SRN Just the Facts: Homeschooling

Published July 1, 2000

Only 3 percent of the nation’s 53 million schoolchildren are taught at home, compared to almost 90 percent who are educated in public schools.

Yet homeschoolers won the top three places in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee on June 1. The first-place winner, seventh-grader George Abraham Thampy of suburban St. Louis, also finished second in the national geography bee a week earlier, with another homeschooler placing third. Homeschoolers finished first in the geography contest last year and first in the spelling contest in 1997.

Students who are taught at home by their parents score significantly higher on standardized achievement tests than do their public school peers, according to a March 1999 study of 20,760 homeschooled students conducted by Lawrence M. Rudner, director of the Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation at the University of Maryland. Test scores for homeschooled students fall between the 75th and 85th percentile, compared to scores at the 65th to 75th percentile for students in private schools and scores at the 50th percentile for students in public schools.

Self-identified homeschoolers beat the national averages on both of the nation’s major college-entrance tests, the ACT and the SAT. For the past three years, homeschoolers scored an average of 22.7 on the ACT, compared to a national average of 21. On the SAT, the average score of homeschoolers was 1,083, some 67 points above the national average of 1,016.

Despite these indications that homeschooling “works,” the practice is strongly discouraged by the nation’s largest public school teacher union, the National Education Association. According to the NEA, only certified teachers should be permitted to teach children at home, the curriculum should be state-approved, the students should meet all state requirements, and all expenses should be borne by the parents. Even then, the NEA would bar homeschooled students from participating in any extracurricular activities in the public schools–while at the same time complaining that “homeschooling cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.”

Ironically, the “socialization” argument is winning over an increasing number of parents to homeschooling as they react in dismay to the negative aspects of the socialization their children encounter in the public schools: gangs, drugs, violence, and values learned from their peers rather than their parents. On the other hand, the values instilled by homeschooling have impressed many colleges to modify their admission procedures to accommodate students taught at home.

“Homeschoolers bring certain skills–motivation, curiosity, the capacity to be responsible for their education–that high schools don’t induce very well,” Stanford University admissions official Jon Reider told The Wall Street Journal.

The NEA’s desire to regulate homeschoolers appeals to many government officials, including President Clinton. On a recent “school reform tour,” the President applied the high-stakes testing concept to homeschooling and said that children educated at home should “have to prove that they’re learning on a regular basis” or be forced to go to “a parochial school or private school or a public school.” He also said “the best thing to do is to get the homeschoolers organized.”

“I think we are pretty organized,” retorted Mike Farris, president and founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association. “It would seem to me that the last person we would want to be organized by is the government,” he told WorldNet Daily.

Homeschooling parent Karen Maple of Bakersfield, Vermont, has experienced such government “organization” first-hand. Maples was jailed for two weeks when her home-educated son was declared a habitual truant and she refused to turn him over to state custody. The state’s supreme court ruled on May 26 that her son was not a truant but was properly enrolled in a home study program that did not require approval by the state. The state had insisted the program had to be state-approved.

Even though they had filed appropriate written notice, two homeschooling Virginia parents were arrested earlier this year for violating the state’s compulsory school attendance law. There are two other similar cases in Virginia and another in Michigan where parents who removed their children from school were jailed and still have criminal charges pending against them. In California, the school attendance review board in Berkeley is questioning the legality of home schools, while the school board in Modesto voted in May to deny credit to homeschooled students transferring to a public high school, thus forcing them to repeat any high school classes they may have completed at home.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.