Homeschooling: Examining a Growing Trend
A growing number of families are choosing to homeschool their children. Education World examines the pros and cons of this trend. Last summer Holly and Beau Doherty wrestled with a major decision: whether to homeschool their daughter Julia or have her continue in public school. They did as much research as possible and made their call. Come September, Julia, who is now 11, began homeschooling, with Holly teaching.
Julia sums up the experience this way: "I really like homeschooling. You're not in competition with other kids all the time, and you work at your own speed. One thing is I miss my friends sometimes, but I can still invite them over, and I've made new friends who homeschool, too."
Holly Doherty, too, finds Julia learns better when she works at her own pace and praises the homeschooling curriculum they have selected (from Oak Meadow School in Brattleboro, Vermont).
But the Dohertys, who live in Connecticut, don't think homeschooling is right for every family.
"There are no real disadvantages to homeschooling," Holly Doherty says, "but it demands a tremendous commitment from the teaching parent. You have to learn the materials and, in some areas, you'll want to think of your own activities. You have to do a lot of work."
HOW MANY ARE HOMESCHOOLED?Approximately 1,230,000 U.S. children are being taught at home, according to data in a study conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Oregon. Homeschooling seems to be a growing trend throughout the country; but, compared with the number of children in public and private schools, the number being homeschooled is relatively small.
Yet anecdotal evidence abounds of individual success stories in homeschooling. For example, some parents whose children had disciplinary problems in public school say that when those children work at their own pace, they don't become bored and thus don't cause problems during school time.
DEFINING HOMESCHOOLINGHomeschooling doesn't always occur at home. It may take place in the home or in another place in the community. It may involve just one child, several siblings, or any number of children whose parents or guardians decide to pursue an alternative to public or private schools. A number of charter schools have been established by parents to homeschool children in a group.
Michigan is the only state requiring certified teachers to take part in homeschooling programs, and the state lets parents choose a teacher and doesn't demand a minimum level of teacher supervision. The state has excused parents who object on religious grounds from the certification requirement.
PROS AND CONSHomeschooling, and its growth, has generated some controversy. As with any issue in education, its advocates tend to be strongly in favor of it, and its opponents tend to be strongly opposed.
Researchers can't say for sure whether homeschooled children would do better or worse academically in traditional schools because it is difficult to get a representative sample of homeschooled students. Yet the results when homeschoolers take state-mandated tests show that although some homeschoolers test below average, a larger number test above average. The problem with evaluating this information is that there is no way of knowing if children who tested above average might have done as well or better if they were enrolled in public school.
How well-adjusted are homeschool children? Opponents point out that children who are homeschooled spend more time with adults and children of different ages and less time with same-age children. But research has not indicated that homeschooling hurts children's social or psychological development. In fact, some homeschooled children show better social adustment than their peers in traditional schools. Homeschooling children generally make social contact in various ways, including homeschool support groups, clubs, recreational activities, and religious affiliations.
Will homeschoolers be accepted at the college of their choice? In a 1994 telephone poll conducted by Patricia M. Lines, senior research analyst at the National Institute on Educational Governance, Finance, Policymaking and Management, a group of admissions officers from large universities and colleges said they were willing to consider applications from homeschooled students. In addition, homeschool associations may help by providing contacts with college students who were also homeschooled.
In the past homeschoolers have often missed out on special programs. Homeschooling parents and students are working with state officials to obtain access to programs in sports and extracurricular activities, and many of those programs are now open to homeschoolers.
Finally, the advantages of homeschooling, if it's handled responsibly and intelligently by the teaching parent or another teacher, can be considerable for certain children. Yet to say that some children do achieve more educationally when homeschooled is not to say that public school and private school don't serve other children very well. The parent's responsibility, then, is not to reject a certain type of school but to choose the approach that best suits the child/student and the family.