Homeschoolers Aren't Waiting on Politicians' Promises of School Choice

Teaching your own kids is a do-it-yourself option for an individualistic age.


Donald Trump managed to sound at least one encouraging note at a Republican convention focused more on fueling fears then empowering individuals. "We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice," he boasted in his acceptance speech.

Well, OK. The reference to "safe school" does put the emphasis on danger rather than education, but at least Trump called for parental choice. And Donald Trump Jr. compared public schools to "Soviet Era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students." He went on to call for choice and competition.

That sounds great for those of us who like options, especially with a new school year looming. And Americans have been embracing education choices—we've seen high-profile growth in the number of children attending privately-managed, publicly-funded charter schools, from 800,000 kids in 2003-2004 to 2.5 million, or 5.1 percent of total public school enrollment, in 2013-2014. That's sparked a lot of debate about the effectiveness of charter schools and the desirability (yes, really) of letting motivated families flee faltering public institutions.

More quietly, though, many American families have opted out of institutional education of any sort, taking on the responsibility of teaching their own children. From 1.1 million kids in 2003, the ranks of the homeschooled increased to 1.8 million in 2012—and an estimated 2.3 million this year, catching up quickly with the charter population. Homeschooled children outnumbered those enrolled in North Carolina's private schools as of 2014 after a whopping 27 percent increase in just two years.

My son is part of the surge in the number of children learning at home. The reason for our choice is ably captured in a point made by John Taylor Gatto, a former New York State Teacher of the Year who became a critic of government-controlled education. In his 2008 book, Weapons of Mass Instruction, Gatto wrote about the difference between schooling and education. "Education is a matter of self-mastery, first; then self-enlargement, even self-transcendance—as all possibilities of the human spirit open themselves into zones for exploration and understanding. There are points where the two conditions inform one another, but in schooling, somebody else's agenda is always uppermost."

You could say the same of any institution—that its interests overwhelm the individual concerns of the people within it. But that's why it's always a good idea to have alternatives and an exit strategy for when "somebody else's agenda" is incompatible with your own.

Such incompatibility has become a serious concern even with popular charter schools. Aside from the fact that there's always a potential mismatch between a family's priorities and a school's, even in an independently operated institution, charter schools face growing regulatory burdens that push them to consolidate and homogenize. Controversial national education standards have added to that burden, since they fall on charter schools as well as traditional public schools. "Some 2 million families have decided that charter schools are the best place for their children," the Goldwater Institute's Jonathan Butcher warned. "But under Common Core, these schools' options for differentiating themselves could be limited."

As of yet, homeschoolers face no comparable regulatory threats. Opposition to Common Core was part of the inspiration for the surge in homeschooling in North Carolina, according to the Charlotte Observer, and the same phenomenon is at work across the country. Rather than expend their time and energy battling to change a stubborn institution (North Carolina officials spent a year investigating a replacement for Common Core before deciding to keep the standards in place), parents walked out the doors and took on the task of education themselves.

Not that homeschooling parents all have the same motivation. As befits a DIY movement encompassing millions of Americans, people have different reasons for taking on the responsibility and different ways of getting it done. Once known as a domain for the religious (and a few hippies), the number of homeschoolers reporting "a desire to provide religious instruction" as a motivating reason dropped from 83 percent in 2006-2007 to 64 percent in 2011-2012. "[T]he face of home schooling is changing, not because of faith, but because of what parents see as shortcomings in public and private schools," USA Today reported in 2012. "[T]he movement is deepening its mainstream roots," Reuters agreed, and that mainstreaming is likely to continue since most homeschooled adults appear to be happy with their experience. "About three-quarters of a sample of home-educated students who are now adults raising their own children are opting to home school."

That satisfaction may be derived in part from the academic success achieved by many homechooled students who "score, on average, at the 84th to 89th percentile" on tests. That's pretty impressive when you consider that a good many homeschoolers deemphasize grades and standardized testing, which are most useful for assessing masses of students within institutions, not individual learners.

Old concerns that homeschooled kids are locked away from interaction with the rest of the world—probably derived from the days when the practice was illegal and had to be done in secret—have faded as kids taught by their families have become more common and recognized as obviously normal (as "normal" as anybody else that is). "Research shows that in terms of self-concept, self-esteem and the ability to get along in groups, homeschoolers do just as well as their public school peers," according to Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute.

And maybe homeschooling—DIY education—is the right movement for an increasingly diverse country suspicious of large institutions. In an America of proliferating news sources, gigs replacing jobs, fragmenting political parties, and myriad religious beliefs, why wouldn't people see teaching their own kids as one more thing they can do better than the powers-that-be?

So let's hope that Donald Trump means what he says about educational choice if he takes up residence in the White House next year. It would be nice to think that there's one area where he'll actually expand our liberty. But millions of Americans aren't waiting on politicians to offer them a few more options for teaching their children—they're doing it themselves.

NEXT: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Doesn't Seem Inclined to Let Medical Marijuana Card Holders Buy Guns, Suspects Lawyer in Wilson v. Lynch

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  1. I am all in favor of school choice. If it wasn’t for school choice, we wouldn’t have all those cool parks with people riding dinosaurs on a giant ark.

    1. Giant arcs are also fun to ride. In space.

  2. we offer Standard Essay from Canada our moto is to provide you premium services on essays

    1. Standard Essay from Canada is my least favorite Wolf Parade album.

  3. I foresee government run schools losing their grip on their monopoly. One can learn nearly anything already known just by watching YouTube, from flint knapping to astrophysics. Even cat videos can instruct on behavior and psychology. The real questions moving forward are for employers, educators and parents. For employers, determining whether a candidate has the requisite knowledge to perform in the position. I think it likely that there will be a move toward tests similar to the military’s ASVAB to gauge general aptitude and similar job specific tests used in pre-employment screening. For educators, balancing breadth and depth of knowledge, and perhaps more important teaching how to learn. For parents, discerning what educational path best suits their child’s needs.

    1. Well such tests are racist. That is why we need public schools. /derp

      And not only derp but also court cases.

      1. Yep, Griggs v Duke Power. True Scotsman is delusional.

    2. I think it likely that there will be a move toward tests similar to the military’s ASVAB to gauge general aptitude

      Sorry, but SCOTUS declared that such tests are unconstitutional in Griggs v Duke Power.

    3. “For employers, determining whether a candidate has the requisite knowledge to perform in the position. ”

      If that is so important then there is no reason why the employers shouldn’t be educating their employees themselves and not relying on the tax payers footing the bill.

      1. “If that is so important then there is no reason why the employers shouldn’t be educating their employees themselves and not relying on the tax payers footing the bill.”

        Uh, yeah, those employers and the candidates paid nothing at all for that, right?
        Oh, I see it’s that fucking ignoramus trueman! Now wonder that’s as stupid as it is.

      2. For several years out children attended a private school, and my wife and I attended the yearly fundraising dinner. Tuition was around $4k/year. Local businesses donated more money to the school than they collected in tuition.

      3. “there is no reason why the employers shouldn’t be educating their employees themselves and not relying on the tax payers footing the bill.”

        Good idea! So let’s get the government out of education as soon as possible so that the taxpayers are no longer footing the bill. And get rid of these regulations that mandate college degrees for things like florists and interior decorators.

  4. The money quote

    That satisfaction may be derived in part from the academic success achieved by many homechooled students who “score, on average, at the 84th to 89th percentile” on tests. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that a good many homeschoolers deemphasize grades and standardized testing, which are most useful for assessing masses of students within institutions, not individual learners.

    I can hear the howls of the NEA from my house.

    1. Not to mention that home-schooling gets to those percentiles in just a fraction of time spent (time at school vs. time spent actually studying at home) and also, not insignificantly, time spent more enjoyably as well. Public schools can be just downright depressing.

      1. Right. I was a homeschooler back in the 90s, and I generally spent about 20-25 hours a week on school at most. In some cases when I was feeling particularly motivated, completed a week’s worth of schooling on Sunday and took the whole week off except for “PE” (aka shooting hoops).

        Personally, I think kids would hate public school far less if they could create extra free time for themselves by working at their own pace.

      2. A couple of years ago a coworker’s son got in trouble at school. The kid was no angel, but dad believed he was getting a raw deal on that particular incident, and no respect from the school. It was the last day any of his three kids attended. Last I heard the one who had the incident was working at UPS from 1 am to 6 am, coming home for school from his mom, and then getting on with his day.

    2. The NEA would like to deemphasize grades and standardized testing – of their members.

    3. We homeschooled my kid for first grade. Couldn’t get her to concentrate on “school” more than about 4-5 hours a week.

      She started second grade in public school way ahead of her class.

      1. Our oldest is homeschooled and the other two will be coming home before middle school. The oldest one blows the standardized tests out of the water every time, but he does drain the life out of us.

      2. Selection bias.

  5. in the middle east there a lot of schools need to decorating decorating, i think the regular school is will be closed soon because the teaching in internet is very useful

    1. Muchly is the internet of useful!

  6. I wasn’t home schooled and I’m NORML.

  7. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. I know it wouldn’t work in my home. It’s hard because you expect more from your own child, and it can become frustrating when they don’t learn things that seem obvious to you. That and there is a different dynamic between kids and parents vs kids and teachers. But if it works for you, that’s great. Like I said though, it isn’t for everyone.

    1. I think it can be harder on the parents than the kids

  8. “Education is a matter of self-mastery, first; then self-enlargement, even self-transcendance?as all possibilities of the human spirit open themselves into zones for exploration and understanding.”


    Unfortunately — “Thinking is *hard*!”

  9. Alt-text: “Knock-knock! Child Protective Services!”

  10. All this stuff about academic achievement is all well and good. But, you miss the most important why homeschooling is a plague on the land.


    If we start letting parents educate their children willy nilly, how are those kids ever going to learn to subsume their own intellect into the whims of the mob? Why, before you know it, we’ll wind up with people demanding evidence for assertions or observing patterns that are socially uncomfortable. And how are they ever going to show the proper level of progressive goodthink doing stuff like that? What do you want a bunch of wild-eyed individualists unable to adapt to our bright progressive future?!

    1. The biggest socialist i know homeschooled his kids. So far they’ve all turned out libertarian.

      1. See! Even good solid progressives do this to their kids and look what happens! It truly takes a village to drive out any independent thinking out of a child’s head and ensure that they can adequately take their place as socially useful cadres!

    2. People don’t understand that socialization has a specific meaning to the progressives, and it’s not learning to play nice and say please and thank you.

      1. Socialization means learning to love socialism.

    3. Whenever someone asks me about the “socialization” of our homeschooled children, I always say “Sure we socialize them! Ever week I lock them in the bathroom and threaten to beat them up if they do not give me their lunch money!”

      Seriously, I think Rich hit an important point with this quote:

      “Jamie Kapp is a 19-year old artist. Her comic about white privilege has been featured on Buzzfeed, and has been used as an instructional tool in classrooms.”

      The teaching of “white privilege” is one example of hundreds of topics that public schools should have no business teaching, even if you agree. The cost is less time spent on the basics, which is probably why we have a lot of young people who are well versed in PC instead of math.

  11. I expect to see various efforts from the Progressive Left to shore up their near monopoly on education. Watch for media stereotyping of homeschoolers as ignorant hicks, for attacks on alternate schools )while ignoring the exact same problems existing in traditional schools), and so on.

    1. That’s essentially the Democrat Party platform on education with some very minor lipservice to local control.

    2. Anti-homeschool actually requires a much subtler touch in the world of progressive identity politics than does vouchers or charters. The latter mostly just fucks over blacks and the poor. With the former, you’re messing not just with “religious nutjobs,” but quite a few granola types as well. And despite all the altrightish histrionics, the granolas are much more dear to the modern progressive mindset.

      1. Modern progs hate granola types because they hate independence. Granola-ey values like free speech, vegetarianism, homeschooling and independence are generally frowned upon by those who strive for centralized control and uniformity of values.

        1. Much of what you say is true of the more traditional or hardcore granola types. Self reliance and so forth. (Even stuff you didn’t mention: Antiwar; freedom to take drugs; freedom to practice their idiotic complementary medicine or organic farming or whatever.) Even living on a commune, being a bunch of individuals who simply, and truly freely, choose to enter into a cooperative agreement, is in an important sense not dissonant with libertarian values. But what we have certainly seen is the most unlibertarian aspects of early granola-ism grow in prominence over time, both within the movement and, more importantly, in its synthesis with the general progressive movement. Begin, if you will, with environmentalism and proceed from there.
          Also, some of what you say I just can’t make sense of. “Modern progs” hate vegetarianism? Vegetarianism is a libertarian value like the rest of what you mention?

    3. Recently I saw a rather novel argument against home schooling.

      Its selfish.
      The argument was something like this:

      By removing your child, who is being raised by educated, financially stable, involved and invested parents from the public schools you are taking something away from all the students whose families don’t have the means or desire to home school. You are selfishly spending time and energy ensuring your kid gets a good quality education, instead of spending that effort to improve your local public school.

      1. I’ve seen that argument too. So basically you have to send your kid to a terrible school and invest all of your time and resources into improving said school. Until you succeed, your child will get an awful education. Essentially, your child is a sacrifice.

        But why limit that logic to local schools? What if your local school is already decent? Clearly, then, you have an obligation to send your child to yet another school so that you can work to improve it.

      2. Well, apparently, even having a loving family is an unfair advantage! Imagine how unfair it is if kids have parents that are actually capable of home schooling. Obviously, the state cannot allow such massive unfairness!

  12. “why wouldn’t people see teaching their own kids as one more thing they can do better than the powers-that-be?”

    It’s awfully time consuming, and asking for tuition from one’s own children seems self defeating. Let the state do it is the best answer for lazy cheapskate parents.

  13. We’ve home schooled our son for most of the last 6 years (he is going into 10th grade now). He went to two different private schools early. The first went nuts and we choose home school while he was at the second because it fit with my travel schedule.

    For a time we moved to South Carolina, tried to put him in public school, didn’t work. Put in him a charter school that I highly agreeded with on their charter. Didn’t work (didn’t stick to their word). Tried on-line public school, not bad but education was not up to standards.

    Back in Houston, he now takes classes from several different organizations including some strictly at home. He is about the same as other 10th graders on math (weak spot for him) but in Writing and Literature he is doing college level work (thanks to the place he takes classes).

    Everyone that hears he is homeschool always asks about “socialization”. I say he can talk to any adult as an adult and doesn’t have to deal with the social crap that goes on in public schools nor is he getting indoctrinated with the progressive agenda. They usually don’t ask after that.

    Not for everyone but has worked really well for us and our son.

    1. The one home schooled kid I ever knew about 18 years ago, I’d only talked to him online through games.

      I always figured he was an older college student, or an adult with a really cushy job because of the hours I’d see him on and the fact that he was well spoken, intelligent, had good leadership skills, and worked well with others.

      One of my friends from college who also gamed with us met up with him when his family was in town. When my friend told me that the guy we thought was an adult was actually 14 years old and home schooled I was quite surprised. Surprised he was only 14 and also surprised at the home schooling which I’d never even heard of at the time.

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