Origins and Development

Origins of home schooling in the United States can be traced back to the seventeenth century—prior to public education and compulsory attendance laws. Although some town schools existed, home schooling was often the only option available to colonial children and the early pioneers. Because of nationwide compulsory attendance laws and the beginning of public education in the early twentieth century, however, the need for home schooling significantly decreased. This decrease did not last long, though, as expression of religious beliefs and dissatisfaction with public education increased throughout the twentieth century. By 1980 it was estimated that 15,000 students were being home schooled, a much smaller number in comparison to the early twenty-first century, but also much larger when compared to the previous eighty years.

It is estimated that between 700,000 and 1.3 million children in the United States are home schooled. In 2001 this represented approximately 3 to 5 percent of all students from kindergarten through grade twelve. Numerous studies have shown that the majority of home-schooled students come from a two-parent, middle-class household. Though more single mothers without college education are beginning to home school their children, most parents have some college education and a higher income than the national norm. Other typical characteristics of home school families include the following: (1) Equal numbers of boys and girls are home schooled with children ranging in age from three to seventeen; (2) though the mother is usually the primary teacher, both parents play an active role in the process; (3) there are generally three or more children in the family; (4) more than 70 percent regularly attend religious services, representing a variety of backgrounds; (5) children are usually home schooled a minimum of three years; and (6) though students usually study all traditional school subjects, home school parents generally place an emphasis on reading, mathematics, and science.

Reasons for Home Schooling

As mentioned before, parents choose to home school their children for many different reasons. The two most popular are called ideological and pedagogical, with those home schooling for ideological reasons called ideologues and those doing so for pedagogical reasons called pedagogues. Ideologues are generally motivated by religious beliefs and choose instructional methods focused on religious teachings, moral values, and patriotism, mixed with basic skills. The majority of ideologues, though not all, are fundamentalist Christians who have a strong desire to connect their religious beliefs to their instructional curricula.

Parents who choose to home school their children for pedagogical reasons can be separated into two groups. The first group, originating in the late 1960s, includes parents who want their children to develop individual awareness and fulfill their potential. Because of this motivation, they typically use loosely defined curricula where their children are placed in unstructured, exploration-seeking environments. The second group of pedagogues has chosen to home school their children because of dissatisfaction with the climate or quality of the education provided in the public school setting. Contrary to the first group, these parents usually teach their children in structured environments, focusing on the learning of basic skills, discipline, and patriotism.

How, When, and How Much

Because parents choose to home school their children for different reasons, every home school looks a little different. Studies have shown, however, that ideologues usually teach a more traditional curriculum, and many include biblical training and the teaching of religious history. Out of their desire for their children to become self-aware and develop their potential, the first group of pedagogues discussed above believes that education should consider all aspects of the human experience—rational, emotional, spiritual, aesthetic, and creative. Unfortunately, very few studies have examined how the second group of pedagogues educates their children. This is a reflection of the wide variety of reasons why this particular group of parents decides to home school their children.

Each home school also looks different in terms of when parents begin to home school their children, how many hours are spent ''in school,'' and how much parents spend to home school their children. Similar to how parents choose to educate their children, these decisions are also a reflection of why parents have chosen to home school. For example, while most parents begin educating their children around the age of six, there are some who begin as young as age three or four and others who wait until the child is between ten and twelve. One reason for such variability is that parents are the ones who determine when their child is ready for school. Though there is still much variety, most studies have shown that the average home-schooled child spends three to four hours per day being educated. Additional time is also spent on special projects such as field trips, reading for pleasure, cooking, playing, gardening, and so forth. Finally, most studies have found that the national average spent on home schooling is $500 a year per child.

Academic and Social Outcomes

Despite concerns that home-schooled children will have poorly developed social skills and will not learn at a similar rate as their same-age peers, most studies have revealed the opposite. In fact, most studies have shown that home schools produce superior social and academic results. For example, one study found that 50 percent of 224 home-schooled children in Michigan scored as well as or better than 90 percent of their same-age peers and only 10.3 percent scored below the national average on a measure of self-concept and self-esteem. Another study revealed that home-schooled students generally participate in at least five extracurricular activities outside the home, with 98 percent participating in at least two or more activities.

Academic and achievement results are similar. For example, almost 25 percent of home-schooled students are enrolled one or more grades above their same-age peers in public and private schools. Achievement test scores for home-schooled students are also exceptionally high, with students in grades one to four performing one grade level above their same-age public and private school peers. Finally, students who have been home schooled their entire academic life have higher scholastic achievement test scores than students enrolled in public or private schools. Because of these results, colleges and universities have begun to accept larger numbers of home-schooled students. For example, Harvard, Dartmouth, Oxford, UCLA, and Yale, among others, have accepted and enrolled home-schooled students.

Legal Requirements

Though home-schooled students have succeeded and continue to succeed, their parents' fight to be able to home school has not proceeded without court involvement. For example, in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, compulsory attendance laws of various states were challenged in court. By 1986, however, all states had adopted some form of legislation recognizing home schooling as an education option. Now, only ten states require parents to have specific qualifications to home school their children, and these include a high school diploma, GED, or some college. Fifteen states require simply that home schooling parents be "competent" and instruction be "thorough." Thirty states require testing or other evaluation of home-schooled students. Finally, nearly all states require parents to file basic information with either the state or local education agency, and many states have additional requirements, such as the submission of a curricular plan or the testing of parents.

Cooperation between Public and Home Schools

Although the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association oppose home schooling, there are numerous examples of cooperation between public and home schools today. In 1991, for example, Iowa passed legislation giving home-schooled students dual enrollment and granting them the opportunity to take part in academic and instructional programs in the school district, participate in extracurricular activities, and use the services and assistance of the local educational agencies. Another example is Michigan, where school districts are required to open "nonessential elective courses'' to home-schooled students.

Because of this increasing nationwide cooperation, greater freedom to home school in all states, and

Home schooling has become an increasingly popular way of educating children for a number of reasons, including—but not limited to—religious beliefs, a poor local public education system, and the belief that parents themselves can provide their son or daughter with a good education. (Laura Dwightt/Corbis)

Home schooling has become an increasingly popular way of educating children for a number of reasons, including—but not limited to—religious beliefs, a poor local public education system, and the belief that parents themselves can provide their son or daughter with a good education. (Laura Dwightt/Corbis)

strong academic results, home schooling is becoming an increasingly popular option for parents who are either dissatisfied with public education or desire to teach their children what they consider important. Further, home school families have created their own home schooling organizations and co-ops, and curric-ular companies have been formed that exclusively cater to their needs. In connection with this support and greater public acceptance of home schooling as a viable educational alternative, it is expected that the popularity of home schooling will continue to increase well into the twenty-first century.


Mayberry, Maralee, J. Gary Knowles, Brian Ray, and Stacey Marlow. Home Schooling: Parents as Educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1995. Rudner, Lawrence. "Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998.'' Education

Policy Analysis Archives [web site]. Available from http://; INTERNET. Russo, Charles, and William Gordon. ''Home Schooling: The In-House Alternative.'' School Business Affairs (December 1996):16-20.

Jason D. Rehfeldt

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