The rise of homeschooling

July 31st, 2018

For many of us, the idea of “homeschooling” conjures up images of an extra-large, ultraconservative Christian family, perhaps resembling the reality TV family the Duggers, who homeschooled all of their 19 children. However, today homeschooling has been embraced enthusiastically by families of all persuasions, both religious and nonreligious. In fact, the number of students who are homeschooled has more than doubled in the last 20 years. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Non-Public Education found that between 1999 and 2012, the homeschooling population rose from 850,000 to 1.8 million. As a percentage of school-age children, homeschooling rose from 1.7 percent to 3.4 percent in that 13-year period.

According to ABC News, in 2016 about 1.7 million children were estimated to be homeschooled. Along with the increase in homeschooling has come a renewed interest in the scope of homeschooling and new, innovative ideas on how it can and should work for families.

The new face of homeschooling

As homeschooling grows in the United States, an increasingly diverse population is choosing this method of education for their children. The Office of Non-Public Education reported that 91 percent of families surveyed indicated “a concern about environment of other schools” as a factor in homeschooling, and 77 percent indicated “a desire to provide moral instruction” (compared to 64 percent indicating “a desire to provide religious instruction”).

Dr. Joseph Murphy, a professor of leadership and school improvement at Vanderbilt University, told ABC News, “I think what’s picked it up is people are now actually homeschooling for academic reasons, and that wasn’t true before. . . . Almost all homeschooling was value-based, but now people are homeschooling to get their kids to learn more than they would in school.”

Many parents who homeschool didn’t start out with that intention. “I always thought I would educate my kids in public school, and have them in school their entire educational career,” Dan Dillon, a former public school teacher and father of three, told ABC News. “I felt like . . . [traditional school] could be potentially limiting to a student who has an interest in a particular idea or particular subject but they just couldn’t pursue it because the model didn’t allow for that.”

These new homeschooling families emphasize the freedom that comes with homeschooling. Children have the freedom to pursue individual interests, and families have the freedom to travel and incorporate experiential learning into their school day. Dillon, for instance, took his children on a tour of Chicago on their first day of school one year.

For families choosing to homeschool, there are many styles to choose from. Classical education emphasizes reading and rhetoric. “Whole-child” programs seek to focus on producing self-motivated learners rather than achieving grade-specific milestones. Another group, termed “unschoolers,” focuses on learning in every aspect of a child’s life.

Darcel White is unschooling her three children, ages 12, 10 and 7. “I consider un-schooling to be more of a lifestyle, because it’s not something we do Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. . . . The learning never stops, it’s continuous 24/7,” she said in the ABC News article. “I feel like . . . the heart of un-schooling is the parent and child working together to give the best education possible.”

White began experimenting with homeschooling because her eldest daughter has dyslexia and highfunctioning autism. The Office of Non-Public Education reported that 15 percent of families indicated they were homeschooling because their “child has a physical or mental health problem.” Many other parents choose to homeschool their children who have special learning needs. Laura Smith’s 14-year-old son attended public school for nine years, but his ADHD and dysgraphia made traditional school difficult. “I never intended to homeschool. . . . Then I got this kid. The school system was sucking the life out of him,” she said in a March 30, 2016, article in The Atlantic.

Challenging the trend

While homeschooling is growing and gaining visibility, the question remains: Is homeschooling the right option for most families, or even a significant minority of them? With about 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 being in the labor force and with 23 percent of children living with only their mother, homeschooling is not a viable reality for many families. In West Virginia, wealthier counties have seen the largest rise in homeschooling in the last year, while less affluent counties in the southern coalfields have seen the lowest, according to WVNews.com in a May 20, 2018, article.

Homeschooling is increasingly an option for middle-class families who can afford to have one parent leave the workforce to stay home with children full-time. In the long-term, this can lead to even wider divisions between economic classes. This leads some, like Dana Goldstein, author of the book The Teacher Wars, to question if widespread homeschooling is healthy for a liberal democracy. In her 2012 article on Slate.com, Goldstein asks the basic question, “Does homeschooling serve the interests not just of those who are doing it, but of society as a whole?”

For many states, when a child is pulled out of the public education system, their parents receive a tax credit since they no longer have a child utilizing the public schools. This leads to less money supporting public schools and can exacerbate the problems that caused the family to withdraw their child in the first place.

“When it comes down to it, we’re worried about our own children first and foremost,” said Kathie Hess Crouse, a board member of the West Virginia Home Educators Association. She told WVNews.com, “As much as I’m sorry that the school system probably lost thousands of dollars because I pulled my two students out, that’s not my concern. If the school system had done a better job, I may have stayed in.”

Homeschooling is changing the way many Americans look at education. It impacts the financial stability of public schools, and may shift the notion of education for the common good. For now, though, homeschooling is a new frontier, with new and innovative opportunities to engage children in learning guided by their parents.

Hybrid homeschooling

While homeschooling is on the rise, many families are hesitant to cut ties completely with traditional schooling. For those in the middle, hybrid homeschooling is emerging as a potential alternative. A 2018 article in Forbes titled “Is Hybrid Homeschooling the Wave of the Future?” describes this model, in which children split their time between homeschooling and traditional school. Cost and time commitments keep many interested families from homeschooling, but by utilizing a hybrid system, some of these concerns can be alleviated.

In the Regina Caeli schools, which operate in 11 states, children spend three days a week at home with parent-led education. During the two days a week when students attend school, the classes are taught through a Socratic seminar with a focus on classic texts. Other models like Toco Hills Home Tutoring offer a mix of “part-day, after school and one-on-one tutoring to enhance homeschooling,” the Forbes article says. The majority of the hybrid programs in the United States are Christian-based, with parents citing faith as a reason for enrolling their families in the program.

Hybrid programs make use of the internet and other emerging technologies for innovative learning and work to provide students with the essential elements of a “traditional” classroom experience alongside parent-led education. These flexible programs increase the opportunities available to families who may not feel confident enough in their teaching abilities to pursue homeschooling full-time. As the use of homeschooling increases and hybrid options spread, the very nature of “school” in the United States will likely change.


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