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Some answers to common questions people have about homeschooling. Feel free to e-mail me if you have a question that isn't listed here.
Q: How many homeschoolers are there?
No one knows for sure, since state vary so widely in their data collection requirements and practices. Nearly a quarter of states, for instance, don't require homeschoolers to register or provide notification. Current estimates generally range from 1.5 to 2 million students. Given the reluctance of homeschoolers to identify themselves or respond to surveys (especially from government agencies), it seems likely that the actual population is near the high end of that range.
Q: What are the legal requirements for homeschooling?
As with most education policy, requirements vary from state to state. A few states have no homeschool regulations; in others, standardized testing, curriculum approval, portfolio review, teacher qualifications, or some combination thereof are required. Homeschool advocacy groups, on the whole, have been quite effective in reducing regulations in several states in recent years.
Q: What are the demographics of the typical homeschooler?
As I explain in the third of my Three Key Points About Homeschooling, describing the "typical homeschooler" is about as difficult as defining the "typical public schooler"--the range of demographics, philosophies, and practices make such a generalization practically impossible.
Q: What percentage of homeschoolers are religious?
Again, we don't know. In the 2007 National Center for Education Statistics survey, 83% of parents said that providing "religious or moral instruction" was a reason for their choice to homeschool. While estimates vary widely, most observers acknowledge that conservative Christians constitute the largest subset of homeschoolers in the United States. Whether this percentage is two-thirds, one-half, or even less of total homeschoolers, what seems beyond dispute is their disproportionate influence on public perception and rhetoric. In particular, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which identifies itself as a Christian organization, and its state-level affiliates exert strong influence over much of the policy environment surrounding homeschooling.
Q: How does homeschoolers’ academic performance compare with other students?
As I explain in the second of my Three Key Points About Homeschooling, evidence regarding this question is frequently mischaracterized by homeschooling advocates. The bottom line is, we can't draw any conclusions about the academic performance of the "average homeschoooler," because none of the studies drew from a random sample representing homeschoolers nationwide.
Q: Can homeschoolers take classes or participate in extracurriculars at public schools?
The question of whether states or districts should allow homeschoolers to take individual classes or participate in extracurricular activities at public schools has become increasingly prominent in recent years, with many homeschoolers pushing for greater access, either by urging lawmakers to champion their cause with new legislation or even taking the issue to court themselves. Currently, fourteen states have laws mandating that homeschoolers be allowed to enroll as part-time students, and nine states explicitly prohibit it; the rest leave it up to district discretion. In terms of extracurricular participation, regulations are more generous: twenty-two states require districts to make room for homeschoolers, six states refuse to allow it, and for the rest it remains a local decision.
Q: Do homeschoolers lack opportunities for socialization?
Few criticisms annoy homeschool parents as much as the “socialization question.” Their typical response is to argue that the type of socialization that public schools typically offer is hardly the most desirable or useful sort for later life. Furthermore, they contend, homeschoolers get to interact more with the full range of ages—rather than almost exclusively with their peers—in a greater variety of learning settings throughout the community.
It’s true that opportunities abound for all but the most geographically isolated homeschoolers to have significant, face-to-face interactions with those outside their family, including same-age peers. As with questions about academic performance of homeschooling, however, comprehensive empirical evidence about socialization is unavailable. Homeschool advocates routinely cite one particular study—a 2003 report by Brian Ray, commissioned by HSLDA—as evidence that homeschool graduates are engaged citizens, involved in their communities, and leading fulfilling lives. But this study relied on the self-reports of volunteers without controlling for parent income, education, or other variables, so neither definitive statements about homeschoolers nor reliable comparisons with the general U.S. population can be made.
Q: What curricular resources are available for homeschoolers?
Most outsiders are surprised to learn that the homeschool curriculum market is estimated to do nearly a billion dollars a year in sales in the United States alone. Curricula range from materials infused with religious references to products that are used regularly in public schools (a math program from Singapore, for instance, is gaining popularity among homeschoolers and school districts alike).
Q: How does homeschooling work for students with “special needs”?
Although (again) no comprehensive research exists, homeschool advocates contend that the customized, individual attention made possible in the homeschooling context can be of particular benefit to students with special needs. Eleven percent of homeschool parents in the 2007 NCES survey pointed to their child’s "physical or mental health problem" as a reason they chose to homeschool, and 21% of parents said their child had other kinds of "special needs" that schools didn't address to their satisfaction.
In terms of special education, services, parents don't necessarily need to forgo them if they choose to homeschool their children. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to locate and evaluate both public school and private school children in the district who may have special education needs. Whether homeschoolers are considered private school students—and thus eligible for special education services—varies from state to state.
Q: Do colleges accept homeschool students, and how do homeschoolers do?
While formal studies have been limited in scope, they suggest—along with hundreds of anecdotal accounts I have reviewed over the past few years—that homeschoolers generally fare quite well in college. Both university officials and homeschoolers-turned-collegians themselves point to social adjustments as the biggest challenge, as well as learning to adhere to a fixed schedule of classes and assignment deadlines. Homeschoolers’ ability to direct their own learning and pace themselves is often identified as a real strength, however, particularly if accompanied by a zest for exploration and discovery that self-directed learning can foster. Not surprisingly, then, admissions departments around the country are increasingly amenable to homeschooler applications, some actually assigning an official liaison specifically for this population. Others have even begun actively recruiting homeschoolers through state conventions, targeted information sessions, and homeschooler publications.
Q: What are the best scholarly books available on homeschooling?
This is, of course, a matter of opinion. The two that I have found most helpful are Kingdom of Children by Mitchell Stevens and Homeschool: An American History by Milton Gaither. Look here for a comprehensive list of scholarly books. In addition, there are hundreds of other books written by homeschool advocates and homeschoolers themselves who mix research, personal experiences, and how-to advice.