Over the past few decades, homeschooling has gone from fringe oddity to a more accepted part of the American educational landscape. Current estimates suggest that over 2 million children are currently homeschooled in the United States, a substantial increase from the approximately 100,000 homeschooled children in the early 1980s.
However, homeschooling is not new on the education scene. Historically, homeschooling was the norm and institutional schooling was the privilege of the few. In America, homeschooling is actually a return to education models employed before the era of the common school movement advanced by Horace Mann in the 19th century. Prior to Mann's influence, and compulsory attendance laws, many children were educated at home by their parents or a private tutor. Historical examples of homeschool parents include John and Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson's daughter, while examples of homeschool students include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln, and Mark Twain.
The homeschool model was revived in America in the late 1970s and early 80s by John Holt and the husband and wife team of Raymond and Dorothy Moore. Holt, a former public school teacher and founder of "unschooling," promoted an exploratory, unstructured, child-led form of learning commonly employed by more progressive individuals. Dr. and Mrs. Moore also promoted a less structured method of schooling, arguing that formal public education hindered children academically and morally. Their education philosophies played a large role in the conservative Christian adoption of homeschooling.
Since this revival, families have utilized a number of different homeschooling philosophies and methodologies, such as Charlotte Mason, Montessori, and Waldorf, among others.
Today, parents are increasingly opting to homeschool their children for a variety of reasons. These include: the opportunity to offer a more rigorous academic curriculum; the desire to provide religious and/or moral instruction; the desire for children to avoid negative influences present in both public and private schools; and the need to provide more individualized instruction to a child who does not perform well in a formal school environment.
According to many reports, homeschool families are especially successful in attaining high academic achievement for both whites and minorities. One study reported that "homeschoolers scored 34-39 percentile points higher than the norm on standardized achievement tests." This is despite the fact that most homeschools spend about $600 per child, while public schools spend around $10,000 per child. Another study found that homeschool students outpace their private and public school counterparts with higher ACT scores. Once in college, homeschool students commonly maintain a higher GPA and have a much higher graduation rate than other students.
Although homeschool students have demonstrated that their education model produces good academic results, many worry that the socialization skills of the home educated will suffer in their sheltered environment. Yet, studies show the opposite of this as homeschooled children have been found to display better social skills and have fewer behavioral problems than children in public school. Many homeschooling parents choose to organize "co-ops" to provide additional peer socializing opportunities for their children. Furthermore, homeschool graduates have been found to successfully interact with society as adults in college and the workforce. These successes are commonly attributed to the enhanced level of adult interaction and the many extracurricular activities in which homeschoolers engage.
Despite the overall positive academic and social results of homeschooling, some raise cautions about this form of education. According to one opponent, homeschooling could cause physical abuse to go unchecked, create a public health risk, and develop a dangerous counterculture political force. For reasons like these, some believe that U.S. homeschooling should be more closely monitored and regulated by the government.
Supporters of homeschooling, however, believe that further homeschool regulations would threaten the freedom of parents to direct and choose their child's education – a freedom that has been recognized by thinkers through the centuries, including John Locke and John Stuart Mill. Many modern international declarations acknowledge this same freedom, although the recent actions of governments in Germany and Sweden send a different message.
Homeschooling has become a popular alternative to the challenges experienced in traditional schools. This topic will explore the history of the movement, while also providing data and opinions on the academic, social, and financial aspects of homeschooling.