- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

Home-schooling always has thrived on its ability to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. Today is no different. Over the past 10 years, home-schooling has grown rapidly. There are more than 2 million home-schooled children, up from an estimated 1.2 million in 1995. Home-schoolers represent about 3 percent of the school-age population.

Growth has changed the home-school movement for the better because additional families bring their own talents and ideas to the table. One of the consequences is that new home-schooling parents have greater opportunities and choice than ever before. This is particularly evident in the increased availability of tailor-made curricula.

Just 10 years ago, a limited amount of good-quality home-school curricula was available, but that began to change in the late 1990s as thousands of families who had started home-schooling in the early 1980s finished home-schooling. The generation’s worth of home-school knowledge accumulated by those families was turned into tailor-made curricula for other home-schoolers.

The easiest way to distribute new curriculum products is through the Internet, and like many others, home-schoolers flocked to this new tool.

Thousands of products are available, and the market for home-school-related materials is estimated to be worth nearly $1 billion per year. Because of this change in technology, many home-school families rely on the Internet to buy and sell new and used curriculum products.

One of the major sites used by home-schoolers is EBay. Using EBay works very well for home-schoolers for the same reason it works well for everyone else: a wide range of products and easy shopping. Unfortunately, this year, EBay changed its policy regarding school curricula and banned the sale of teacher’s guides.

EBay’s concern centered on the inability to verify who was buying the curricula. It is possible that a student could purchase the teacher’s guide and therefore have access to all the answers. Unfortunately, the policy change had the effect of excluding many home-schoolers from one of their most useful ways of providing for their children.

The Home School Legal Defense Association received numerous complaints about the policy change, and after consideration, HSLDA decided to create our own curriculum site where home-schoolers would be able to purchase the complete curriculum they need.

There is, however, a key difference between HSLDA’s curriculum site and EBay. Because HSLDA is a membership organization, it is possible to verify whether teachers are doing the buying. To be an HSLDA member, the parents or guardians must be providing at least 51 percent of the instruction to their own children. The new site allows only HSLDA members to buy, but it allows anyone to sell. In this way, because the buyers come from a self-selected group of teachers, the difficulty experienced by EBay has been overcome.

Home-schoolers have a long history of organizing their own solutions to the problems they encounter. Developing a curriculum marketplace is very much in the vein of the home-school response to the roadblocks that often are thrown in the way.

The new site already has proved itself. In just two weeks, more than 2,500 members signed up and more than 1,800 products were listed for auction. It is hoped that many more will join and HSLDA’s curriculum market will become an asset to the home-schooling community. For information, visit http://market.hslda.org/auction/xcAuction.asp.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600; or send e-mail to media@hslda.org.