May 222012

An article by Education Week yesterday claims that the number of homeschooling families will see robust growth over the next 10 years, as disillusioned parents spurn public schools. The article, Number of Homeschoolers Growing Nationwide, stated that “the number of primary school kids whose parents choose to forgo traditional education is growing seven times faster than the number of kids enrolling in K-12 every year.” Julia Lawrence, the article’s author, states: “As the dissatisfaction with the U.S. education system among parents grows, so does the appeal of homeschooling.”

My first thought when I read that explanation was that it made complete sense. After all, my own family came to homeschooling after trying parochial, public, and private schools (in that order). We weren’t happy with any of them. So it made perfect sense that other families might follow the same path we did. But as I thought more about this ostensible explanation for the increase in homeschooling, I realised it wasn’t complete. Yes, dissatisfaction with schools is what led us to homeschooling, but what kept us homeschooling was the incredible “rightness” of this choice for our family.

Education News pointed out some valid arguments for homeschooling, notably that homeschooled students significantly out-perform their public school peers on standardized tests: scores for homeschoolers fall between the 65th and 89th percentiles, while scores for public school students fall at the 50th percentile. These are averages, of course, and there are obviously students in both educational settings who perform better (and worse). Still, a minimum 15-point percentile increase in an average is huge. In addition, the achievement gap so often found in public schools seems not exist among homeschoolers. Race and ethnicity do not affect student performance; nor does the education level or income of the parents.

But the more I mull over the article, the more I am convinced it missed the point in many ways. It’s inarguable that, as parents become disillusioned with public schools, more families will opt out. Some will choose private schools and others home education. But I would argue that while dissatisfaction with public schools can lead a family to start homeschooling, this is not the reason families continue to homeschool. Rather, once families begin homeschooling they, like mine, discover that homeschooling is the right choice for them. NHERI’s Research Facts on Homeschooling lists reasons families choose homeschooling. It’s interesting to note that dissatisfaction with public schools does not appear in the top five reasons presented by NHERI:

  • customize or individualize the curriculum and learning environment for each child
  • accomplish more academically than in schools
  • use pedagogical approaches other than those typical in institutional schools
  • enhance family relationships between children and parents and among siblings
  • provide guided and reasoned social interactions with youthful peers and adults

It strikes me that parents are not running away from public school so much as running to home education — and enthusiastically embracing it! Perhaps this is a small distinction to Education News but I think it reflects a big difference in the mindset of the homeschooling parent, which is no doubt largely responsible for the success homeschoolers enjoy.

What do you think? What are the reasons you chose to homeschool your children? Are your initial reasons still true today or have they evolved into something else?