Published: 30-06-2011, 05:18

Home schooling - American Education

The formal instruction of children in their homes instead of in school. A highly controversial practice, home schooling was the norm in the early 19th century, when most children went to work in the fields, mines or factories, sometimes beginning as young as five, six or seven years old. Before the existence of free public schools and universal public education, few parents could afford to send their children to so-called common schools, where they had to pay part of the costs of school maintenance, teacher’s salaries, books and other materials. Except in the occasional, isolated rural or mountain area, home schooling all but disappeared in the United States until the 1970s, when nationwide desegregation of public schools provoked many southern white families who opposed racial integration either to send their children to all-white, private Christian academies or keep their children at home. Many chose the latter.
Another factor in the growth of home schooling was the failure of fundamentalist Protestant Christians, who believe in biblical inerrancy, to introduce biblical teachings into the public school curriculum. Rebuffed time after time by the U.S. Supreme Court, thousands of fundamentalists pulled their children out of public school systems in favor of home schooling. As a result, the last decades of the 20th and first years of the 21st centuries saw the number of home-schooled children soar from an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 in 1975 to between 1 million and 1.5 million in 2003, or more than 2% of the school-age population. And the number was increasing at an astounding rate of 7% to 15% annually, depending on the region of the country.
The majority of home-schooled children come from white, two-parent, one-income families with three or more children. About half the families believe they can provide their children with better education at home, while 38% were motivated solely by religious beliefs. Many families cited the ban on prayer in public schools, the teaching of evolution and promotion of contraception in sex education as motivating their decisions to home school their children. About one-fourth also cite the poor learning environment, including exposure to violence, drugs and premature sex at school, as a motive for home schooling their children.
The registered number of home schoolers surged 10.1% in the 1999–2000 academic year in Colorado, following the previous spring’s shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where 12 students and a teacher died and almost two dozen others suffered wounds. Although few home schoolers identify themselves as such on standardized college entrance examinations, those that do invariably score 5% to 10% above the national averages. Advocates of home schooling say one reason for high test scores is the flexibility of the curriculum, which allows students to proceed at their own pace to the next level after they have mastered a topic instead of wasting time restudying material they already have mastered while slower children in formal classrooms try to catch up. No reliable data exists, however, comparing the academic achievement of homeschooled students with conventionally educated students. Existing figures compare only highachieving home schoolers with a broad-based average of public-school students.
More than two-thirds of American colleges accept parent-prepared transcripts and portfolios in lieu of accredited high school diplomas, but religious colleges, which require few, if any, standardized admissions tests, draw a disproportionate number of home schoolers, and the vast majority of home-schooled children come from Christian fundamentalist families opposed to secular education. For example, more than 10% of the students at Oral Roberts College, a Christian college in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are home schooled. Home schoolers come from families with average incomes ranging from $40,000 to $50,000, well below the median $50,000 to $60,000 for all American families with children in high school. Many Christian colleges, therefore, set aside scholarships for the home-schooled—about $2,000 a year per home-schooled student at Oral Roberts and as much as $12,000 a year at Nyack College, a Christian school in Nyack, New York. In 2000, evangelical Christian home schoolers opened a combined on-campus/online college in Purcellville, Virginia, exclusively for home-schooled students. Launched in conjunction with an advocacy group, the National Home School Legal Defense Association, Patrick Henry College refuses federal financial support and charges about $15,000 a year for tuition. The all-white college claims that the average SAT score of its students is about 1320. Its core curriculum includes a semester of “biblical reasoning” and a course called “Foundations of Liberty,” which teaches that biblical principles, traditional sex roles and limited government are fundamental to democracy. Patrick Henry College students must obey a strict moral code that forbids drinking and requires students to live in single-sex dormitories, wear their hair neatly and dress “modestly.” A “courtship policy” requires male students to ask permission of the fathers or guardians of female students before courtship. On-campus male-female contacts are limited to holding hands, campus television blocks the reception of “racy” stations such as MTV and VH1, and “Covenant Eyes” software on all student computers monitors the Web sites students can visit.
Critics of home schooling contend that it isolates children ethnically and racially and deprives them of social skills. Moreover, they question the value of an education imparted by professionally untrained parent-teachers whose emotional ties to their offspring-students might open such students to abuse. Although all states allow home schooling, regulations vary widely from state to state. Ten states, including New Jersey and Texas, do not require parents to notify school officials that they are home schooling their children and require no record keeping of their children’s progress. Fourteen states, including Alabama, California, and Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia, require parents only to notify school authorities that they are home schooling their children—but little else. New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and other states, in contrast, require regular standardized testing of home-schooled students and approval of the home-school curriculum. An attempt by Congress to require school districts to certify that all teachers are qualified to teach the subjects to which they are assigned was defeated by fundamentalist groups and home schooling advocates. The Home School Legal Defense Association fought and won a series of court and legislative victories that eliminated requirements in a number of states that home-school teachers have high school diplomas or college degrees and pass teacher certification tests. Texas, Kansas and Michigan went even further by passing laws establishing the “fundamental right” of parents to control the way their children are raised. To that end, 14 states passed laws requiring school districts to open extracurricular activities, including all sports, to home-schooled children in their districts—although such schools lose state aid when children leave to be home schooled and are no longer carried on school registries.
To counter the home schooling movement, states such as Oregon and Colorado have started encouraging home-schooled students to reenroll in school to take courses in advanced subjects such as calculus and foreign languages or Advanced Placement courses that parents are unable to teach.