Homeschooling in the United States:Trends and Characteristics
The Impact of Home Schooling
According to widely-repeated estimates, as many as two million American children are schooled at home, with the number growing at 15 to 20 percent per year (McDowell & Ray 2000, Lines 2000). Compared with other recent changes in the educational system, such as the growth of charter schools, home schooling has received relatively little attention.1 It could be argued, however, that home schooling may have a much larger impact on educational system, both in the short and long run. This is because home schooling seems to be taking place on a larger scale than other educational innovations, because home schooling may have a greater immediate impact on educational practices in existing schools, and because home schooling has brought new institutional forms into being that have the potential to grow over the longer term.
Although other institutional innovations in the educational system have grown in recent years, home schooling is probably the largest change in the sheer number of students involved.
Home schooling directly comprises a larger student population than voucher school programs -- at least those that include private schools, that enroll only a few thousand students in a few cities (see Gardner 2000). Home schooling also involves a larger population than charter schools. According to estimates from organizations involved with charter schools, the student population in the fall of 2000 was just over 500,000 (Center for Education Reform, 2001). Even conservative estimates of the number of home schoolers put their numbers at that level or above.
Charter schools and voucher systems provide competitive challenges to traditional public schools, and as such, provide a direct incentive to adopt innovations and match the performance of other schools. However, the main outlines of current schooling practice have thus far remained intact. The challenge of home schooling, by contrast, is more profound. Home schooling is a more radical departure from traditional education, it affects more schools, and it forces numerous adjustments to current curricular practices.
Public schools in many jurisdictions have already begun to provide services of various types to home schoolers. Laws in at least seven states permit home schooled students to participate in sports, music and other extracurricular activities in regular schools (Farris 1997). In Florida and Iowa, schools also allow home schoolers to take individual courses.
Reprinted with the permission of the Census Bureau.
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