February 11-18, 2006
The neoconservatives managing the federal government have created for public schools an anomaly of requiring testing while, at the same time, encouraging parental autonomy through home schooling, vouchers and charter schools. If education really is a state function, as provided by law, then careful attention needs to be provided for a more rigorous evaluation of home schooling processes and outcomes.
In 1971, I was the note-taker at a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers. At that time, most of the state education chiefs were old enough to remember back to a time when schooling at home was a necessity, since there were few public schools in many areas.
These educators addressed their attention to their "responsibility to provide education" even to children of parents with strong religious convictions, such as the Amish in Ohio, some of whom still chose to teach their school-age children at home. Martin W. Essex, who back then was Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction and the council’s president, said, "Parents who deny youngsters their right to go to school are failing to provide for a child’s fundamental needs for a well-rounded education." Virtually all of his colleagues on the council agreed and began to vigorously enforce school-attendance laws. The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against compulsory school requirements. Since then, the courts generally have upheld the right of parents to "direct the education of their children."
Some state courts have eliminated compulsory-education laws as beyond the state’s authority. Today, families with religious motivations continue to make up the homeschooling majority.
The U.S. Department of Education recently released data including the results of interviews conducted with the parents of 11,994 students. They indicate that:
• On any given day in America, about 1.1 million children are being educated outside of a school, and about 2.2 percent of the total school-age population is homeschooled. This is a slight increase since 1999. Home schooling is recognized by law in Ohio, but the Ohio Department of Education posts no data on home schoolers. The Home School Legal Defense Association estimates 70,000 Ohio youngsters are home-schooled.
• About 77 percent of homeschooled children are white; 81 percent are from two-parent households, most of them where only one parent works.
Parents give many reasons for home schooling their children, citing concerns about the public school environment (85 percent), a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (72 percent) and dissatisfaction with academic instruction (68 percent).
Researchers disagree on whether home schooling is academically advantageous. Research has not determined whether students of similar abilities would perform worse or better in a classroom or at home. Experts also disagree about whether home schooling hinders social development, but homeschooled children spend less time with their peers.
Not surprisingly, education groups believe home schooling needs more-rigorous regulation. Other groups, however, contend that parents have a right to teach their children at home by their own standards. Many educators are offended by an attitude among some parents of home schoolers that untrained, and sometimes uneducated, parents can do as well or better teaching as professionally trained educators. The age of the student being home-schooled appears to make a difference. There is only limited evidence demonstrating the value of academic preparation at the elementary level. On the other hand, many studies have revealed that strong teacher preparation in secondary-school fields, such as science and mathematics, leads to higher achievement by students.
One other valid concern is that many people claim to be homeschooling children who simply might be truant.
While home schooling appears to meet the needs of some families, society must consider whether it erodes support for public schools.
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data