Sunday, December 18, 2005

With private and government estimates showing that home-schooling is growing at a rate of 7 percent to 15 percent each year, most people recognize home-schooling as the fastest-growing education trend today.

But can home-schooling maintain this pace? According to a report released in November 2004 by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 5.5 million “stay-at-home” parents. Home-schooling usually requires having a full-time parent at home, and even with an estimated 600,000 families already home-schooling, there still is significant room for growth.

Depending on how home-schoolers are counted, different conclusions could be reached about home-school growth. In recent years, the increasing numbers of home-schoolers appears to reflect the growth of public charter schools. There is an important distinction to be made between children in charter schools and those being educated privately by their parents. A charter school is still a public school, which is run by the government.

Home-school leaders across the country are concerned about the charter-school movement because many families who previously home-schooled have been drawn into the charter school, thereby losing some of their parental authority. If this trend continues, it could affect the liberty of the private home-schooler who desires to be independent from government oversight and control.

The charter-school option is tempting. Typically, the government covers the costs of materials by providing curriculum and a computer. There are significant drawbacks, however, since the curriculum is fixed. The genius of independent home-schooling is that a parent can tailor an education to fit the interests of the child and consequently proceed at the child’s pace. Another important factor for many home-school families is the freedom to teach from a religious perspective.

Parents who previously home-schooled privately may not have considered all the costs of switching to a charter school. Once a commitment is made to a charter school, the government holds the cards. More regulations can be added because you’re receiving a government benefit.

For some parents, fear and trepidation about whether they really could succeed at home-schooling pushes them toward choosing a charter school because there is the promise that a public school teacher will provide support. But support is available in the home-school community.

One of the goals of Home School Legal Defense Association is to encourage families to home-school. One program developed by Exodus Mandate, a group that promotes home-schooling, is called Homeschooling Family-to-Family. Experienced home-schoolers would encourage and mentor other families who are considering home-schooling or are just starting to home-school.

One of the most effective ways of growing the home-school movement is for home-school families to spread the word about what they have discovered. They should be equipped with facts and figures that support home-schooling. They should be able to point people to “getting-started resources” and local support groups.

This is a challenge for all home-schoolers, because if we do not look for opportunities at our church or at work to make the case for home-schooling, then too many families will fail to understand that home-schooling is a viable option. Also, previously home-schooling families could be enticed back under the public system via ever-increasing subsidies, without existing home-school families who are willing to lend a hand.

There are millions of parents who would benefit from making this important choice. In order for home-schooling to fulfill its potential and revolutionize education in this country, home-schooling parents need to persuade other parents that the benefits of home-schooling outweigh the burdens. This is one of the most important challenges facing home-schooling today. I trust that the home-school movement will choose to go the extra mile and ensure that home-schooling continues to thrive.

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

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