Homeschooling – parent-led, home-based education - is an age-old traditional educational practice that a decade ago appeared to be cutting-edge and “alternative” but is now bordering on “mainstream” in the United States. It may be the fastest-growing form of education in the country.
“Beginning in the 1980s, for a variety of reasons ranging from religious concerns to dissatisfaction with the content of public school education, parents increasingly sought to provide their children’s education at home and lobbied state legislatures to revise education law to support homeschooling. By 1985, 50,000 children were homeschooled, and the numbers grew steadily though the 1990s and 2000s, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2016, 1.7 million children, about 3.3% of the school age population, were being homeschooled.”
(The Risks of Isolation in Homeschooling — Issues for Social Workers, Suzanne McDevitt, PhD, Social Work Today)
By the spring of 2019, there were about 2.5 million homeschool students in grades K-12 in the United States. It appears that the homeschool population is continuing to grow at an estimated 2% to 8% per annum.
From Compulsory to Voluntary
Through the efforts of homeschool advocates, state regulations on compulsory attendance have been modified to allow homeschooling in every state.
- Regulations governing homeschooling are set by each state and differ dramatically.
- Some states have virtually no regulations.
- While a few states require instruction in specified subjects and regular standardized testing (e.g., New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC), others require much less.
- Some 40 states, according to the Educational Commission of the States, require some notification by parents of intent to homeschool, though six require only one-time notification. Ten, including Idaho, Connecticut, New Jersey, Michigan, and Illinois, require no notification at all.
- According to the Educational Commission of the States, as of 2015, 13 states and the District of Columbia require homeschooling parents to have some qualifications, usually a high school diploma.
- Only two states, Pennsylvania and Arkansas, require any kind of background checks. In Arkansas, homeschooling is not permitted in homes with a registered sex offender. In Pennsylvania homeschooling is not permitted if the parent or any adult member of the household has been convicted of any of an extensive range of serious offenses, including sex offenses, drug use, human trafficking, and violent offenses, within the past five years.
- About one-half of the states have requirements for attendance, either in school days or instructional hours.
- Some states require proof of immunizations.
- Taxpayers spend an average of $11,732 per pupil annually in public schools, plus capital expenditures. The finances associated with homeschooling likely represent over $27 billion that American taxpayers do not have to spend, annually, since these children are not in public schools.
- The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests.
- The home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development.
- Homeschool students are regularly engaged in social and educational activities outside their homes and with people other than their nuclear-family members.
But What About the Vulnerable?
Child welfare professionals do not disagree with the concept of homeschooling or a parent’s right to do so but, insofar as homeschooling isolates children from the community in general, they see significant risks to the well-being of the vulnerable children they are charged to protect. In addition to the isolation that can result from homeschooling, CPS is concerned with a range of other issues such as:
- Social isolation
- Food deprivation
- Opportunities for adoption
- Providing services for special needs children
CPS professionals state their core concern simply: “When homeschooling occurs in an abusive home, the ordinary safeguards in place to protect school-age children disappear.”
The Continuing Role of CPS in The Homeschool Movement
During the course of their everyday work, CPS workers investigating individual families routinely audit the following factors:
- Does the homeschooling begin after a CPS notification by the school or after a case was closed?
- Do the children participate in extracurricular activities such as sports or school clubs?
- Does the family participate in homeschool co-ops, or church or community activities?
- How isolated are they?
- What is the quality of the relationship with the parent?
- Do children have any contact with members of the extended family?
- While financial limitations may prevent some activities, they should not result in complete isolation of the child.
Finding and helping the most vulnerable in our society is the noble work of Child Protective Services. Thank God you are on the job.