by Patricia M. Lines
Each fall when school begins, a growing number of school-aged children do not head off to a classroom. Instead, they learn at home with their families or with other children in their communities.
Homeschooling takes many forms, from a daily routine following a scheduled curriculum to child-led learning in which parents supervise and help. Choosing to homeschool or to traditionally educate a child is often a difficult and confusing decision for parents and guardians. To help them make the best choice possible, this brochure answers basic questions about homeschooling and suggests other useful sources of information.
Do Families Have a Right to School Their Children at Home?
All states allow homeschooling. Typically, a state's statutes, through a court ruling, an attorney general opinion, or a regulation that interprets a school attendance law to include homeschooling, consider homeschooling a legitimate option for meeting compulsory education requirements. Because each state regulates homeschooling differently, parents should examine local laws and consult with other homeschoolers before proceeding.
In every state, parents must, at a minimum, notify a state or local education agency of their intent to educate their children at home and identify the children involved. Several states require the submission of proposed curricula and tests or have educational requirements for parents. A few even test parents. Only Michigan requires certified teachers to be involved in homeschooling programs, but the state allows parents to choose a program's teacher and does not specify a minimum level of teacher supervision. (Michigan courts have excused parents from the certification requirement if they have religious objections.)
The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled explicitly on homeschooling, but it did rule against compulsory school requirements in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). The Supreme Court has also upheld the right, subject to reasonable state requirements, of parents to direct the education of their children.
What Does the Federal Government Do for Homeschoolers?
Government regulation and support of home schooling is carried out primarily at the state level. However, the federal government also plays an important role by disseminating research-based information on homeschooling to policy makers and others and by supporting research on a broad range of issues affecting teaching and learning.
Most federal support for education is dedicated to programs for children who have special needs, such as low-achieving children, children with limited English proficiency, and children with disabilities. Generally, local districts have the option of offering services under these programs to homeschoolers who meet the districts' criteria for eligibility.
How Do Educators and Policy Makers View Homeschooling?
Homeschooling is controversial. The National Parent Teacher Association opposes the practice, as do the National Education Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Other groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union maintain that parents have a constitutional right to school their children at home. Though they don't necessarily approve of homeschooling, a majority of Americans responding to the 1988 Phi Delta Kappa Gallup poll believed that parents have a right to try it. State legislatures agree, and over the past 20 years they have responded favorably to homeschoolers seeking more flexible compulsory education laws.
How Well Do Homeschooled Children Do?
Homeschooling's academic worth is hotly contested by researchers, educators, and parents. It is difficult to obtain a representative sample of homeschooled children, and researchers cannot say for certain whether these children would do better or worse in a public or private school. Scores of homeschoolers who have taken state-mandated tests or who have provided their results to researchers indicate that while some homeschoolers test below average, a larger number test above that mark.
Proponents and opponents also disagree on how well-adjusted homeschooled children are. Although it appears to be true that children who are homeschooled spend less time with same-age children and more time with adults and children of different ages, research has not found that homeschooling harms children's social or psychological development. On the contrary, these children often demonstrate better social adjustment than their traditionally schooled peers.
Opponents argue that homeschooling is harmful to children because it isolates them from other children in their community. However, homeschooling is rarely conducted in total isolation. Many families participate in homeschool support groups, scouting, church and recreational activities, and other associations.
Through these activities, homeschooled children share experiences with people outside their immediate families. Although some homeschoolers and their associations emphasize affiliations only with people who share their religious beliefs, many actively seek religious, cultural, and racial diversity. In fact, one national magazine, The Drinking Gourd, is devoted to multicultural homeschooling.
What About College Admissions?
Homeschooling teenagers should contact the colleges and universities they would like to attend and ask about their admission policies. In a 1994 telephone poll conducted by the author of this brochure, a select group of admissions officers from large universities and colleges indicated willingness to consider applications from homeschooled students. In addition, all of the officers said that they accept standardized admission test scores-along with other material showing experience in learning and collaborating with others-in the absence of a regular high school transcript. Although admissions officers do not monitor this practice, some estimated that they admit a handful of undergraduates each year without a transcript. Interested teenagers should ask their local homeschool association for the names of college students who were homeschooled and would not mind offering advice about the college application process.
What Resources Are Available to Homeschoolers?
To get started, most homeschooling families join local support groups. Families often find these groups by word of mouth or through public or private schools, religious groups, or state or national associations. At least one homeschooling association is active in every state. These groups offer advice and information and hold conferences at which families who school at home discuss legal, philosophical, and teaching issues.
Parents can also find guidance in books, magazines, and newsletters. This brochure's companion piece, Homeschooling Resources for Parents and Students (posted on this web site), lists materials and Internet resources that cover a wide range of homeschooling issues.
Some school districts have established centers at which families may enroll in classes or obtain resources and instructional support. Such arrangements are called shared schooling, dual enrollment, or assisted homeschooling. Some districts also allow homeschoolers to attend public school part-time. Many private schools, some public schools, and the state of Alaska provide homeschoolers with texts, materials, and support. Homeschoolers also rely on libraries, museums, parks department programs, churches, civic associations, and other local institutions.
Where Can I Get More Information?
There are many sources of information and resources available to homeschoolers, including libraries, local public schools and other educational institutions, government agencies, nonprofit institutions, and other homeschoolers.
About the author - Patricia M. Lines is Senior Research Analyst, National Institute on Educational Governance, Finance, Policymaking, and Management, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.
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