When a Home Is the Schoolhouse
Home schooling gains as a legitimate alternative among parents skeptical of public education
CATHY PHILLIPS withdrew her third-grade son, Jonathan, from a suburban Boston public school in January and hasn't sent him back since. Now that she's teaching him at home, she says he's learning more than he was in school. Mrs. Phillips has designed a curriculum for Jonathan and plans to teach him at home next year also.Skip to next paragraph
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``I don't see anything positive about school anymore,'' Phillips says. ``There are so many wonderful things to learn besides sitting at a desk.''
``Home schooling,'' an alternative educational approach that's been growing since the 1960s, is entering a new era of legitimacy, according to Donald Erickson, an education professor at the University of California in Los Angeles. ``A great many people who now patronize public schools do it unwillingly,'' he says.
Some parents who view today's schools as too regimented or ill-equipped to serve individual needs are taking their children's education into their own hands.
``There's all sorts of thrashing about for alternatives in the public arena,'' says Patrick Farenga, president of Holt Associates, a Cambridge, Mass., clearinghouse on home-school issues founded by the late home-schooling pioneer, John Holt. ``Everybody is talking about how we have to school for progress and have a better society in the year 2000. But parents are asking, `What about my child now?'''
In the 1970s, home-schooling families tended to be in communes or rural areas, Mr. Farenga says. Many fundamentalist Christians began schooling their children at home in the '80s so they could impart their own values to them. While religious home schoolers still outnumber those deserting the schools for other reasons, the late '80s and '90s are witnessing a more mainstream group of home schoolers.
``Both public and private schools are now losing students to home schooling,'' says Michael Farris, president of Home School Legal Defense Association in Paeonian Springs, Va. ``Ten years ago it was basically the geodesic dome crowd that was home schooling. But,'' he says, ``the biggest growth in the movement has been among white-collar, conservative Protestants.''
HOME schoolers are mainly middle-class, two-parent families, but single parents and low-income families are a growing segment of the movement, Farenga says.
Precise figures on the number of children being taught at home are difficult to pinpoint because many home schoolers remain ``underground.'' But home-schooling groups estimate that 250,000 to 500,000 children are now being taught outside of schools in the United States.
``The growth is phenomenal,'' says Farenga, who estimates that there were only 10,000 to 25,000 children being schooled at home in the '70s.
Many children who were home schooled in the '70s are being accepted into well-respected colleges and doing well academically. Their success gives the movement some convincing evidence of long-term effectiveness. [See related story below.]
But many educators remain concerned about the effects of home schooling on students. ``Home schooling is an extreme kind of recourse,'' says Thomas A. Shannon, executive director of the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va. ``It's self-defeating to give up on the schools. Eventually those home schoolers reenter the school system. If it's not at the high school level, where it usually occurs, it's at the university level.''
Mr. Shannon and others contend that home-schooled students are shortchanged academically and socially. ``For the most part, it's an education program that's minimal at best,'' Shannon says.
Research on home schooling is limited, but a recent survey of about 1,500 home-schooling families throughout the US found that home-schooled students scored above the 80th percentile on standardized tests, according to Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Seattle.