Rosalyn Templeton & Celia E Johnson. 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Editor: Thomas L Good. Sage Publications. 2008.
Illegal 20 years ago, educating children at home is considered the fastest-growing form of education today. Homeschooling can be defined as parents providing an education for their children at home, rather than in public or private schools. Educating learners at home is not a new phenomenon. In the United States, during the colonial days, families preferred to educate their children at home. However, by the middle of the 19th century, most children were educated in public schools. Homeschooling began to emerge once again in the late 1960s as an option for parents in some states. By 1993, homeschooling had become legal in all 50 states in the United States. Today, calculating an accurate number is difficult; yet, based on survey information, it is conservatively estimated that there are approximately 1.2 million children being educated at home. Due to the increased interest in homeschooling and the documented success of homeschool learners, this movement will have a definite impact on education in the 21st century.
Homeschooling can be defined as parents providing home-based education for their children. Patricia Lines (2003) believes a further broadening of the definition is needed and proposed two main types of learning at home—enrolled home study and independent homeschooling. Both types rely on parents providing education for their children at home. However, enrolled home study parents use curricula and assessments of the local school, whereas independent homeschooling parents select curricula and assessments for their children.
Another typological view of homeschooling is provided by Mitchell Stevens. He thinks that homeschool learners should be grouped into believers and inclusives. Believers are individuals who hold conservative Protestant Christian beliefs; inclusives encompass all others who do not fit into the believers group. Inclusives represent a wide range of values, beliefs, faiths, and ways of living. Adding yet another perspective to the concept of homeschooling, Jane Van Galen coined parents of homeschool learners as either ideologues or pedagogues. Ideologues are those who homeschool to transmit skills, values, and beliefs, and pedagogues are parents who believe they can do a better job of educating their offspring than schools can. Later, these terms were modified to be “ideological motivations” and “pedagogical motivations” by Karianne Nemer who believed that homeschool learners were a diverse, multidimensional group that could not be pigeonholed into such narrow categories.
Historical Perspective of Homeschool Learners
Educating learners at home is an old tradition that has gained current popularity. In the United States, during the colonial days, families preferred to educate their children at home. However, by the middle of the 19th century, most young people were educated in public schools leading to mandates for compulsory attendance in all states by the beginning of the 20th century. It was not long before homeschooling moved underground as it was considered a crime in almost every state. As the 20th century progressed, new ideas about education emerged; popular writers and critics began questioning educational practices. One such critic, John Holt, a fifth-grade teacher in a private school, became disillusioned with the resistance to change in the U.S. educational system; thus began the modern-day homeschool movement. Holt believed that schools had failed and that the only place for children to learn was at home, where they did not need to fear failure or being mocked. Homeschooling began emerging once again in the 1960s as a viable choice for parents in some states. Holt launched the first periodical on homeschooling, Growing Without Schooling, in 1977, facilitating communication among homeschool families both legal and underground. Soon, the Christian homeschool movement followed and was received with resistance, prompting the organization of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in 1983. In spite of strong opposition from leading educational organizations, HSLDA’s goal of making homeschool legal in every state was achieved in 1993. Once homeschooling was legalized, those choosing it became more diversified and the new homeschool movement flourished.
Current Perspective of Homeschool Learners
From a current perspective, homeschool numbers are estimated to be about 1.2 to over 2 million individuals and the numbers are increasing rapidly. Accurate numbers are difficult to determine because parents are not required to register their children. Additionally, each state is free to determine policies and regulations around homeschooling which vary from no regulations to high regulations. Opponents of homeschool learners site their deepest concern as the opportunity to socialize with a diverse group of peers, who have different beliefs and backgrounds. Second, challengers of homeschooling worry that families will lack the resources or facilities necessary to deliver a well-developed curriculum, including extracurricular activities. A third concern is that parents may not be qualified to educate their children and lack the skills to present instruction in an effective manner, especially at the secondary level. Finally, opponents indicate that homeschool learners may not be well prepared for the world of work and may lack time management, organizational, motivation, collaboration, and/or study skills needed to succeed as a professional.
Proponents of homeschool learning have many reasons for supporting this alternative approach to education. First, parents are concerned about the safety of their children and their involvement in drug-related issues, sexual harassment, negative peer pressure, bullying, and violence. Most notably, an increase in school shootings—six reported in the 2006-07 academic year in K-12 schools—have parents opting to homeschool their offspring. Second, parents are worried about the academic rigor of the curricula and teachers’ lack of ability to create rich learning environments that are relevant to today’s society. A third reason parents choose to educate at home is for moral or religious reasons. Next, some families favor homeschooling because of the challenges associated with attending rural public schools, such as distance from home to school and lack of adequate course offerings. Finally, as parents have become aware of homeschool successes, they have been motivated to educate at home.
Many homeschool learners perform one grade level (or more) above their same-aged peers in public and private schools. A majority of learners do extracurricular activities and service learning projects in the community. Approximately 50% of homeschool learners have taken online coursework as part of their educational program. Typically, homeschool learners come from families that have two parents, a moderate to high level of income, one parent at home, and are White. Future trends show a dramatic increase in homeschool learners coming from suburban, Roman Catholic, and African American families. Furthermore, families with children who have special learning needs are opting to educate at home because of dissatisfaction with school systems. More specifically, educators appear not to be enhancing the curriculum for those who are gifted or individualizing programs for those who have disabilities.
Traditional Philosophies Leading to a New Movement
John Locke (1632-1704), a philosopher of the 17th century, believed that wealthy and middle-class children should be educated at home and poor children should be placed in “working schools” to learn a trade. He thought children should have many experiences guided by their own interests, so their minds being a blank slate would become full. Locke wanted parents or teachers to show children how to learn and to enjoy learning. He believed that education should instill virtue, critical thinking, and rational thought. In his mind, there was no fundamental difference in education for men and women.
John Dewey (1859-1952) believed that children should learn by doing and that learning should include critical thinking and problem-solving skills. He felt that all learning should be integrated fully into one’s life. Although not intending to promote schooling at home, Dewey wanted schools to mirror a home environment in each classroom. Patricia Lines believes that if Dewey were given a choice between an inflexible school system and educating children at home, he may well have selected the home.
The methods and curricula used with homeschool learners are as diverse as the reasons for homeschooling and the learners themselves. Before 1995, parents did not have easy access to the variety of resources that are available to homeschool learners today. Fortunately, today learners and their parents have numerous resources available: published curriculums, support groups, community resources, technologies and software, independent-study options, and public school partnerships. Additionally, public libraries have become significant resources, with librarians who have become more knowledgeable about today’s home-school learners and how to provide support. These numerous and varied resources are creating opportunities for more families to choose homeschooling. Furthermore, there are benefits particularly for learners in rural areas, with disabilities, or whose parents previously did not view homeschooling as an option.
The diversity of methods and curricula can be visualized on a continuum representing a more structured to less structured pedagogy, more instructor focused to more learner focused, or more direct instruction to more self-study approach. Typically, when people begin something new they seek out guidelines and rely on a more structured approach. For example, those beginning the homeschool process often choose to use purchased curricula materials that they closely follow. Many families from conservative religious homes select religious-based curriculum packages that align with their faith. Others choose a prepackaged curricula, including some packaged unit studies (e.g., Little House and American Girl) and supplement with a variety of experiences (e.g., car repairs, home maintenance, cooking). Some families design their own curricula choosing more of a themed project approach following the interests of the learner while integrating content as it relates to the particular topic.
JoAnn Vender provides an overview of several common models utilized by today’s homeschool learners. Classical homeschooling is rooted in the Middle Ages and focuses on the great books of Western civilization to teach logic and critical thinking; the Charlotte Mason method is focused on a literature-based curriculum with real-life applications; Eclectic homeschooling has a flexible use of a variety of different curricula adjusted to fit the needs of the learner; Montessori method was founded by Maria Montessori and focuses on learning as a natural, self-directed process; School-at-Home utilizes a purchased boxed curriculum; Unit Studies focuses on topic or learner interest; Unschooling was founded by John Holt and focuses on learner interests with minimal structure; and the Waldorf method was founded by Rudolf Steiner and focuses on children’s developmental stages and the integration of the arts. More recently, homeschooling models include multiple intelligences (based on Howard Gardner’s theory focused on learner strengths as a mode for learning) and multimedia-based instruction (use of DVD/video and Web-based learning).
A prepackaged curriculum typically comes with textbooks, study schedules, grading guides, teacher manuals, record keeping materials, and supplementary materials (e.g., DVDs, workbooks). Examples of prepackaged curricula include A Beka Curriculum, Homeschooling Books—Standard Comprehensive Curriculum, Heritage Home School Academy Curriculum, and Calvert School Curriculum, to name a few. Many curricula packages are affiliated with particular religious groups such as the Mormons, Quakers (Friends), Jewish, or different Protestant groups; some are specifically secular or nonreligious affiliated packages. Additionally, curricula are available that have been assembled with books and materials from a variety of publishers combined into a curriculum set as a package (e.g., Learning Things and Core Curriculum of America). Some prepackaged curricula do follow a self-study model, but have more traditional structured lessons (e.g., Saxon Math).
Opposite of prepackaged structured curricula is the Unschooling method with the greatest freedom and flexibility to follow learners’ natural interests. The most frequently utilized method is the Eclectic Homeschooling method which falls in the middle of the continuum and uses some prepackaged structured materials along with the Unschooled method of following learners’ interests. No matter which curriculum is chosen, learning is often supported and enhanced with additional resources. Learners may have tutors, attend high school or college classes, partner with charter schools, or belong to homeschool co-ops.
Currently, more prepackaged curricula are including technology components with online learning and support. Just as with any curricula, such programs span a range in the amount of structure. Some follow a sequence of modules with each module requiring successful completion before moving on to the next module. Other programs are more self-directed and allow for increased flexibility in meeting the requirements of the curricula. Many programs combine more of the traditional structure with choices built in for hands-on activities to mix and match with components of prepackaged curricula.
In addition to their academic curricula, many home-school learners are involved in a variety of other activities that contribute to socialization. Students might participate in religious activities, music groups, sport teams, dance troops, Scouts, book clubs, or service learning projects. Research has indicated that homeschool learners participate in two to five extracurricular activities. At times, these extracurricular activities fulfill specific requirements for a high school diploma. Two examples, participating in an organized sporting activity to meet the requirement for credits in physical education, or volunteering at a local hospital to meet the requirement for a health credit. The curricula model chosen for individual homeschool learner greatly influences the type of instruction used.
As with the different curricula models, instructional practices vary widely ranging from instructor focused to learner focused. Families who utilize a more learner-centered approach will sometimes use different curricula and instruction for each child depending on the learner’s interests or learning style. Following is an in-depth look at the most common curricula models and their instructional applications.
Classical homeschooling focuses on the method called the trivium, which consists of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Dorothy Sayers, a classical scholar and Christian writer took the three elements (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and aligned them with children’s development in early elementary, middle school, and high school. Elementary children’s learning focuses on the grammar element, referring to the grammar of each specific subject. At this stage, learners enjoy chanting, memorizing, and reciting; they learn to convey meaning through language—building a knowledge base of facts. Beginning the logic stage, middle school youth learn to sort out information, question what they have learned, and learn more complicated content concepts. Teaching them logic and skillful argumentation is a natural process and promotes critical thinking. To develop these skills, learners do more serious reading and research to critically compare information from a variety of sources. As adolescents, learners are more concerned about appearances and how they present themselves. This stage corresponds to the rhetoric stage where it is appropriate for students to take courses in rhetoric, apologetics, and literature. The focus is on developing effective communication skills. Overall, the educational experience aligned with the trivium takes learners from facts to understanding to expression, and provides them with the skills to think independently and become lifelong learners.
Charlotte Mason Method
The experiences of learners participating in the Charlotte Mason method include a variety of real-life activities where they take nature walks, visit museums, and learn geography and history from whole books and literature rather than textbooks. An important part of real-life experiences is the use of narration. The sharing of what is known and what has been learned from experiences prompts conversations between teacher and learner. These conversations then initiate questions and further exploration to gain knowledge. As learners mature they incorporate written narratives and keep journals documenting their experiences through descriptions, drawings, poetry, and identification of flora and fauna. Recommendations are for short lessons of 15- to 20-minute segments for elementary and 30- to 45-minute segments for junior/high school, with time reserved for play, creative thinking, and learning good work habits. Selection of books is critical; they must stimulate imagination and have high vocabulary content. Books should broadly educate in the humanities and liberal arts and cover language arts, geography, geology, history, mathematics, the sciences, physical exercise, and foreign languages.
Most homeschoolers utilize the Eclectic method where instruction is typically interdisciplinary and integrated with curricular content. Learners are free to combine products and resources, selecting elements from a variety of curricular models that include traditional academic learning and real-life experiences. Such experiences may involve learners within their own home or take them into their local community. On the one hand, learners have opportunity to gain knowledge about a topic through textbooks, video, and discussion. They then complete a project or create a product to demonstrate skills and understanding of conceptual knowledge. On the other hand, learners’ interests may spark desires to investigate and experiment. To illustrate, learners may keep notebooks, learn classical languages, have online tutors, complete research projects or units of study, do apprenticeships, and take part in local school activities—everything is considered the curriculum. The Eclectic homeschool learner is flexible with each day going in a new direction as new opportunities are explored.
The Montessori method emphasizes discovery of knowledge and is most commonly used with young children, although there are materials available for adolescents. Montessori focuses on individually paced learning and development. Independence and freedom are encouraged while learning limits and responsibilities. Young learners’ development emphasizes practical life skills such as daily chores and manners with the goal of increasing attention span, hand-eye coordination, and persistence. Older learners’ development is focused on peer-oriented interactions and continued self-directed intellectual development that may include sharing of knowledge with younger siblings. The environment is a critical component for facilitating the process of discovery through the use of materials, structure, building, play, exercise, concepts, and natural consequences as a means of understanding our world. The simplicity of natural beauty is important with a deemphasis on clutter that can confuse learning. Learners need ample opportunity to engage in the natural world that may include pets, gardening, cooking, and cleaning. Simple wooden materials are preferred over plastic fabricated materials, with the expectation to keep materials organized and ready for use. Television and computers are discouraged, particularly for young homeschool learners. Materials are carefully chosen to facilitate opportunities for learners to engage in a natural way using all five senses. Activities are designed to be self-correcting with the teacher first modeling proper use of materials. Each activity is intended to lead to a new level of learning or concept. Montessori resources are available for home use and appeal to homeschool learners because activities focus on the individual.
The School-at-Home method appeals to novice home-school parents as it follows a prepackaged comprehensive curriculum. The curriculum is organized to address the what, when, and how of instruction. JoAnn Vender has identified this method as being the most expensive with the highest parent burnout rate. Some parents who may be overwhelmed with the materials and the detailed procedures choose other materials and create their own lesson plans using the scope and sequence of the curriculum as a guide. The homeschool learner may also find the School-at-Home method less motivating leading parents to make adjustments.
Families with multiple children often choose the Unit Studies method. This method allows for the integration of content areas aligning with varying levels of childhood development. Unit packages are available for some topics and typically museums have educational kits that can supply materials such as books, dioramas, and supplementary information (e.g., DVD, experiments, artifacts, suggested activities, etc.). Older students can create their own unit studies and be paired with a younger sibling sharing the learning experience. Unit Studies facilitate discovery and thinking helping learners make connections between subjects.
The Unschooling method allows learners the greatest freedom to follow their natural interests, learning from everyday life experiences. This method is also known as natural, interest-led, and child-led learning. Founder John Holt believed there were no differences between living and learning. With Unschooling there are no set schedules or formal lessons; instead, learners’ natural curiosity provides the framework for exploration, research, and discovery as they learn what they live. Homeschool learners often become experts in particular topics when allowed to pursue their interests and curiosity at their own pace. Unschooling strategies followed by homeschool learners and their families vary across a continuum ranging from little or no structure, to structure approaching the Eclectic method. Raymond and Dorothy Moore, sometimes referred to as the grandparents of homeschooling, have had success following a modified Unschooling method that incorporates scheduled learning and expectations to help learners feel secure. The Moores’ emphasized manual skills as well as academics promoting balance in study, work, and service. Typically, Unschooling does not include textbooks, grades, tests, or labels and learners partner with their parents to set goals based on learner interests. Starting with one of the content subjects, projects are designed, and activities are planned that integrate skills and knowledge. Parents share their own experiences, discuss purpose, and explore knowledge gained. One component of this method is to allow learners time for creative thought.
The Waldorf method is grounded in whole-child philosophy of nourishing the body, mind, and spirit with an emphasis on the fine arts and nature. Three aspects of a child’s being are the focus of education, each considered equal: (a) the head (thoughts), (b) the heart (feelings), and (c) the will (physical). The first stage from birth through about 7 years old is when the child learns to communicate through physical growth and movement. The second stage from about 7 years old through the onset of puberty is focused on the child’s emotional nature. The third stage is when the child exercises logical thinking and progresses toward independence. Additionally, the child is recognized as a spiritual being in need of nurturance to inspire wonder and respect for nature accomplished through fairy tales, legends, and myths. Learners in a Waldorf home do not use traditional textbooks and are discouraged from using television and computers. They create their own curriculum centered on the maturation of the developmental stages— emphasizing experiential and artistic activities. Specific instruction in reading is delayed until the second stage, capitalizing on emotions.
No individual homeschool model is considered to be superior to another. The model or models chosen by families is based on learners’ and families’ needs and lifestyles. As homeschool learners continue to diversify, research provides greater understanding of how we learn, and technology continues to progress, new homeschool models will evolve and be influenced by change. In the past decade, we have seen how Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has influenced educational pedagogy in homeschool settings. Similarly, technologies have enhanced learning experiences in all settings. Homeschool learners are now able to visit other countries, meet and/or interact with different people, take online courses, participate in asynchronous learning or in virtual classrooms, and take Advanced Placement (AP) courses in preparation for college. Homeschool process will progress and change to meet the needs of increasingly diverse learners.
In addition to homeschooling being one of the fastest growing educational trends in the United States; it is also expanding to countries around the globe including Australia, Japan, South Africa, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, and throughout the provinces of Canada. Homeschooling in many countries has mirrored the United States, with many countries in the process of having homeschooling legalized. Many countries have had homeschooling recognized as a legal choice. Contributing to the surging interest in homeschooling worldwide is the Internet. Many parents discover homeschooling is illegal where they live, which mirrors what families in the United States experienced before 1993.
Homeschool laws throughout Europe vary from being illegal, legal with specific regulations, or legal with no regulations. Most countries where homeschooling is legal have compliance regulations, such as taking yearly exams to determine progress, registrations, and using national curricula. Following is summary information on the legal status of homeschooling in specific countries:
- Brazil—approximately 100 families underground
- Bulgaria—only children with special educational needs; less than 100 families
- Germany—approximately 400 families underground
- Netherlands—currently not legal except for religious exemptions—approximately 100 families
- Ukraine—less than 100 families underground
- Australia—varies within individual states and territories—approximately 15,000 families
- Hungary—must register as private students at home and follow state curriculum
- Ireland—approximately 350 families
- Israel—must have permission from the Ministry of Education; numbers unknown, but estimated to be in the hundreds
- Lithuania—must comply with local school requirements—numbers unknown
- New Zealand—must register with the Ministry of Education—approximately 3,500 families
- Poland—right to choose with school compliance; approximately 20 families
- Romania—must register as a private school; numbers unknown
- Switzerland—requirements vary from canton to canton; over 200 families
- Taiwan—legal for first through ninth grades with approved lesson plans; approximately 500 families
- Chile—a new movement—numbers unknown
- Czech Republic—experimental for 5 years; approximately 500 families
- Japan—law is vague and homeschoolers left alone; approximately 700 families
- France—law is vague and often challenged; approximately 8,000 private homeschoolers and 22,000 public school correspondence homeschoolers
- Kenya—approximately 40 families
- Mexico—no clear compulsory laws; homeschooling is flourishing
- Philippines—numbers unknown
- South Korea—law is vague and homeschoolers left alone; between 600 and 1,000 families
- United Kingdom and Wales—between 20,000 and 100,000 children
As a leader in homeschooling, the United States currently has an estimated 1.2-2.1 million homeschool learners. Policies and procedures vary from state to state and are organized as follows:
- MA, ND, NY, PA, RI, VT
- AR, CO, FL, GA, HI, IA, LA, ME, MD, MN, NC, NH, OH, OR, SC, SD, TN, VA, WA, WV
- U.S. Territories—America Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands
- AL, AZ, CA, DC, DE, KS, KY, MS, MT, NE, NM, NY UT, WI, WY
- U.S. Territory—Virgin Islands
- AK, CT, ID, IL, IN, MI, MO, NJ, OK, TX
- U.S. Territories—Guam and Puerto Rico
With the rapid growth of technology, continued acceptance of homeschooling, and successful outcomes, more countries are sure to follow the progress experienced in the United States. Support groups are organizing and legal services are helping families meet the challenging barriers to homeschooling, so growth will continue into the future.
As long as public schools continue to show poor student outcomes, not meet learning needs of students, and have students who are violent and abusive, the population of homeschool learners will continue to increase. To meet the needs of homeschool learners in the 21st century, parents and educators will have to work together to collectively form richer partnerships, create more virtual schools, and help homeschool learners transition into postsecondary programs.
Shrinking resources (for city libraries, homeschool coops, museums, etc.) are compounding the need of homeschool learners to form partnerships with schools. Currently, there are many types of collaboration between homeschool learners and schools. These home-school partnerships can be characterized by the level of involvement children have with the schools. The homeschool learners that Patricia Lines calls enrolled home study have the least amount of involvement with school personnel. As noted earlier, these individuals access the curriculum and assessment materials from their neighborhood schools to use at home, but do not utilize other services. Partnerships vary from learners attending a few classes, to full-day attendance two or three times per week. Still another way homeschool learners are being served is through the creation of community learning centers with funding and oversight provided by collaborative efforts between communities, parents, and schools.
Margaret Hadderman believes that if these partnerships are to flourish in a climate of trust, some challenges will have to be addressed, such as access to limited AP courses, sport activities, grade point average (GPA) requirements, and closed campus policies. Policy and procedures will have to be created in each school district to negotiate these issues. There are several benefits for both homeschool learners and schools to form partnerships. On the one hand, parents have oversight of their children’s education, which, for them, is an important goal. Additional parental advantages for forming partnerships include opportunities for learners to: (1) take specialized classes, (2) access curriculum and materials, (3) participate in extracurricular activities, (4) interact with specialized educators, and (5) form peer relationships. Schools, on the other hand, reap the following gains: (1) financial growth, (2) compliance to legislation, (3) positive relationships, (4) decreased overcrowding, (5) cohesive communities, and (6) enhanced diverse environments. With clear advantages for having home-school partnerships, it is a surprise that more states have not created formal systems that promote these linkages. Presently, there are few states that have laws to allow homeschool learners to participate in school activities; however, all 50 states permit learners to be at home for school.
The need to create partnerships is vital to both home-school learners and schools. School and home educators can learn many things from each other by simply sharing their ideas. In this increasingly fast-paced, technology accelerated time, educators working at home or school need to know (1) how to distinguish and select quality electronic media, print, and nonprint materials; (2) create an optimal learning environment; (3) implement teaching strategies; (4) conduct effective assessments; and (5) individualize curriculum to meet the needs of each child. To create a climate where partnerships can prosper, Pearson (2002) suggests that state departments of education, higher education, and school districts should take the following steps:
- Adopt statewide homeschool programs by working closely with parents, school personnel, and legislators.
- Create one set of exit standards for homeschool learners and students.
- Provide opportunities for people at state departments, legislature, school, and home to meet to collaborate and share ideas.
Institutions of Higher Education
- Incorporate into teacher education programs skills of facilitation and transition for homeschool learners.
- Prepare future educators to work collaboratively with homeschool parents and organizations.
- Identify homeschool learners and provide them with list of services and activities available—include this list on school Web site.
- Include home educators in schools’ professional development activities.
- Engage communities in the school and learning process.
Additional partnership tips for local schools includes (1) placing homeschool learners on curriculum and other school committees, (2) creating a homeschool learner link on school Web sites that list learner and parent activities, (3) engaging school counselors to help homeschool learners with college admissions, (4) creating a home-school advisory council with stakeholder membership, and (5) appointing a homeschool partnership coordinator. In addition to learning in partnership environments, homeschool learners of the future will have to become skilled at virtual learning.
Virtual learning began around 1996 and is rapidly expanding. Currently, there have been limited studies conducted to see the results of e-learning on students and more specifically on homeschool learners. It is estimated that approximately 33% of homeschool learners take virtual coursework. Margaret Hadderman sees virtual learning as a valuable choice for home learners. Since virtual schools qualify for public funding that would normally go to neighborhood schools, homeschool parents often receive a financial incentive to enroll their children. These e-courses may be free to homeschool learners, if they lived within a district of one of the estimated 15 statewide virtual school.
There are benefits, as well as challenges to this explosive growth in virtual courses for homeschool learners. In addition to learning at anytime, place, or level of rigor— learners have opportunities to interact one-on-one with a teacher, interrelate with diverse students, and tailor experiences to their own learning style. Additional benefits for schools include ability to enhance the existing curricula, prevent over crowding, avoid the logistics of managing students or maintaining facilities, and boost revenue.
Opponents of virtual learning caution homeschool parents to not abdicate their role as educators, select only high-quality courses, and make sure the local school accepts credit from virtual classes. Furthermore, because virtual learning is a new phenomenon, there are concerns that the long-term effects of a Web-based education are unknown and the lack of one-on-one interactions with parents may cause a decline in achievement of homeschool learners. To address these issues, the following recommendations are provided from a 2004 study conducted by Learning Point Associates. First, more research on virtual learning should be conducted and standardized results communicated to help parents, policy makers, and practitioners make informed decisions on its use and future direction. Second, developing a common language will help consumers compare quality of virtual offerings and determine which courses/teachers meet their children’s needs. Third, long-term planning and creation of universal standards are a must to ensure that expected outcomes are achieved. Fourth, a system for assessing academic and programmatic outcomes of virtual programs is needed. Fifth, national, state, and local leadership is vital to create a community of learners who are willing to enact the essential recommendations listed above.
Finally, in addition to the recommendations above, one pressing challenge for the future will be the equity issue surrounding homeschooling and those individuals at risk. African American, Latino, Native American, and families with low incomes do not have the resources to purchase equipment and support the required Internet connections. Furthermore, learners with disabilities and their parents may not be able to afford assistive technology equipment or software to allow access to virtual learning. In order to close this technology gap, solutions to these issues will have to be found. Another trend to examine is the increased numbers of homeschool learners who are entering higher education.
The first homeschool learner was admitted to Harvard in the early 1980s. Today, many more homeschool learners are entering colleges and universities. Some are facing unexpected roadblocks from admission and financial aid offices that want high school diplomas, general education diplomas (GED), or federally approved tests as qualification for entry into postsecondary education. However, with the amended Higher Education Act of 1998, the GED and tests cannot be required. As a result, the majority of colleges and universities have homeschool admission policies and some institutions have homeschool admission officers. Brian Ray, who has been researching the homeschool movement for 2 decades, estimates there will be 3 million homeschool learners in the United States by 2010. Inherently, research has shown that homeschool learners are prepared for and likely to succeed academically and socially in postsecondary education. With an influx of homeschool learners reaching college age, the Home-school Legal Defense Association (2007) makes the following recommendations to admission offices:
- Require the homeschool learner to take the same entrance exam (ACT or SAT) as other students.
- Ask for a transcript or other documentation of courses completed.
- Request a list of extracurricular activities.
- Ask for a bibliography of what he or she has read during the secondary years.
Presently, homeschooling is legal in the United States and spreading around the globe. Many homes, communities, and schools have come together to raise awareness; support each other; and share knowledge and materials. The increased interest and documented success of homeschool learners merits a serious look as an educational option to provide quality instruction to diverse learners throughout the world. However, before homeschooling can be fully integrated into the educational system, certain challenges will have to be addressed. These issues involve giving homeschool learners opportunities for socializing with peers and others, utilizing a well-developed curriculum, and experiencing instruction from highly qualified people. As technological advances facilitate accessibility to information, curricula models, and applications will continue to evolve with more families choosing homeschooling. Furthermore, education policies and procedures are aligning to include learning at home as a possible choice, not only in the United States but also abroad. Homeschool parents and school stakeholders will be directly involved in this decision-making process to ensure that learners, whether at home or in school, will receive the best education possible. The future of homeschooling lies with the ability of consensus builders to form partnerships that capitalize on benefits for all involved. This collaboration will focus on educating learners regardless of location, so they will be prepared for postsecondary education and a productive life in the 21st century.