Homeschooling in the United States:Trends and Characteristics (page 2)
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.
Perhaps the largest impact of home schoolers has been the concomitant entry of new educational organizations into the field. Many private organizations and enterprises have entered the K-12 distance education field with their sights set on home schoolers as a primary audience (Hill 2000).
The State of Florida has developed an extensive set of courses that can be taken over the Internet for high school credit by home schoolers and others who choose to use this resource, and Illinois is developing a similar program (Carothers 2000, Trotter 2001).Meanwhile several for-profit ventures have entered the field, offering courses and, in one case, accredited diplomas over the Internet (Trotter 1999, Walsh 2001).
If home schooling continues to grow, demand will grow for the types of services that are starting to be offered by public schools and distance education providers. A result will be pressure on schools to design school curricula that allow students and parents to pick and choose what they like. According to some observers, another result will be the creation of new schools and school-like institutions built around the common needs and concerns of home-schooling families (Hill 2000).
Despite these broad impacts there have been few attempts to examine the characteristics of home schoolers and their households in the U.S. The few studies that have been conducted have relied on highly selective samples (Rudner 1999, Welner & Welner 1999) or have examined selective issues without giving a thorough overview of the home-schooled population (Smith & Sikkink 1999). The main exception is an especially careful attempt by researchers associated with the U.S. Department of Education to reconcile results from two major national surveys measuring the home school population (Henke et al. 2000). Unfortunately, the authors of this publication did not have available to them additional survey data that shed light on the prevalence of home schooling.
In sum, despite the importance of the topic, we are left without basic information on the nature of home schooling in the United States. How many children are home-schooled? Is that number increasing? What are the social, demographic and geographic characteristics of households that engage in home schooling? Is home schooling concentrated among rural families? In what regions of the country is it most prevalent? What motivations do parents cite for choosing home schooling -- religion, concerns about school quality, or other motivations? What are the barriers that keep them from using other forms of education that meet some or all of these concerns -- cost of private schools, disaffection from schools in general or other barriers?
Reprinted with the permission of the Census Bureau.
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