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Homeschooling Goes Mainstream and Here's Why

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

A few months ago at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, I saw a mom showing a very well-behaved 8-year-old boy flashcards with Chinese characters on them in Panera. 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 1.5-2 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%), the next most popular reason being concerns about the school environment (21%), followed by dissatisfaction with academic instruction (17%). 

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 5th 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.

Jean P August 07, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Thanks for a great article! It's nice to see real information about homeschoolers instead of ignorant assumptions. (And I thought your meaning was quite clear; you had the narrow-minded assumptions, which were then changed.) We are about to start our 8th year of homeschooling. I love the lifestyle and the wonderful things we get to learn. :)
Andrew P August 07, 2012 at 04:56 PM
We just started homeschooling at the end of last year. Our child was enrolled in one of the highest-achieving public schools in our area. 2 of her 4 years were with horrible teachers the school district simply could not get rid of due to seniority. My wife is a credentialed teacher who tutors homeschoolers. We finally looked at each other and asked, "Why are we putting our child through this when both of us are college graduates, both of us educators (in my case, former educator) and we can do better than what this school is doing?" Now the money the school would have wasted on administration is going directly to my child's learning materials and instruction. We should never have bothered with public school.
David Kennedy Bird August 07, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Teri... and Susan, for that matter... see my comment as well, in the same place.
David Kennedy Bird August 07, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Amen! The article was fair and accurate, a kind of treatment we do not often get from representatives of the public education system. Way to go, Susan!
David Kennedy Bird August 07, 2012 at 08:40 PM
I have to weigh in on Susan's side. Her article was completely fair and accurate, and i say this as a conservative evangelical Christian who offers humanities classes to home-schooled teens. She said nothing offensive; she just made a whimsical observation. Can we back off for a second and stop being so sensitive about every little thing? Great piece, Susan!

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