is either abused or ignored in the
classroom, said Time magazine.
Other parents have pulled their children from public
schools to safeguard them from exposure to damaging
immoral influences at an early age. Things were
getting pretty out of hand with immorality in the schools,
said one Christian man who decided several years ago that
he and his wife would school their children at home.
We were concerned about our children and about the
sad state of affairs in the school.
Sometimes, parents choose home schooling for educational
rather than ideological reasons. They are fed up with
overcrowded classrooms, low academic standards, and
safety problems prevalent in many public schools.
Disappointed by the often lackluster results of
institutional teaching, they believe that they can help
their children more by giving the one-on-one attention
that home schooling makes possible.
Explaining why some prefer home schooling, the book Home
Schools: An Alternative states: Parents [who school
at home] have 100% involvement with their children . . .
They can devote their attention to their own childs
Does It Work?
Those who advocate home schooling say that children learn
more effectively at home because lessons are woven into
every aspect of the familys daily activity.
Many families begin with a mathematics textbook,
but then discover that lessons can be learned through
everyday experiences, writes Jane A. Avner in
School Library Journal. Shopping and checkbook
balancing, for example, can help their students
comprehend money management, while home repairs make for
an excellent primer in measurement.
How effective has home schooling proved to be? Some
studies have shown that home schoolers generally earn
scores at or above the national average on standardized
achievement tests. But such results do not necessarily
prove that home schoolers are better off than
conventionally schooled children.
The present evidence is inconclusive, says
the book The Home School Manual. The primary
problem with all of these studies is that test scores
from a significant proportion of homeschoolers are not
available to the researcher.
There is virtually no empirical evidence
available to prove conclusively that home schooling
is an academically superior educational method, The Home
School Manual explains. While homeschoolers
commonly do well, the proper research design would need
to show that any difference is not due to other factors.
Many Still Skeptical
Home schooling is not without its critics. Many school
officials have expressed concern over the inconsistent
quality of education being offered through home-school
efforts. Time magazine put it this way: Good
intentions do not automatically translate into solid
For that reason school districts are sometimes
uncooperative, or even antagonistic, when parents
announce plans to teach their own children. While some
school districts in recent years have made an effort to
work more closely with those who do home schooling, other
educational authorities remain skeptical. Both the
National Association of Elementary School Principals and
the National Education Association (NEA) have taken a
stance against home schooling, fearing that some parents
may not be capable of providing adequate home education.
According to the NEAs official position statement,
home-schooling programs cannot provide the student
with a comprehensive educational experience.
Home-schooling advocates say that parents dont need
college credentials to be good teachers. Parents
need not know all the answers in order to encourage their
children to seek after answers to their own questions,
says the book Home SchoolingAnswering Questions.
Children can be directed to appropriate source materials.
Parents and children can learn together. And where
advanced training or expertise is required, private
tutors can be hired on a part-time basis.
Critics also claim that home-schooled children are too
isolated and are deprived of normal interaction with
other children their own age. Again, this is a judgment
that advocates soundly reject. These children are
not socially isolated, said Brian Ray, director of
the National Home Education Research Institute.
Home schoolers usually take field trips to the zoo
or to the art museum. They play in the neighborhood just
like other children. The idea that theyre locked up
in a closet from eight in the morning until ten at night
just isnt right.
Is It for You?
Home schooling takes, not just courage, but
stamina, inventiveness, and steady nerves, says
Christianity Today. So if you are contemplating home
schooling, think realistically about the commitment
involved. Diligent effort and good organization will be
needed to keep up with chores and other family
responsibilities in addition to providing a daily
academic program for the children. You might be
working so hard youll feel like quitting, Ray
said. Its very demanding.
Next, find out the home-schooling laws in your area. For
example, in the United States, home schooling is legal in
all 50 states, but the levels of regulation vary
considerably. In some places, teaching your child at home
simply means notifying the local school superintendent
and filling out a one-page form. In other states, a
parent must be a certified teacher to qualify for home
schooling. Determine what local policy is so that you can
comply with all the legal requirements.
Then, consider the cost. Shopping for teaching materials
presents one of the greatest challenges in home
schoolingespecially if funds are limited. You
are a sitting duck for educational suppliers, warns
A Survivors Guide to Home Schooling.
While some suppliers charge a modest tuition fee, other
home-teaching programs cost hundreds of dollars.
Standardized tests, which home schoolers are required to
take annually in some states, can cost up to $50 each.
New textbooks, work booklets, and other materials will be
needed year after year, so a carefully planned home-school
budget is a must.
Of course, not all parents are willing or able to expend
the time, effort, and money that experts say are required
to make home schooling a success. Home schooling is
not for everyone, said one 14-year-old girl who
began home schooling when she was 7It takes the
right circumstances, the right attitudes, and the right
parents. Self-disciplineby parent and
childcan be added to the list too. The man quoted
earlier said that to make home schooling work, it
takes a strong commitment. He continued: The
real challenge is being able to devote the time to doing
it and following through with it.
Even ardent supporters of home education admit that home
schooling is sometimes done in an ineffective or even
irresponsible manner. Indeed, every year there are some
home-school efforts that fail, leaving children ill-prepared
to face future academic challenges.
Parents, who are ultimately responsible for the proper
education and training of their own children, need to
decide for themselves the type of schooling they feel
will most benefit their family. So weigh all the factors
carefully before deciding if you are ready to take on the
challenge of teaching your children at home.
Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (VaHomeschoolers)
P.O. Box 5131, Charlottesville, VA 22905
Phone: (866) 513-6173
The Old Dominion's only fully inclusive, member directed,
and volunteer driven state homeschool association. Our
extensive Web site offers in-depth information on
homeschooling in VA, including the popular "Guide to
Homeschooling in Virginia," which walks you step-by-step
through the paperwork process.