/ Home Schooling: A Brief Review


The following article provides a brief synopsis of home schooling and its effects on children and families, it reviews current literature on home schooling in general. Topics include the historical roots of home schools in America, achievement and socialization of home schooled students, and the effects of home schooling on the primary educator. Italicized text are comments by Kim A. Covey.

Key Words: home school, education

    1. Martin A. Covey, Professor, Spring Arbor University, Spring Arbor, Michigan.return to text

    2. Kim A. Covey is a mother of two adolescents and a home educator.return to text

    The influence of culture, society, politics and the market economy creates a more complicated and confusing environment in which families live and grow. Not the least among these influences is the plethora of options currently available to families for the education of children. The decision to send children to the local public school, to a neighborhood parochial school, or to an expensive private school has been expanded to include: charter schools, public schools of choice, schools for special needs students, private religious schools, and schooling at home.

    Home Schooling in America

    The education of children in America, from an historical perspective, has been characterized by Carper (2000) as "educational pluralism" (p. 9). From the earliest days of the settlement of the colonies, until approximately the mid-1800's, the education of children was the primary prerogative of parents. Education consisted mainly of learning to read the religious literature and learn the appropriate amounts of arithmetic in order for children to assume a vocation. Education of children occurred not only in homes, but in a wide variety of school situations that made the distinction between public and private education very difficult.

    By the middle of the eighteenth century, families had begun to turn many of their traditional responsibilities over to formal or public institutions. According to Mintz and Kellogg, as cited in Carper (2000, p. 11), by this time: "... a variety of specialized institutions had begun to absorb traditional familial responsibility.... Free schools and common pay schools educated a growing number of the sons of artisans and skilled laborers". During this transitional period, the demarcation between public and private education was vague.

    The public school movement gained momentum and support from the Protestant denominations of that day. Protestant broad support of public education was garnered by virtue of the similarities of belief and philosophy shared by religious and educational institutions. Carper (2000) observes that the differing belief systems of the Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church eventually resulted in tax dollars being unavailable to Catholic schools. By the mid-nineteenth century the line between public and private education of children was well defined.

    Besides having the strong support of Protestant evangelicals, public schools in the mid-nineteenth century were very localized. The majority of children in public schools were from rural areas and attended the one-room country school. These schools were administrated and funded by local people, taught by local residents, and the children were often from only a few families. Home schools became a smaller part of the educational landscape because the public school was such an approximation of the rural family.

    As populations became increasingly urban at the beginning of the twentieth century, schools became less philosophically similar to Protestantism, broader in terms of its funding and leadership, diverse in.its teachers, and taught children from many more families. These influences gave the public education system characteristics of a developmental environment in and of itself, and increasingly dissimilar from the Protestant familial model. "Once crusaders for the establishment of public education, conservative Protestants are now, ironically, among its most vociferous critics" (Carper, 2000, p. 16).

    The disenchantment of Protestant evangelicals with the public education system has resulted in a renewed interest in education at home. In fact, Protestant evangelical families comprise the majority of home schools in America. In a recent study of 22,000 home school families, Protestant evangelicals comprised 70.3 percent of the respondent families (Rudner, 1998).

    Achievement of Home School Students

    The above referenced study by Rudner (1998) analyzed test scores of home schooled students who were administered the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency. Rudner's findings indicated that children at all grade levels, who were schooled at home, scored between 26 to 41 percentile points higher than the national median in the composite test score. Similar results were found for each of the reading, math, language and social studies sub-tests. "It is readily apparent . . . that the median scores for home school students are well above their public/private school counterparts in every subject and in every grade. . . . These are exceptional scores and exceptional grade-to-grade gains" (Rudner, 1998, p. 18).

    Even though it is not required by the state of Michigan, our children are tested annually at a local Christian day school, using the California Achievement Test. Although I don't believe tests such as these are a good measure of what a student knows, they do help show possible weaknesses in our curriculum.

    Rudner's research also indicated that parents of home schooled children have more formal education than the general population, with 88 percent of home schooling parents continuing their education after high school, compared to slightly less than half of parents in the general population (1998). In their analysis of Rudner's research, Farris and Woodruff (2000) observe:

    Although home schooling parents are better educated as a group than the general population, the children of home schooling parents with the least education still score well above national norms...Furthermore, although home schooling parents are wealthier than the general population, scores for children of home schooling parents in the lowest specified income bracket (less than $35,000 per year) easily surpass national norms. (p. 238)

    It appears that the academic advantages derived from home schooling are experienced, not only by children from well educated, wealthy families, but by children whose families have not received advanced education or who are not wealthy, a trend not typical of national achievement norms.

    The Issue of Socialization

    Two questions frequently asked of home school parents is "What about socialization?" and "Are your children isolated and unable to meet other people?" Reports on the socialization of home schooled children indicate that they are not at all isolated (Layman, 1998; Smith & Sikkink, 1999). Smith & Sikkink (1999) observe that:

    [I]n fact, most home schoolers are not at all isolated. Indeed, most are embedded in dense relational networks of home schooling families; participate in local, state, regional, and national home schooling organizations; and engage in in a variety of community activities and programs that serve the education of their children (p. 242).

    Most home school families participate in associations dedicated to meeting the educational needs of home schooled children and the relational and support needs of home schooling parents. These associations meet to share information, organize field trips, plan seminars, and attend conferences. Many home schooled children participate in community sporting teams and events, local drama and theater productions, art fairs, and community service projects. Home school parents also attend local, state, and national home school seminars and conferences. They pay close attention to legislation oriented to education-related issues, share political information, and keep current on legal concerns (Smith & Sikknik, 1999). These many and varied activities of both home schooled children and parents provide networks with many individuals and organizations in a variety of environments. These networks, in turn, promote healthy development of individuals and families who participate in home schooling, which is the ultimate goal of socialization (Garbarino, 1982).

    Our children have plenty of opportunities to participate in their community. In their early years, they were involved in soccer, baseball, and children's Bible clubs, as well as a home school support group with over 50 families. Presently, our teenage children are involved in a very active church youth group, volunteer their time in childcare for a local Mothers Of Preschoolers support group, visit the elderly (including their great-grandmother in a nursing home), participate on a quiz bowl team, take piano lessons, act and sing in musicals, and take enrichment classes at our local community college. Our goal is to intertwine their lives with those of varying ages and backgrounds. We have toured the White House; visited a Hindu temple, as well as numerous museums; planted a garden; watched the birth of twin lambs; entertained a Japanese college student; and camped in northern Canada, finding star constellations, satellites, and space junk. Our children love being with their friends, but they also enjoy being together as a family. Sitting around a table, listening to three generations of family stories, is one of their favorite pastimes. One child is an introvert, the other an extrovert, but we feel they both have benefited socially from being home schooled.

    Over that last 50 years or so, the local public school has been viewed as the primary means for the socialization of children (Medlin, 2000). As this may be true for the most part, it does not follow that the public school is the only viable avenue for children to be socialized. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1981) defines the word socialize as "to fit or train for a social environment" (p. 1094). Norton (as cited in Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2000) defines socialization as "the process by which individuals become competent, participating members of a society, that is, the process by which adults prepare children for competent adulthood" (p. 113). These definitions indicate that the individuals best suited to being the primary socializing agents of children are adults and not members of their peer group. "If the goal of socialization is to produce adult social skills, it makes little sense to use classmates as teachers" (Farris & Woodruff, 2000, p. 240).

    Effects of Home Schooling on the Primary Educator - AKA, Mom

    Studies have shown that by far the primary educator in home school families is the mother (Lines, 1991; Mayberry, Knowles, Ray, & Marlow, 1995; McDowell, 2000). Mayberry et al observed that 63 percent of the mothers they studied provided over 90 percent of the day-to-day operation of the home schooling activities in the home.

    McDowell (2000) observed in her qualitative study of home school families that ". . . both home schooling parents and their children are consistently pleasant, relaxed, and friendly. Further analysis indicated that, as a group, home schoolers are eager to be helpful to others, are very well informed, and are determined to remain informed. (p.200) She reported that home school mothers evidenced concern regarding elements of personal shortcomings as teachers and in keeping up with the instrumental tasks involved in maintaining a home. Although these two concerns were common, they were offset by positive themes common to the mothers in the study.

    My husband brought up the idea of home schooling our children when our eldest child was just a year old. I thought he was crazy and I was under-qualified! But after years of research, we both felt it was right for our family. I continued to question my abilities as a teacher (as did many others, I'm sure!) until the magical day when both children could read! The beginning years were a struggle of finding curricula that best fit the learning styles of each child, and filtering the well-meaning criticism of the uninformed.

    The mothers in McDowell's study (McDowell, 2000) believed that their children were positively impacted by home schooling in terms of family flexibility; socialization, dealing with diagnosed attention deficit disorder; and the problems confronted in public and private schools, including racial tensions (p. 198). The mothers, themselves, reported home schooling as a stress reducing agent in their homes. Other positive elements reported by the mothers were family flexibility and children personally vested in the learning process.

    McDowell's study indicated that, although home school families are similar in that they educate children at home, the outcomes of this education are not always the same. McDowell (2000) observes:

    From the analysis of the interviews and their emergent categories, it is clear that those home schoolers who feel forced to home school their children (the pseudo home schoolers) are quite unlike the classic or mainstream home schoolers, and that this difference is reflected in both their children's demeanors and, possibly, in the quality of the relationship between parent and child. . .. the manner in which the decision to home school is reached greatly influences the overall positive or negative "feel" of the home schooling process and, as a result, the perceived impact of home schooling on the mother-teacher in the family (p. 198).

    The decision to home school children, then, should include consideration of the needs and capacities of the children in a family, but of the mother as well. If the mother feels coerced or disempowered by the decision to home school, the overall family system may suffer. In speaking of home school mother-teachers, McDowell concludes:

    They are taking for themselves that which was not freely offered - that is, power, governance, and control as concerns important aspects of their children's education. .. they also assume a new level of control in their own lives, because home schooling affords them the opportunity to more fully integrate and implement into their lives their personal values, norms, and beliefs about their roles and the appropriate enactment of those roles. In sum, then, the element of social integration that home schooling can offer can be an extraordinarily empowering one to the mother-teacher (2000, p. 204).

    Michigan was once considered one of the most difficult states in which to home school, and I was fearful of the unexpected state "visitor". Now that the state laws have changed, and our children are doing well, I am much more relaxed and able to enjoy the role of parent/teacher. I now view learning as a life-long process, and have probably learned more than the children over the past several years. With the children entering high school, I find my role switching from "teacher" to more of a "facilitator" in their educational process. I am actually taking a geometry course along with our eldest child, and at times have to ask her to explain something to me!

    Home Schooling in Michigan

    Our United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights do not mention education. Although there is a federal Department of Education, the issue of education is one of states' rights. Home schooling is legally permitted in all fifty states, but laws and regulations vary widely between states making some states more "home school friendly" than others (Lyman, 1998). Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Texas are considered to be home school friendly as there are no requirements for parents to make contact with the state in order to begin home schooling their children. Other states, such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York are more regulated requiring curriculum approval by the state, home visits, submission of achievement test scores or a combination of these or other requirements (Lyman, 1998).

    Prior to 1993, home schooling in Michigan was allowed, but the legal climate of home schooling was marked by much litigation. Most litigation focused on the issue of the requirement of a state certified teacher being involved in the education of all children in the state of Michigan. Home schooling then would be an option if one of the parents was a state certified teacher, but this was not an option enjoyed by many families in Michigan. In 1993, however, after protracted litigation, the Michigan Supreme Court's rulings in three different cases changed the face of home schooling in the state. The ruling, involving the De Jonge family, essentially granted a state-wide religious exemption from teacher certification to all parents who are opposed to teacher certification on religious grounds. The Supreme Court's ruling in the Bennett case dealt with Constitutional rights. "The Bennett case guarantees a statutory due process right to all home schools which had previously been ignored" (Legal Issues, 200 1). The ruling in the Clonlara case changed the administrative procedures and what is actually required by law to home school.

    Subsequent to these changes, the Michigan state legislature overhauled the Michigan school code to accommodate home schooling. In the new statute, labeled P.A. 289, two sections, Section 10 and Section 1561, are of particular interest to those contemplating a home school. "The law in Michigan governing compulsory attendance requires a parent, legal guardian, or other person having control or charge of a child age six to sixteen to send the child to school during the entire school year [MCL 380.1561(3)]" (Michigan Department of Education, 2001, p. 2).

    When we first began home schooling, the laws in Michigan required the parent/teacher to be state certified. Legally, I did not qualify, but after years of researching home schooling, we felt it was our responsibility as parents to prepare our children for adulthood in all aspects, including academics. In spite of the constant anxiety in the early years, I know we made the right choice for our family. The opportunities for conversations concerning character and moral issues that take place around the lunch or "school" table would never happen in the few moments most families share together in the evening hours. It is true that there is no one to whom I report our academic status, but home schooling is hard work, and I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't care about my children 's future. Although there are probably those that misuse the right to teach their children at home, those home schooling families with whom I come in contact share similar convictions in raising their children.

    Section 10 outlines the rights of parents in the state of Michigan to determine and direct the education of their children and the relationship of the public schools in the fulfillment of this right.

    It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of pupils by cooperating with the pupil's parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil's intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment (Legal Issues, 2001, p. 1).

    Section 1561, subsections 3(a), (f), and 4 explicates compulsory attendance and the allowable exceptions to attending Michigan public schools. A child is not required to attend a public school in the following cases:

    (3) (a) The child is attending regularly and is being taught in a state approved nonpublic school, which teaches subjects comparable to those taught in the public schools to children of corresponding age and grade, as determined by the course of study for the public schools of the district within which the nonpublic school is located.

    (3) (f) The child is being educated at the child's home by his or her parent or legal guardian in an organized educational program in the subject areas of reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, literature, writing, and English grammar.

    (4) For a child being educated at the child's home by his or her parent or legal guardian, exemption from the requirement to attend public school may exist under either subsection (3)(a) or (3)(f) or both (Michigan Department of Education, 2000, p.2).

    A family operating their home school under exemption (3)(a) is considered a nonpublic school and may report to the Michigan Department of Education. A Nonpublic School Membership Report form (Form SM4325) may be requested from the Department by calling (517) 373-0796. Families who home school for religious reasons usually operate under exemption (3)(f). Families home schooling under either exemption are not required to register with the Michigan State Department of Education.

    Challenges for the Home School Movement

    Diversity Issues. The modern home school movement is composed predominantly of white, middle-class families with over 95 percent being white families and less than one percent black families (McDowell, Sanchez, & Jones, 2000; Rudner, 1998). Rudner (1998) reports the largest minority groups of home schoolers are American Indian (2.4 percent) and Asian (1.2 percent).

    Llewellyn collected qualitative data from 15 black home schooling parents and their children. The introduction to her findings spoke to the rationale of why African-American families home school their children.

    Some homeschool because they see that racial integration in the schools has not always worked for their benefit. (Among other things, they feel that it has disrupted community life and thrust children into hate-filled classrooms where few people encourage or hope for their success.) Some homeschool because they see that schools perpetuate institutionalized racism. Some homeschool because they are tired of curriculums emphasizing Europe and excluding Africa. Some homeschool because their chilren are overwhelmingly treated as problems, and quickly labeled . . . Some homeschool because they want to continue the Civil Rights struggle for equal educational rights, and they feel that they can best do so by reclaiming their right to help their own children develop fully - rather than by working to get them equal access to conventional schooling (As cited in McDowell, Sanchez, & Jones, 2000, pp. 127-128).

    The inordinately small percentage of African-American families who home school points to the fact there are significant barriers that prevent many black families from home schooling. The subtle, yet powerful assumption that all home school families are white, middle-class, and Christian is communicated when the predominance of home school books and curricula are presented from a Western European perspective to the exclusion of others. Black families interested in home schooling also feel isolated in local home school networks, conferences, and support groups because they are often the only African-Americans present.

    Finally, Romm (as cited in McDowell, Sanchez, & Jones, 2000) noted that African-American families may hesitate to experiment with alternative educational methods for fear of lack of acceptance. This "despite the fact that the very (educational) system they have trusted to pull them up the socioeconomic 'ladder' is the same system that has failed them extraordinarily badly...." (McDowell et al, 2000, p. 129).

    It is clear that home schooling, as a movement, has the challenge of inclusivity. Although home school children have exposure to other people of varying ages, and in various environments, without an intentional approach by parents to provide otherwise, this exposure could be very homogeneous. We tend to be attracted to and interact with others similar to ourselves. It would take a conscious and intentional approach by home school families to be aware of, appreciate, and, as far as possible, participate in educational opportunities with families of a different ethnic background.

    Curricular decisions must be made to acknowledge and resource ethnic home school families. Romm (as cited in McDowell et al, 2000) recognizes that institutional racism is manifested in ". . . the form of an assumption that all home schoolers are white, middle class, and Christian. This comes across when books at home schooling conferences or the texts used by curriculum publishers focus on Western European literature and history to the exclusion of other cultures and perspectives."

    Cultural Issues. Some concern exists about the cultural ramifications of the home school movement in regards to the perpetuation of democracy, tolerance and social mores (Apple, 2000; Lubienski, 2000). Lubienski claims that home schooling erodes democracy as it would reduce the ". . . degree of common education for tolerance, understanding, and exposure to difference, as well as to moderate secessionist and radical tendencies" (Lubienski, 2000, p. 212). Apple's concerns are for the possible restructuring of our society, the erosion of public responsibility, and the propagation of social inequalities (Apple, 2000, p. 257).

    These concerns should provide a needed balance for home school families. Isolationism and secessionist tendencies should be counter balanced with education and understanding of the process of informed debate which is crucial to our form of government. Writings that encourage and inform our citizenry in the process and importance of informed debate are key elements in keeping home schooling an involved and sustained movement while avoiding the concerns voiced by Lubienski and Apple (Bellah, et al, 1985).


    Home school families in Michigan are not significantly different from home school families across the country. Home school students score above the national median in reading, language, mathematics, social studies, and science (Rudner, 1998), while parents enjoy educating their children at home in a home school friendly environment. Most home schooled children enjoy learning in such diverse environments as community sporting teams, local drama, theater, and music productions, art fairs, and community service projects. Home school parents, especially mothers, are enthusiastic about the opportunity to home school their children. They are well informed and stay well informed through support groups, home school networks, conferences and seminars. It can be hoped that concerns for the welfare of our culture and society will prove to be unfounded as home school families continue to get involved and stay involved in the communities that surround them, providing them rich opportunities and benefits, such as the ability to school children at home.

    Home schooling is a sacrifice. There are things public educated children receive for free that we must pay for. We pay for private piano lessons because our children have no access to band or music classes. We pay for enrichment courses through the community college because our children are interested in subjects in which we have no experience, such as art. Some families have "co-opped" with schools in their children's education, and we are open to that idea. But for now we enjoy the freedom to travel and explore that home schooling allows. Hopefully, the experiences we give our children in home schooling, will offset the things we cannot buy because of the expense of home schooling and of living on one income.


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