There's no better sign of success than an escalation in attacks by your enemies. Based on such evidence, homeschooling is enjoying a boom, as growing numbers of families with diverse backgrounds, philosophies, and approaches abandon government-controlled schools in favor of taking responsibility for their own children's education. As they do so, they're coming under assault from officials panicking over the number of people slipping from their grasp.
There's little doubt that homeschooling is an increasingly popular option. "From 1999 to 2012, the percentage of students who were homeschooled doubled, from an estimated 1.7 percent to 3.4 percent," reports the National Center for Education Statistics. While the government agency suggests that growth has leveled off since then, other researchers say data is hard to come by, since many states simply don't count people who homeschool.
"While the overall school-age population in the United States grew by about 2.0 percent from spring 2012 to spring 2016, data from 16 states from all four major regions of the nation showed that homeschooling grew by an average of about 25 percent in those states," counters the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), in response to NCES figures. "If the data from these states are representative of what happened in the other states during those four years, then homeschooling is continuing to grow in both absolute numbers and as a portion of the overall school-age population."
Just shy of eight percent of North Carolina students are homeschooled for example, in a state in which traditional public schools are bleeding students year after year to charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling.
Unsurprisingly, as the numbers of homeschooled kids grow, their ranks expand beyond the niche populations—religious families, in particular—that originally rejected public schools. Only 16 percent of survey respondents now say they started homeschooling to provide religious instruction, says the NCES, while 34 percent report "concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure," and others cited "dissatisfaction with academic instruction."
In North Carolina, one of very few states to ask homeschoolers to identify as religious or secular, secular homeschooling is outgrowing religious homeschooling, and now constitutes over 40 percent of the homeschooled population.
"Today's homeschool advocates aren't the Christian Right, trying to dismantle public education. Rather, they're parents who don't believe that the current school model is best, or enough, for their children," reports the Pacific Standard.
"Today's homeschoolers are more demographically, geographically, and ideologically diverse," agrees the City Journal.
From the responses to NCES's survey, families take on educational responsibilities for their children for a variety of reasons, including safety, educational approach and achievement, and philosophy. All are good reasons for stepping away from a one-size-fits-some government institution.
Let's look at traditional measures of academic achievement.
In 2014, SAT "test scores of college-bound homeschool students were higher than the national average of all college-bound seniors that same year," according to NHERI.
"Mean ACT Composite scores for homeschooled students were consistently higher than those for public school students" from 2001 through 2014, according (PDF) to that testing organization, although private school students scored higher still.
By contrast public school kids "bombed the SAT" reports Bloomberg. Mixed, but generally disappointing results since then have education experts worry that many public school graduates are unprepared for either higher education or the workforce.
But what about the impact of DIY education on the larger world—say, the development of "parallel societies" that Germany cites as grounds for banning the practice? We should be so lucky—homeschoolers seem inclined to create better societies.
"Students with greater exposure to homeschooling tend to be more politically tolerant—a finding contrary to the claims of many political theorists," reports research published in the Journal of School Choice. Defined as "the willingness to extend civil liberties to people who hold views with which one disagrees," this finding of greater political tolerance among the homeschooled has important ramifications in this factionalized and illiberal era.
"In other words," writes author Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas's Department of Education Reform, "members of the very group for which public schooling is believed to be most essential for inculcating political tolerance (i.e., those who are more strongly committed to a particular worldview and value system) actually exhibit at least as much or more tolerance when they are exposed to less public schooling."
All of that is very promising if you're a parent trying to do the best by your kids. But government officials see threat where parents and children find promise.
In states including Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Virginia, lawmakers and opponents of DIY education are calling for tighter restrictions and more-intrusive regulation of homeschooling families by government. In each instance, officials point to instances of abuse by adults who fail to educate the children under they charge or who, more horrifically, claim to be "homeschooling" children they're actually subjecting to abuse. The crimes are real, but isolated.
Iowa Rep. Art Staed (D-Cedar Rapids) calls out the starvation deaths of Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray on his way to arguing for his bill that "requires the parent or guardian to submit a report annually to the school district of residence. Children will also receive visits by the school district." But these incidents, with their specific names, draw headlines precisely because they're so rare and noteworthy.
By contrast, the institutions that Rep. Staed and his colleagues want to set over parents are awash in victims whose names are lost in the overwhelming numbers.
"In 2016, students ages 12-18 experienced 749,400 victimizations (theft and nonfatal violent victimization) at school and 601,300 victimizations away from school," notes the Bureau of Justice Statistics in its latest report. "The total victimization rates were 29 victimizations per 1,000 students at school and 24 per 1,000 students away from school."
"Nearly 9.6 percent of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career," cautions a 2004 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education.
"A yearlong investigation by The Associated Press uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015," we learned in 2017. "Ranging from rape and sodomy to forced oral sex and fondling, the sexual violence that AP tracked often was mischaracterized as bullying, hazing or consensual behavior."
So government-run schools are academically inferior to homeschooling, riddled with crime and abuse, and producing graduates less tolerant than their counterparts who were educated at home. But rather than fix their pet institutions, politicians prefer to grab for power over people fleeing from their grasp.
Ummm… no. Not that homeschoolers have the time or inclination, but they have more standing to claim the right to oversee the floundering public schools. Instead of seeking to crush the competition, public officials should learn from it.