Homeschooling is the broad term used for describing the education of school-aged persons at home rather than in the public or private education systems. The United States is unique in that its public education system attempts to educate all children; all states mandate compulsory attendance in one form or another for individuals who are of school age. While the vast majority of students attend public schools, other opportunities, such as accredited or nonaccredited private schools (whether religiously affiliated or nonfaith based), charter schools, and home schools, offer a number of alternatives to public education. Homeschooling has seen a significant amount of growth over the past two decades, and its popularity continues to rise.
Homeschooling is a legally viable option in all states and can be used to satisfy compulsory attendance laws. Still, the home school experience can be different in each state. Some states do not require a check of academic progress, while others may require the parent to have certification as a teacher and submit annual reports of child progress. Requirements regarding time spent by children in the home school environment each day and the academic subjects to be covered in a home school also vary widely across states. Thus, the home school experience is one that currently offers a great deal of independence and variability throughout the United States.
This entry offers a general description and discussion of the state regulations applying to homeschooling.
A home school is defined as any learning situation in which a parent or guardian assumes direct responsibility for a child’s education. While those who homeschool have enjoyed increased media exposure and attention, the practice is not a new or revolutionary method. Some families and groups do not want the outside world to influence their children in any way contrary to their beliefs. However, possible influence contrary to family or group belief systems is not the only reason families opt to homeschool their children. For some families, the choice has to do with the rise of drug use, gang activity, and violence on school campuses. For still others, there seems to be a growing dissatisfaction with schools and their results as measured by achievement tests. Some oppose standardized testing in any form; others oppose what they see as a lack of success on standardized tests.
For reasons as varied as how to approach curriculum to the teaching of belief systems, homeschooling is growing and affecting American school society. Some estimates of the growth of children who are homeschooled indicate that nationwide, the number approaches 2% of the student population. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) estimated that the number falls between 709,000 and 992,000, although some sources say the number is as high as 1,700,000 students. One of the main difficulties of studying home school populations is that since there is no definitive method for obtaining the exact number of children who are homeschooled, sampling methods are difficult to utilize or validate.
As the number of homeschooled children increases, two primary theoretical perspectives are used to explain the phenomenon. The first is an academic, pedagogical perspective that explains homeschooling as an approach that requires the education to be suitable for the individual child, rather than the child having to be suitable for the education system. Students who have special needs would especially benefit from homeschooling, according to this philosophy. Pedagogues believe that public schools are unable to effectively offer instruction to students and neglect to provide a learner-centered environment. The second philosophy behind homeschooling is ideological, meaning that the instruction and curriculum used for home school education is based on certain morals and principles, usually of a particular religious orientation.
What the Law Says
The U.S. Constitution does not address public education. Thus, this important area falls under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which specifies that all rights and duties not explicitly named in the Constitution are the responsibility of the individual states. While all states regulate public education, the level of legislative involvement and scrutiny over homeschooling varies widely. Some states require only that families choosing to homeschool their children notify local education agencies or school board officials of their intent to do so. More than half of the states require parents to provide some form of assessment of student learning and academic achievement. Some states, although few, impose specific testing and educational requirements on parents. Other states offer high school diplomas for students who are homeschooled even though they do not recognize them for college entrance.
States classify homeschooling under a variety of educational headings, according to research by Dare in 2001. Fourteen states treated homeschooling with the same regulations as private or church schools. In some states, homeschooling was merely a part of private education, and in other states, it was considered as a separate category. The states varied as to whether the private schools were highly regulated or loosely regulated. Thirty-one states had home school statutes designed for fulfilling the compulsory attendance laws. These states also ranged from loosely to highly regulated based on the records parents were required to keep. Six states provided for students who were homeschooled by offering multiple options of how to meet the compulsory attendance laws. In essence, there seemed to be no trends regarding homeschooling by region of the country.
The lack of discernable trends in states by regions has not done anything to prevent the number of homeschooled children from growing. An increasing home school population should help stimulate even more growth as more pressure is brought upon states for further deregulation.
State laws fall into a varied continuum of regulations for homeschooled students. Generally, most jurisdictions require parents to at least file a notification of their intent to homeschool their children before doing so. Exceptions exist, for example, in New Jersey, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Texas; these states do not require any notification. State laws differ sharply in homeschooling regulations. Other states require student progress evaluations, most often chosen by the family, to be submitted by the parent. States can even require a submission of a curricular plan or satisfactory progress on a state-based assessment. Other states require nothing.
It is also up to state prerogatives as to how to handle the academic entry of previously homeschooled children into public schools. The grade levels assigned by home schools is often ignored as a measure for placing students in public schools; rather, school officials typically require children to undergo some sort of achievement-based test at an appropriate grade level. Insofar as there is no standardized method for identifying homeschooled students, studies involving the effectiveness or even accurate numbers of homeschooling are problematic.
In most states, homeschooled students do not have the privilege of participating in extracurricular activities that are sponsored by public schools. This includes most sports and fine arts programs, including theater, choir, dance, band, and other non–core curriculum areas.
One concern about homeschooling from the viewpoint of educators in public schools is that many places have no one assigned to work with home school families. Research reveals that while 91% of administrators reported having homeschooled students within their districts, more than two thirds reported that no one was assigned to work with families or students. Many administrators are also not current on legal policies concerning homeschooling. This can be troubling given that most state laws place homeschooling under indirect supervision of the local district. Some states, and thus local districts, do not really monitor the homeschooling group at all. Texas, for example, does not monitor any aspect of homeschooling at the state or local level.
The increase in students who choose homeschooling and the ramifications of this practice create the need for understanding this movement in terms of law. Historically, the key legal issue most often cited in home school conflict with public education has been compulsory attendance. In fact, the homeschooling movement has had its greatest difficulty with compulsory attendance laws. State compulsory attendance laws require that children be in school; as a result, many states have maintained that homeschooling is in violation of the law. Parents have challenged the assertion that they can have no control over their children’s education, based on the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The U.S. Supreme Court found that compulsory school requirements conflicted with constitutional rights in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). In Yoder, the Court ruled that families with religious or educational concerns, in this case the Amish, had the right to offer an alternative education to protect their beliefs. Even so, most courts reject attempts by homeschooling advocates to rely on Yoder, noting that the Amish have employed the practice of educating their children at home, or in the community after eighth grade, for hundreds of years, while wide-scale homeschooling is a relatively new phenomenon. Judicial unwillingness to allow advocates to rely on Yoder aside, all states currently allow for homeschooling by requiring children ranging in ages from 5 to 16 attend either public or approved nonpublic schools, including home schools.
Another area of increasing legal activity relates to federal guidelines under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The NCLB has placed many requirements concerning children and literacy. As a result, a number of state-level responses could increase the age range impacted by compulsory attendance laws; state legislators have also in some cases suggested that nonpublic school children take state-mandated accountability tests as a response to NCLB.
Stacey L. Edmonson
See also Compulsory Attendance; Wisconsin v. Yoder
- Boothe, J. W., Bradley, L. H., Flick, T. M., & Kirk, S. P. (1997). No place like home. American School Board Journal, 184(2)38–41.
- Collom, E. (2005). The ins and outs of homeschooling: The determinants of parental motivation and student achievement. Education and Urban Society, 37, 307–335.
- Dare, M. J. (2001). The tensions of the homeschooling movement: A legal analysis. Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University.
- Gordon, W., Russo, C., & Miles, A. (1994). The law of home schooling. Topeka, KS: National Organization on Legal Problems of Education.
- Princiotta, D., & Bielick, S. (2006, February). Homeschooling in the United States: 2003. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.
- Stevens, M. L. (2003). The normalization of homeschooling in the USA. Evaluation and Research in Education, 17, 90–100.
- No Child Left Behind Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 6301 et seq. (2002).
- Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972).