Defining Home Education in Contrast to Schooling Paradigms

PERSPECTIVES – News and Comments 1

Home School Researcher, Volume 38 No. 4, 2024, p. 13-18

Douglas J. Pietersma

 Editor, Home School Researcher,


In response the changing dynamics in the landscape of schooling and education, the need for precise definitions is crucial and this article is a preliminary attempt to begin defining home education in relation to existing and developing schooling or education paradigms. Because the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic was such a significant impetus for dramatic change in the landscape of schooling and education, the paradigms addressed in this article are divided into pre-pandemic and post-pandemic groups.

Keywords: Home education, homeschool, schooling, education, definitions


AT FIRST BLUSH, defining home education may seem like an easy task, and while this may have been the case in years past, the educational landscape over the last couple years has been changing dramatically. Researchers need very precise definitions when designing and executing research studies intended to draw conclusions from empirical data, and with the increased focus on home education in research, precise definitions are even more imperative. Additionally, clear definitions will help others such as parents, policy makers, and professional educators in their inevitable discussions and decision-making processes.

No scholar, myself included, is singlehandedly equal to this task, so the effort of this article is not intended to be the end of this discussion, but simply to take the first step down a necessary path, a step in the right direction, if you will. As such, I welcome critiques, comments, and input from all interested parties. Interested parties include, but are not limited to, parents, professional educators, scholars, and policy makers. As with any effort like this, there are certainly additional variations on the below described paradigms and I welcome suggestions for modification, addition, combination, or elimination.

Many of the significant educational changes in recent years were brought on by the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, frequently referred to as a “pandemic.” This article is not about describing or defining the pandemic itself, but since it was such a pivotal moment in modern education and schooling, the following paradigms will be split in to pre- and post-pandemic groups. There could be additional groupings, such as historical education paradigms, but for the sake of brevity, this or other groupings will not be included in this article.

Pre-Pandemic Paradigms

I use the word paradigm to describe the environment in which children are placed with the intent that they will learn and grow academically. This implies a context that is far greater than simply the location or who is responsible for the execution of this activity.  

Government Schooling (Synonymous terms: Public schooling, Common schools)

For many years, since early in the twentieth century through the 1970s, government schooling was the status quo of education, attendance in which has been and remains compelled by force of law. Historically, the “common school,” initially conceived by individuals such as Horace Mann, and significantly advanced by the efforts of individuals such as John Dewey, developed and grew into what is more colloquially called, “public schooling.” By the end of the 1970s, this type of schooling was nearly universal with fewer than 20,000 (Dwyer & Peters, 2019, p. 74) or less than 1% (d’Escoto & d’Escoto, 2007, pp. 8-9) of students learned outside of government, private, or religious schools.

Compulsory programs of instruction typically start at first grade (kindergarten or pre-school in some states) and continue through graduation from twelfth grade (NCESa). This is often referred to as K-12 schooling. These grade levels are a pragmatic segmentation of students by age and intellectual level, so that those of similar age and intellect are moved through the system at a consistent and manageable pace. There are some variations for “special needs” students or “exceptional” (gifted, advanced) students, which vary from state to state, district to district, and school to school. Because these programs are for outlier students, the majority of students progress through instruction targeted to the average student. Government schools used standardized testing to evaluate students against one another (Beerens, Cook, & Wiens, 2019, p. 27). Standardized testing has a secondary purpose of competitive evaluation of teachers, schools, districts, and states (Allotta, 2013, p. 3), generally to determine the allocation of funding. 

Another qualifying characteristic is that government schools in the United States are legally prohibited from providing instruction from (or that in any way appears to promote) Christian scripture (the Bible) or allowing/conducting prayers (of any faith) as part of the schooling program (Dwyer & Peters, 2019, p. 33).

The reason I choose the phrase “government” schooling in lieu of “public” schooling, is because the “public” has little to no input in the content or execution of the instruction provided to students. When parents drop their children off at schools or place them in on a school bus, they relinquish their children to the custody of the state, and the state assumes the role of parens patriae which is the legal doctrine where the state assumes the role of the parent in making decisions of a ward based on the state’s interpretation of the best interest of the child (Dwyer & Peters, 2019, p. 152).

Government Schooling (synonymous terms: Public schooling, Common schools) is defined as an institutionalized program of instruction, intended to provide a legally mandated program of instruction to children of compulsory schooling age, which varies by state but generally between the earlier ages of 5-7 and the later ages of 16-18 (NCESb, n.d.), conducted by certified teaching professionals, and paid for with taxpayer funds.

Private Schooling

Private schooling is similar to government schooling in the format and progress of instructional programs in an institutional setting. Typically, private schools follow the same grade structure (K-12) and often utilize the same, or similar standardized tests to evaluate the progress of students.

The biggest differences are the disentanglement of the schooling process from government mandates specifically in the realm of mandated academic content and/or religious content. These distinctions give rise to two categories of private schooling: “secular” and religious. I put “secular” in quotation marks because the term secular assumes an absence of religious content, but to intentionally avoid instruction about God, Christianity (or all faiths), or the sacred texts such as the Bible purposely imbues the philosophical concept of secular humanism, which is recognized as equally religious by the U. S. Supreme Court (Anderson, 2016, p. 79).

Religious private schooling, as the term implies, includes instruction from a religious perspective. These may include explicit catechism in religious doctrine, academic subjects taught from a religious worldview, or the inclusion of religious auxiliary instruction, such as chapel or Bible classes. There may be some religious schools are truly focused on developing a particular faith tradition in their students, but many are little more than government schooling with a miniscule amount of ancillary theological instruction or exposure (Garris, 2016, Chapter 7, para. 2).

Another significant difference is funding. Private education is typically funded by tuition fees levied upon the families of attending students. Many private schools are non-profit organizations, so fund raising can also make up a significant portion of a school’s operating budget. Rarely, non-profit organizations can fund school operations substantially or entirely, providing reduced tuition or tuition-free schooling to enrolled students.

Private Schooling is defined as a privately organized and funded institutionalized program of instruction, intended to provide a comparable (to government schooling) program of instruction to children of compulsory schooling age (varies by state but generally between the earlier ages of 5-7 and the later ages of 16-18). Teachers may or may not be state-certified.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are government schools (Garris, 2016, Chapter 6, para. 13; Hasson & Farnan, 2018, p. 5). Depending on the state, they may operate outside some constraints which have been seen as educationally ineffective in government schools. Charter schools fall under state mandates in content and graduation requirements but are often disencumbered from the influence of teachers’ unions (Friedrichs, 2021, p. 143), thus they have greater flexibility in the implementation of their schooling programs and the employment or dismissal of faculty. Many charter schools have a specific academic focus, such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Charter Schools are defined as a legally chartered (based on state law) institutionalized program of instruction, intended to provide an enhanced government schooling program of instruction to children of compulsory schooling age (varies by state but generally between the earlier ages of 5-7 and the later ages of 16-18).

Online Schooling

Springing from the advent of near universal internet access (at least in the United States) the option to conduct school “virtually” came into reality. It is basically a technology enabled distance learning program of government schooling. The program of instruction follows the K-12 structure, state mandated academic courses, graduation requirements, and utilizes standardized testing for the same purposes as “brick-and-mortar” government schools. Parental involvement is somewhat higher in this paradigm, and in the lower grade levels (or with special needs students) it is substantial but wanes as the student progresses upward in the online schooling system.

In discussions of home education, some have conflated online schooling and home education simply because the process occurs in the home. For the purposes of this article, I will describe this type of instruction as “government schooling at home” as distinct from “home education.”

Online Schooling is defined as an institutionalized program of instruction provided virtually (online) and intended to provide a legally mandated program of instruction to children of compulsory schooling age (varies by state but generally between the earlier ages of 5-7 and the later ages of 16-18), conducted by certified teaching professionals, and paid for with taxpayer funds.

Home Education

From the 1970s through the 1980s, the modern home education movement was born, and grew significantly. First to extricate themselves from the public schooling system were liberal, “secular” families (Dwyer & Peters, 2019, p. 44), influenced greatly by John Holt. Their main issue with government schools was that they were not educating to the students’ maximum potential. Shortly following, and soon overshadowing this first wave of home educators, were primarily Christian evangelicals (Gaither, 2017, p. 14) who had been spurred into action by Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s that had ruled it unconstitutional for prayer to be conducted or for the Bible to be used in instruction in government schools (Erickson, 2005, p. 32). Some may have assumed that these decisions were the “beginning of the end” for Christians being able to keep their children in government schools. However, I have argued that this was the death knell of a process that started from the inception of common schools and slowly deteriorated until the culmination of their intended goal—the removal of any and all semblance of faith from the schooling program including instruction, curriculum, and ancillary activities.

Whether for academic or faith-based reasons, home-educating parents take upon themselves the full mantle of responsibilities for the education of their children, with all of its burdens and rewards. This, in my opinion, is the most significant distinctions between home education and other paradigms discussed in this section. 

Parents have a broad range of options for how to approach their children’s education and an almost unimaginable number of curriculums to choose from to help them accomplish their goals. This increases exponentially when you consider the number of combinations or permutations which a parent could employ. At one end of the spectrum is a “school-at-home” option, whereby parents acquire grade-level curriculum packages, and instruct their children at home in the same or similar way as children are instructed in a classroom environment. Moving away from the schooling paradigm, many families choose an eclectic collection of curriculum and resources making the process particularly individualized for each student. Parents can capitalize on the strengths and interests of the student and/or provide special assistance in areas where students have deficiencies or specific needs. At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from schooling-at-home is the concept of “unschooling” (McDonald, 2019, p. 27). Far from the initial impression that many people get, unschooling is not the absence of educational effort on the part of parents but intentionally allowing student interests to be the driving factor and for learning to emerge “naturally” through everyday activities in life (McDonald, 2019, p. 60). Surprising to some, but not to those who know this paradigm well, unschooled students can go on to college, careers, or any other option available to traditionally schooled students (McDonald, 2019, p. 59).

Very often, home educators of all styles make use of auxiliary resources, including, but not limited to home education cooperatives, online classes, public libraries, shared learning resources, private tutors, or some combination thereof (Gaither, 2008, p. 211; Taylor, 2005, p. 129).

In what may be called a “typical” home education environment, one parent (generally the mother), conducts the education of children in the home while the other parent is employed full time outside of the home (Ray, 2005, p. 2). There are also many variations on this typical scenario including home education in single parent homes by using flexible scheduling and/or the assistance of family and friends (Anderson, 2016, p. 58), dual-income households that home educate on an alternate schedule, homes where one or both parents work from home and simultaneously home educate, or grandparents as the main home educators.

There have been some efforts recently to secure taxpayer funding for home education. These are commonly called “school choice” initiatives, which typically give parents the option to select a different government school, a charter school, a private school, a religious school, or home education. The oft-repeated mantra of these programs is: “Let the money follow the student.” For new home educators, this may seem like a tempting option, but in my experience, veteran home educators are considerably more skeptical of government entanglement in the process of education as it is assumed that even seemingly benign government involvement, such as simple tracking, to decidedly less benign requirement of parental accountability to compulsory attendance laws, standardized testing, and state-mandated content. Since families had to fight so vehemently to gain the freedom to home educate, at times doing so illegally, there is an expectation that any government involvement will give way to the out-of-control bureaucratic bungling that has plagued the government schooling system and culminate in reduced freedom. The definition below is similar to one proposed by an organization called Homeschooling Backgrounder (n.d.) but with the addition of “privately funded” to distinguish home-based education that does not use funds that flow through a government program.

Home Education (synonymous terms: homeschool, homeschooling) is defined as parent-directed, privately funded education conducted primarily in the home, with or without the assistance of home education support organizations, cooperatives, private tutors, or online resources. Home educators are not generally constrained by the institutional school K-12 structure but may have some state-mandated requirements for academic content, reporting, or standardized testing.

Post-Pandemic Paradigms

Many of the options in this section are new or significantly developed in the last couple of years, which means this is where there might be significant need to expand description and definition or to have additional paradigms listed. Some of the descriptions below are based on subjective exposure to these paradigms by this author and are not intended to present a representative analysis of all entities that use these schooling paradigms (or similar names).

Virtual Government Schooling

At the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak, schools were closed and for a short time there was no instruction provided because some suspected the closures would be relatively short lived and the schools did not have the infrastructure in place to immediately execute online learning. Copying existing online schools (to the extent possible), many districts scrambled to set up remote instruction options that were hastily implemented with a wide variety of results. Many parents found the shift in instructional models to be untenable for their students, while others were shocked to discover objectionable content in the instruction their children were receiving.

Although most schools have returned to in-person classroom instruction, many schools retain the remote learning option and can implement it more readily in contingency situations such as snow days so that these days can still count towards school calendar requirements. In rural communities, this remote instruction option has become a more permanent option for some families.

This paradigm can also be implemented by private schooling institutions.

Virtual Government Schooling is defined as an online supplement for or virtual alternative to institutionalized schooling programs of instruction which is intended to ensure provision of a legally mandated program of instruction to children of compulsory schooling age (varies by state but generally between the earlier ages of 5-7 and the later ages of 16-18), conducted by certified teaching professionals, and paid for with taxpayer funds.

Learning Pods

A unique, and perhaps still developing paradigm, is that of learning pods. Although there are certainly variations on this description, most seemed to be organized with a lead-parent or a professional educator in charge of instruction (McDonald, 2020), with children from different families and of different grade levels learning in a common location. I describe this as a modern, one-room schoolhouse (although there may, in fact, be more than one room or even more than one teacher). This paradigm takes advantage of the benefits of home education, but under the direct instruction of a teacher, rather than parents.

Learning pods are organized and funded by parents and the families may have a particular pedagogical method utilized, such as classical education model, or they may have a specific learning focus, such as STEM. Although I haven’t personally seen this, it is possible that non-profit organizations could sponsor or host learning pods for their members.

Learning Pods are defined as privately organized learning environments intended to meet parent/family educational goals for their participating children. This may or may not make use of the K-12 schooling structure or may be more akin to home education but in a multi-family collaborative. Teachers or directors are employed by the participating families, who may or may not require that they are state-certified educators.


Micro-schools are similar to learning pods, but they are more inclined to follow the schooling paradigms of grade-level (K-12) structure and are often organized for the purpose of college preparatory education. Simply put, these are very small private schools (McDonald, 2022), but depending on state laws, may or may not be categorized as such.

Micro-Schools are defined as a privately organized and funded program of instruction, intended to provide an enhanced (to government schooling) program of instruction to children of participating families. Teachers or directors are employed by the participating families, who may or may not require that they are state-certified educators.

Entrepreneurial Educational Providers

Although these providers existed before the Covid outbreak, there has been a significant increase as more professionals leave the education industry for various reasons. This paradigm can vary from single subject experts, like foreign language teachers, to those who provide services for multiple subjects in a given branch of academics, like someone who covers most major science subjects at a given level (elementary, middle, or high school) or multiple levels.

Entrepreneurial Educational Providers are defined as direct and independent education providers who contract with families to provide expertise-specific instruction, akin to tutorial services, but likely more extensive as to include all necessary instruction in a particular field of study, generally at multiple levels.


I am sure there are other paradigms, perhaps some amalgamation of one or more of the previously mentioned paradigms or perhaps something entirely different, and there will likely be more to emerge in the coming years. As cliché as these may seem, I believe that nature abhors a vacuum, and that necessity is the mother of all invention. When parents rise up and demand alternatives, as many are and hopefully many more will be, there is the potential for limitless answers. Some of the proposed solutions will be better than others and some may be great solutions for some families, but not for others.

Definition of Other educational paradigms have yet to be determined.

Perspective in Context – A Christian/Biblical Worldview

I am unashamedly a home education advocate, and more importantly, I unapologetically approach education from a Christian/biblical worldview. As such, this perspective invariably affects the definitions presented in this work. In addition to these broad presuppositions, the following paragraphs provide contextual framework for the effort undertaken by this article.

Schooling and Education are Not Synonymous

Although the majority of people might assume that schooling and education are synonymous concepts, that is a relatively new idea (McDonald, 2019, pp. 4-5). You may have picked up on the fact that I try not to use the word “education” in relation to anything that happens in institutionalized schooling. Education is an individual process of learning and the industrialized, assembly-line model of education is not conducive to maximizing every student’s learning potential. Like Israel Wayne, I have concluded that education and schooling are not synonymous (Wayne, 2017, p. 24). The more I research and study in the field of education, the more I have concluded that schooling is often antithetical to true education, and I encourage home educating families to avoid educationally ineffective schooling paradigms (Pietersma, 2022). This is why I even avoid the term “homeschooling” because “home education” is, in my opinion, more precise.

Government Schooling is not Religiously Neutral

Another assumption, specifically on the part of many Christian parents who defend sending their children to government school, is that these institutions teach religiously “neutral” content. However, Cox (2003) declared, “The very fact that education addresses world view questions of a religious nature means that there cannot be religious neutrality in education” (p. 382). To intentionally ignore teachings about God, is to presume His non-existence or irrelevance. This means that the “proclaimed neutrality in education is in reality a cover-up for opposition to Christ” (Garris, 2016, Chapter 2, para. 12).


Most of the statistics and research cited in this article concern education in the United States, so there is significant room for expansion considering that home education is an international educational trend.

Additionally, since many of the post-pandemic paradigms are likely to continue developing, there will likely be better descriptions or distinctions that emerge. There very well may be new paradigms that develop as parents and entrepreneurs seek out new and better ways to facilitate the education of children.


As stated at the beginning of this article, this is a first step down the road of clearly and concisely defining elements of schooling and education. For my part, distinguishing between various paradigms of schooling and home education is imperative to avoid confusion and to address these topics with interested parties. Therefore, I welcome feedback, critique, and even opposing opinions that may help refine these definitions.


Allotta, J. A. (2013). Discipleship in education: A plan for creating true followers of Christ in Christian schools. Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3608107).

Anderson, C. M. (2016). Education is discipleship: So who’s really discipling your kids? Phoenix, AZ: For It Is Written Ministries.

Beerens, D., Cook, J., & Wiens, K. (2019). From machine to human. In L. E. Swaner, D. Beerens, & E. Ellefsen (Eds.), Mindshift: Catalyzing change in Christian education (pp. 27-39). Colorado Springs, CO: Association of Christian Schools International.

Cox, W. F. (2003). Tyranny through public education: The case against government control of education. Fairfax, VA: Allegiance Press.

d’Escoto, D., & d’Escoto, K. (2012). Mind, body, and soul: Three big reasons to homeschool. In C. LaVerdiere (Ed.) IndoctriNation: Public schools and the decline of Christianity (pp. 293-303). Green Forest, AR: Masterbooks.

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Erickson, D. A. (2005). Homeschooling and the common school nightmare. In B. S. Cooper (Ed.), Home schooling in full view: A reader (pp. 21-44). Greenwich, CT: Information Age.

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Gaither, M. (2017). Introduction to the Wiley handbook of home education. In M. Gaither (Ed). The Wiley handbook on home education. West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell

Gaither, M. (2008). Homeschool: An American History. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Garris, Z. M. (2016). Thinking biblically about education: Why parents should abandon government schools and take back control of education [Kindle version]. Retrieved from

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Homeschooling Backgrounder. (n.d.) Retrieved from

McDonald, K. (2019). Unschooled: Raising curious, well-educated children outside the conventional classroom. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press.

McDonald, K. (2020). Parents and Teachers Starting “Learning Pods” Are Done Waiting for Permission. Retrieved from

McDonald, K. (2022). 5 Surprising Facts About Microschooling. Retrieved from

National Center for Education Statistics (NCESa). (n.d.). Retrieved from

National Center for Education Statistics (NCESb). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Pietersma, D. (2022). Home Education Unburdens Students from Educationally Ineffective Schooling Paradigms. Retrieved from

Ray, B. D. (2005). A homeschool research story. In B. S. Cooper (Ed.), Home schooling in full view: A reader (pp. 1-19). Greenwich, CT: Information Age.

Taylor, V. L. (2005). Behind the trend: Increases in homeschooling among African American families. In B. S. Cooper (Ed.), Home schooling in full view: A reader (pp. 121-133). Greenwich, CT: Information Age.

Wayne, I. (2017). Education: Does God have an opinion: A biblical apologetic for Christian education & homeschooling. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.


1. The “Perspectives – News and Comments” section of this journal consists of articles that have not undergone peer review. ¯