Research Question: What factors have caused an increase in elementary and secondary level homeschooling in the United States in recent years? What demographic groups have become more attracted to this option over this period of time, and how have the motivations of participating families changed?
Homeschooling in the United States is estimated to be at approximately 1.5 – 2 million students today (NCES 2011). While this is a small percentage (3-4 %) of the total estimated 55,000,000 American students in grades PK-12, it is still a significant number of people, and that number is increasing 7-15% each year. Parents choosing home schooling are mostly Christian (94%), and white (77%). They have above average family income and educational background. They are mostly two-parent families with the mother dedicated to the schooling task. The children seem to do as well or better academically and socially than their peers in the public schools (Mackey 2011). This paper will address the relatively short history of the home schooling movement in the United States, and look at the make up of groups that are its members. I will look to demonstrate that the groups have not changed significantly as the movement developed, but that the growing issue of school safety may influence more parents to choose home schooling. Factors causing increased homeschooling are travel distance, increased mobility, religious and moral values, education of women, dissatisfaction with school administration, special needs, internet communication and safety concerns.
America has had required education since its early colonial days. As the country grew, a small percentage of the population was effectively home schooled due to travel distance and other reasons. Education laws said nothing about home schooling. This situation remained about the same until the 1960s and 70s, when major cultural and social changes set the stage for a greater role for home schooling. Among these were dissatisfaction with the growing complexity of school administration, and distrust of growing lack of religion. Also the growth of the suburbs, mobility, and more people politically active (especially women), and more widespread women’s education led to a greater number of more independent and capable mothers, living in good sized suburban homes. Some of these women were willing to act on their dissatisfaction and take on the task of schooling their kids themselves (Gaither 2009).
Home schooling as a recognized part of American education is a fairly recent alternative to the common education. “The modern home school movement actually began in the early 1980’s with about 60,000 to 125,000 children receiving home based education”. Not many people were even aware of homeschooling before the 1980’s (Winters 2001). By this time there was at least one small organization of homeschooling parents, and those groups have grown over time. Several people were major contributors to the increasing interest in home schooling. These were John Holt, Raymond Moore, and Michael Farris, all of whom had strong Christian beliefs, and spoke around the country encouraging home schooling.
There are several reasons that people choose homeschooling. One is the desire to include religious content in the curriculum. Another is dissatisfaction with the public school system, both in environment (safety, including violence and drug use) and results (Lyman 1998). Another reason is to accommodate special needs children, or exceptionally bright children. Public schools, and often private schools, are unable to effectively meet the needs of these students. Though there were always many reasons for parents choosing homeschooling, the main reasons seemed to be moral and religious values. Conservative Christians were consistently a major part of the movement, and still are. Surveys from 2003-5 indicate about 92-94% of home school parents classify themselves as Christian. They are mostly white, but about 23% of them are minority (Mackey 2011). Of these, African Americans and Hispanics dominate, but other groups such as Native Americans, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons, and Muslims participate as well (Gaither 2009).
While religious, moral, and academic concerns were the main factors influencing the choice of home schooling until recently, the 2003 surveys show that school environment (safety, drugs, negative peer pressure) was the most mentioned concern (Mackey 2011). It turns out that as the home schooling movement was growing, so was school violence, due in part to the racial tensions brought about by the forced bussing of students starting in the 1960s. Gallup polls from the early 1970s found that the public thought school safety, called “discipline”, was the number one problem of the school systems (Warner 1999).
Home schooling has been shown to be effective. National standardized test results from 1998 show that home schooled children do much better than their public school peers, by as much as 30 percentile points across multiple test categories and multiple grade levels (Rudner 1999). As for social development “All objective evidence indicates that home-schooled children are well-adjusted members of society. To the extent that home-schooled children are different from others, it appears to be a socially positive difference” (Farris 2000). Although very recent data is hard to find, the home schooling group makeup does not appear to have changed much since the 1980s. The issues of religion and academic quality remain, but public school safety has emerged as another major concern. The internet’s improved communication and access to information may be another factor influencing the choice of home schooling, which may attract a broader range of parents.
U. S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics 2010. Enrollment in Elementary and Secondary Schools.
Mackey, B. W., Reese, K., & Mackey, W. C. (2011). Demographics of Home Schoolers: A Regional Analysis within the National Parameters. Education, 132(1), 133-140.
Gaither, M. (2009). Homeschooling in the USA: Past, Present and Future. Theory and Research in Education, 7(3), 331-346.
Winters, Donald K. There’s No Place Like Home: The Modern Home School Movement, 1980-Present. American Educational History Journal, 2001. ( No. 28).
Lyman, Elizabeth “Homeschooling: Back to the Future” Cato Institute – Cato Policy Analysis No. 924. January 7, 1998.
Warner, Beth, Weist, Mark, Krulak, Amy. Risk Factors for School Violence. Urban Education 1999 34:52.
Rudner, Lawrence M. Achievement and Demographics of Home School Students. Education Policy Analysis Archives. vol 7. 1999.
Farris, M. P., & Woodruff, S. A. (2000). The Future of Home Schooling. Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1/2), 233-255.