Homeschooling: The Best Education Reform

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Bill Clinton resorts to lawyer‐​speak when quizzed about his personal affairs, but he is crystal clear about his agenda for American primary and secondary education.

Consider his remarks in the State of the Union Address. The President proposed hiring 100,000 new teachers, building 5,000 new schools and implementing “the first‐​ever national effort” to reduce class size to 18 students in the first three primary grades.

Despite the applause his remarks drew, Mr. Clinton deserves a grade of “F” for wanting both to increase federal powers in affairs best left to the discretion of individual states and to pour more funds into the black hole of public education.

American companies are currently spending billions of dollars a year on remedial education for their employees, thanks to public school teachers who promote students who can barely speak or read English. Public schools have also become crime scenes where drugs are peddled, teachers are robbed, students are assaulted in restrooms and homemade bombs are found in lockers. A Metropolitan Life study released in 1993 reported that over 10 percent of teachers and 25 percent of students had been victims of violence at or near their public schools.

This educational quagmire is driving parents to choose the educational alternative known as homeschooling. In 1996, the Florida Department of Education surveyed 2,245 homeschoolers. Thirty‐​one percent returned the survey. Of that group, 42 percent said that dissatisfaction with the public school environment (safety, drugs, adverse peer pressure) was their main reason for establishing a home education program.

Homeschooling was the way the Founding Fathers received their education. Today’s homeschooling movement continues to excel by producing literate students with minimal government interference at a fraction of the cost of any government program.

The National Home Education Research Institute of Salem, Oregon, estimates that there are currently 1.23 million homeschooled children in the United States and that homeschooling is growing at the rate of 15 to 40 percent per year. Americans of different races, faiths, socioeconomic backgrounds and educational levels are choosing to homeschool. Indeed, there are national homeschooling support groups for evangelical Christians, Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, the handicapped and homeschoolers of color.

Homeschooling is gaining wide acceptance because curriculum and technology can be adapted to the students’ abilities and interests, the opportunity to build strong family bonds is unprecedented and it’s an inexpensive choice. In Strengths of Their Own, Brian Ray’s 1997 study of 1,657 homeschooling families, respondents said they spent an average of $546 per child per year for home education. In contrast, the average per pupil expenditure in America’s public schools is $6,993.

Homeschoolers get more bang for the buck. Patricia Lines, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Education, notes that “virtually all the available data show that the group of homeschooled children who are tested is above average. The pattern for children for whom data are available resembles that of children in private schools.” One significant piece of evidence of the educational progress homeschooled students are making: the National Merit Scholarship Corporation chose more than 70 homeschooled high school seniors as semifinalists in its 1998 competition.

Imagine if a Who’s Who of Homeschoolers existed. The 1997 roster would have included Rebecca Sealfon, a 13‐​year‐​old homeschooled student from Brooklyn who won the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee; Jason Taylor, a homeschool graduate who was drafted to play defense for the Miami Dolphins football team; and Ike, Tay and Zac Hanson, who comprise the band Hanson — three brothers who crank out recording hits and homeschool assignments together. These talented young people tend to dispel the myth that children kept away from the schooling experience become social zeros.

In short, homeschooling is here to stay if the current public school system continues to be viewed by concerned parents as an irrelevant institution that hinders a child’s ability to learn. The lesson for educational reformers is this: homeschooling was the way the Founding Fathers received their education. Today’s homeschooling movement continues to excel by producing literate students with minimal government interference at a fraction of the cost of any government program.

Homeschooling families could use further deregulation, be it through homeschool and childcare tax credits or a loosening of compulsory attendance laws. They also deserve principled politicians who don’t reward the present guardians of the public school monopoly with more funding — money that ultimately does more harm than good to many of our nation’s children.

Isabel Lyman

Isabel Lyman is co‐​director of Harkness Road High School in Amherst, Massachusetts and author of Cato Policy Analysis No. 294, “Homeschooling: Back to the Future?”