Friday, January 31, 2014

Guest Post: Homeschooling is Growing

According to the United States Department of Education, an estimated 2.4 million students are being homeschooled in the year 2014. This represents an increase of over 75% from 1999, a tremendous jump which validates the homeschooling movement.  Professional educators have begun to question why more and more parents are choosing to educate their children at home.
Compulsory education laws only began to be enacted in the United States in the later years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. By 1917 all of the states had compulsory education laws in place though the laws varied by state regarding the ages of the children who were included in the law and possibilities for exemptions (farm work, disabilities, etc). It wasn't until the 1970s when respected education reformers, including John HoltCharles Silberman and Ivan Illich, began to speak out about their visions of a less-structured, less-authoritarian and more creative educational framework, that homeschooling advocates felt confident enough to organize themselves and push their state legislatures to legalize homeschooling.
Christian families started to advocate for the right to homeschool their children in 1983 when the Supreme Court focused on the admission criteria of Christian private schools. According to the courts, these schools were discriminating in their admissions policies and, as a result, they lost their tax-exempt status. The resulting tuition hikes in these schools created a situation in which many parents could no longer pay the tuition for their children to be educated according to their preferred religious values. These parents were unprepared to send their children to public schools and, as a result, they joined the homeschooling movement.
Homeschooling parents point to a wide range of reasons that encouraged them to choose to teach their children at home.
  1. Homeschooling allows the parents to set the curriculum in a way that enables the children to learn independently, engage in more project-based learning and explore topics that are of specific interest to them -- all strategies which have been proven, in studies of educational methodology, to produce more motivated learners who are prepared and capable of taking responsibility for their own learning.
  2. Parents are able to stay with their children throughout the day. There is a higher student-teacher ratio and no bullying or peer pressure. Parents are able to act as their child's guiding force during critical times in a child's life.
  3. Homeschoolers can integrate their family's religious and other values into the daily curriculum and reduce other influences which they see as negative influences on their child's religious and moral development.  Family beliefs are incorporated into the social, emotional and academic portions of the homeschool plan.
  4. Homeschooling students can progress and mature at their own speed. If a child wants to put more effort into a specific subject or isn't ready to tackle an aspect of the curriculum, the parent can manipulate the lessons to accommodate the child's interests and needs. The child's natural inclination for learning is nurtured and learning becomes a pleasure, rather than a task.
  5. Homeschoolers enjoy more educational resources because they can use the world, their family and community and their environment as their classroom.
Test scores show that homeschooled students consistently out-perform students who learn in a traditional school. Homeschooling students average on the 89th percentile of reading scores in standardized testing whereas school students average at the 50th percentile. Homeschool students score in the 84th percentile on standardized math and language tests in comparison to public school students' 50th percentile standing in these tests. Other subjects in which the homeschooled students out-perform the public school students by OVER 30% on standardized tests include social studies and the sciences. When homeschooled and public schooled students were compared in college, the GPAs of homeschooled students were significantly higher than the GPAs of students who came from public schools.
While homeschooling and public schooling are very different types of learning environments, some aspects do not change -- namely, the place of the educator in creating a successful learning environment. As educational visionary and chairman of Knowledge Universe - Lowell Milken has noted, "The most direct and enduring way to reach the mind and imagination of the learner is through the mind, imagination and character of the outstanding teacher." Homeschoolers have proven that parents can fill this role as well as professional educators.

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