How is homeschooling and family choice changing the landscape of learning in this country? For the most part, parents don’t believe that the current school model is best, or enough, for their children.
In 2007, the United States Department of Education reported that 36 percent of homeschooling parents said that their most important reason for homeschooling was “to provide their children religious or moral instruction.” By 2012, that figure dropped to just 21 percent, with “concerns about the school environment (such as safety, drugs, negative peer pressure)” and “dissatisfaction with academic instruction” having become parents’ main reasons for homeschooling. Parents also cite a desire to provide a non-traditional approach to education, children’s special needs, family time, and finances as reasons for homeschooling.
Modern-day homeschooling evolved from the more radical view that participating in the system does more damage than good. Evangelical Christians demanding strict moral instruction led much of the homeschooling movement, which emerged during the 1970s. Also at the forefront of the movement were progressive educators like John Holt, who promoted the “unschooling” strand of homeschool, likely derived from the notion of “deschooling society”, which says that school is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.
Legally, any parent in the U.S. can choose to homeschool their children. No federal laws govern homeschooling, and the rules and regulations vary widely from state to state. Some states have strict homeschooling laws, requiring the same number of instructional hours and days as the public schools as well as proof of a child’s academic performance via a portfolio and/or test results. But according to a 2015 review of state homeschooling laws by the Education Commission of the States, fewer than half of states require any kind of evaluation, and 17 have no required subjects for homeschooled students. Some states require just a “notice of intent” or withdrawal form with a “home education” box to be checked. Others require nothing at all.
Homeschooling is increasing in popularity not just as an escape, but also as a hybrid educational option for students and families. While there has never been a single way to homeschool—its very premise is that each family chooses to educate its own way—the changing nature of teaching and learning, especially through the growth of online learning and charter schools, has blurred the lines between home-based and school-based learning.
A quarter of the homeschoolers taking online courses enrolled through a public school. The expansive charter school sector in states like California has made this even more possible, offering a variety of attendance options: Some offer full-time online instruction, while others require some in-person classes or that students meet monthly with a school-based teacher. In many cases, homeschoolers are enrolled full-time in virtual schools, many through private non-profits like Acellus Academy—an online K-12 school established in 2013—or through a growing number of for-profit organizations. Many others are state-run (28 states and Washington, D.C., have at least one virtual school, administered either by local school districts or by independent charter schools or charter school networks). Georgia doesn’t require parents to homeschool their own children, so groups of parents create cooperatives and trade off teaching responsibilities.
In short, homeschoolers are learning through online programs, charter schools, school-based electives, and dual-enrollment programs—a reality that, more and more, is muddying the distinction between the almost two million homeschoolers and the rest of the school-aged student population. This type of mixing and remixing model is familiar among homeschooling communities.
Traditionally, it’s been easy to dismiss homeschooling as a trivial movement, a sideshow of what’s really happening in education. But homeschooling trends say lots about future designs for teaching and learning. It’s becoming another option in an increasingly open education system, where time spent learning outside a school building isn’t an exception—but rather a central element of education.
Is the current public education system listening? Time to reform, transform and adapt or federal funds will stream more and more in new directions, i.e., homeschooling communities.
Originally reported in New America’s digital magazine, New America Weekly, much of the statistics reflect the author’s own research data sources. Visit the full report here.