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Home-School Boom

Federal study counts 1.5 million students.
by Tim Drake | Source:

PURCELLVILLE, Va. — The popularity of home schooling continues to rise across the U.S., and the biggest reason for home schooling is religious and moral instruction.

“Home schooling has been growing at 7% per year for the past 10 years,” said Ian Slatter, a spokesman for the Purcellville, Va.-based Home School Legal Defense Association, an 85,000-member organization that supports the legal rights of home-schooling families. “Home schooling is spread pretty evenly through all 50 states.”

According to “The Condition of Education 2009,” a report from the federal National Center for Education Statistics, 1.5 million students are home-schooled full-time in the United States. That’s an increase from 850,000 in 1999 and just over 1 million in 2003.

The report, based on interviews with parents of 11,994 students aged 5 to 17, finds a large percentage of home-schooling parents desire religious or moral instruction.

The government data is reflected in the enrollment numbers at Seton Home Study School, a Catholic home-schooling organization and curriculum provider.

“Our growth has not been dissimilar,” said Jim Shanley, director of marketing for Seton Home Study School. “Since 1999, our enrolled families have increased by 50%.”

Additionally, said Shanley, purchases of home-school curriculum and supplies from non-enrolled families has increased more than 300% over that same time frame.

The Home School Legal Defense Association, however, disagrees with some of the Department of Education’s numbers.

“We agree with the government figures regarding the reasons people home school,” said Slatter, “but we have an ongoing dispute with the Department of Education over the numbers.”

According to Slatter, states such as California, Illinois, Florida, Wisconsin and others are “private school states,” meaning that if a parent home educates, it’s technically considered a private school.

“When the government surveys the population via telephone, there are some parents who will give the technically correct answer that they use a ‘private school’ rather than telling the government that they home school,” Slatter explained.

Mark Hegener, publisher of Home Education magazine, also disagrees with the overall numbers.

“Are people answering the survey questions technically correct, or in such a way because they don’t trust data takers?” asked Hegener. “More people are taking diverse public school options, such as virtual schools, than home schooling,” he said, wondering how it’s possible for the Department of Education to obtain accurate information.

Hegener noted that what he’s seeing is an increase in home schooling among those who used to be able to afford private schooling, but are looking to cut costs.

Slatter said that the number of full-time home-schooled children in the U.S. is probably more than 2 million. According to the government data, the number of American children whose parents choose home schooling for at least part of their education exceeds 3 million.

Why They Home School

The report also included information on why parents home school. Asked the reason why they chose home schooling, 36% of parents cited a desire to provide religious or moral instruction; 21% said they had concerns about the environment found in other schools, followed by dissatisfaction with education quality elsewhere, and 14% cited other reasons, such as a desire for more family time together.

“Perhaps the most important ‘top reason’ I chose to home school was so my children and I can spend our lives together,” said Sara McGrath, a Seattle home-schooling mother of three who writes frequently about home education.

The reasons parents gave differ only slightly from the Department of Education’s 2003 report. At that time, the desire for religious or moral instruction came in at second place.

“Christian parents have been in the vanguard of this movement,” said Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “For many parents, home schooling represents the fulfillment of the biblical mandate for parents to teach their children.”

“Our studies reveal that while the religious aspect is center stage for most Catholic families, the academic standing that a child can acquire through home schooling is a close second,” said Shanley.

The report also found that higher numbers of parents with college educations and higher family incomes are choosing to home school.

One concern raised by the report was a decrease in the percentage of home-schooled male students. In 1999, 49% of home-schooled children were boys, and 51% were girls. In the most recent report, the percentage of boys home-schooled dropped to 42%.

Henry Cate, a blogger at Why Home School, suggested that the increase in girls could represent parents who are fed up with “mean girl” behavior. Mohler speculated that the change might have something to do with boys being attracted by the opportunity to participate in team sports at the middle school and high school levels.

With the increase in the number of students being home-schooled, organizations such as the Home School Legal Defense Association have witnessed an increase in efforts to try to regulate home schooling. Slatter cautioned that home-school parents need to remain attentive to local legislative efforts.

“Every year there are battles and conflicts with various states that are trying to regulate home schooling,” said Slatter. “It’s a constant problem in the home-school community. Home-schooling parents must remain ever vigilant because the teachers’ unions and other organizations would love to see increased home-school regulation.

“The concerns about school environment and the desire to provide religious or moral instruction remain the big reasons why parents make the decision to move to home schooling. We don’t see any changes in the public school environment to make the school system a safer place, and the government will not allow religious instruction to be included, so it seems that home schooling is set for growth into the future.”

Tim Drake writes from Saint Joseph, Minnesota.

Top Reasons for Home Schooling

1. Provide religious or moral instruction

2. Concern about the environment of other schools

3. Dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available elsewhere

4. Child has a physical or mental-health problem

5. Child has other special needs

6. Interest in nontraditional approach to education

7. More family time

8. Family finances

9. Ability to travel

10. Distance to school

Source: National Center for Education Statistics/ Department of Education

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