In Kotzehu, Alaska, 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle, students do math and English at midnight. In Booneville, California, they read what they choose at a mountaintop ranch, surrounded by sheep and goats. The number of home schoolers is increasing in every state, and dozens of support groups, newsletters and purveyors of curricula and books have sprung up to organize them, inform them, and supply them.
The years remaining in this century could present American education with some of the most critical challenges and dramatic changes in this nation’s history. News media have set the stage for an intense self-study of this nation’s schools. Three of the most widely known studies have been A Nation at Risk (The National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), High Schools and Making the Grade (Peterson, 1983), and A Place Called School (Goodlad, 1983). These 1983 studies voiced concern that the deterioration of quality in schools and colleges was jeopardizing America’s ability to compete in the increasingly technological, international marketplace. The reports also added to the weight of evidence that the schools have failed in their mission. In order that America may function, citizens must be able to reach common understandings on complex issues, often on short notice and on the basis of conflicting or incomplete evidence. Education helps form these understandings, a point Thomas Jefferson made long ago:
I know no safe depository of the ultimate power of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion. (Harris & Fillo, 1982, p. 26-31+)
One of the most significant developments in education is taking place far from the classroom. There is no danger of school bells or join-in bustle of students in school corridors. Their parents, critical of deterioration public school systems of driven by religious motives, are educating their children at home – a movement that has been exploding across the country in recent years, with no end of growth in sight. Home instruction in the United States is not new; it began in colonial America. Home instruction has never disappeared in America. It has been predicted that by 1990 the number of parents choosing home schooling will reach at least one-half million (Harris & Fillo, 1982). This movement may possible be coupled with a public demand for improved curriculum and instruction for all children. The decade of the 1980s has produced nearly thirty major national reports and countless state and local studies which focused on a dissatisfaction with the present state of education and the necessity for improving the quality of education in America.
The fundamental reason for the future home education movement, according to Toffler (1970), is that the public schools in their present form are an anachronism, a creature of industrial society. This country has evolved from an industrial to an informational work force. This dramatic change took place in less than thirty years, whereas the turnover from an agricultural society to the industrial age took almost one hundred years. This increased pace of change produced havoc with social institutions, including educational ones (“Principals’ perspective,” 1984). The movement from limited choices to multiple options in every aspect of American society must now become an educational concern. The nation’s school systems need to recognize the growing demand for alternative schooling.
Many conflicts between public schools and non-public schools center on the question of where to draw the line between state laws that mandate compulsory education and parents’ rights to direct the upbringing of their children. Courts have declared most compulsory attendance laws to be constitutional. It is also clear today that parents can satisfy the intent of those laws by sending their children to private, secular, or religious schools. Not all state and federal courts have recognized that parents have a fundamental right to educate their children at home. As a general rule, however, courts have ruled in favor of parents who have alleged that their fundamental rights have been violated in relation to a compulsory attendance las requiring that their children be educated in a formal school setting.
Statement of the Problem
Legislatures and citizen groups increasingly pressure the public schools to explain and improve both the effectiveness and efficiency of education. For some parents, the satisfaction of watching their children grow in learning under their tutelage is a powerful motivation for alternatives.
Parental involvement has been a component of these alternative programs. Systematic research has focused on the role of parents and the home as a supplement to the efforts of public and private schools. The issue at hand is to determine how to reinforce and mutually adapt home-school curricula to families. To meet that challenge, school personnel need a more complete understanding of the nature of family curricula. How children learn in the home environment compared to the school environment depends upon the curriculum and all aspects of textbooks, teacher certification, scheduling, and follow-up testing of knowledge and achievement. Intense research is needed on the nature of home-school curricula, beginning with a focus on the home-school curricula that families plan to teach or are currently teaching their children at home. With an increased understanding of these variables, schools and educators (as well as courts) can better approach the task of cooperation with all types of parents in an effort to educate the children.
This study was a determination regarding the extent to which state statutes regulate the curricula of home schooling. The study determined further to what extent courts have interpreted statutes providing for the regulation of home schooling. The scope of this research is an historical and descriptive study of the required curriculum, if any, that states mandate in home schools.
Home schooling is a topic that welcomes research since a review of the literature on the subject provided small amounts of current research. Many questions remain unanswered in the area of home-school curricula. A need was seen for research in this area since decisions in courts regarding home-school curricula are being challenged at the present time.
Letters were sent to the chief state school officer in each of the fifty states requesting information relative to home schooling and the curriculum in those schools. A list of resources was received from a computer search from the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC). Visitations to actual home school locations became a living piece of research.
Historical Background to Home Schooling in America
The change that has taken place in the public school sector in the past ten years may have been initiated by several possible phenomena. Teacher disenchantment with the public school system of educating the masses, with needs of security measures, and teaching toward meeting the mandated testing requirements is present in the teaching field today. A conflict of ideologies within public schools today may be a result of the need of the public schools to be all things to all people. The back-to-basics movement of the eighties makes the taxpayers reluctant to support frills in the public school system, and the curriculum has been primarily determined by the mandated competency testing programs adopted by most states across the nation. The economic conditions of the present age, the conservative cutback on federal money for public schools, have caused the serious demise of many programs in the public schools that alternative schools may offer. The ethnic group pressures still active today following the desegregation of the sixties have continued to make the alternative school movement attractive to many influential blacks as well as white citizens.
A trend in education today is toward self-help and not institutional help. Home instruction may be the self-help educational approach of the eighties.
Home schooling is not an idea new and unique to the twentieth century. Parents in the past have had the right and obligation to direct the intellectual and moral upbringing of their children. This is like the right to clothe, feed, and otherwise provide for the basic needs of children, which has not been questioned.
From the beginning of European colonization of North America through the first fifty years of American independence (1633-1830) formal education was designed for the privileged. It is to be understood at this point that beginning with the earliest settlers fleeing form injustices, all established schools in this country were private, church-related schools. The housewives in New England’s towns held informal gatherings in their home to teach the youth their “letters” and church catechism. These were called “Dame Schools”. Today, they are called home schools.
Until far into the nineteenth century most elementary schools were private or home schools. Most of them, whether private of public, were ungraded and unsupervised. The movement for the improvement of public education developed slowly before 1830, but more rapidly thereafter.
The Industrial Revolution changed the history of the United States and of education. Mechanics, as well as farmers, needed to be trained. More formalized education became a necessity.
Changes in the growth of the private school sector occurred in response to public school treatment of religious values, which has gone through three overlapping states. First, there was an evangelical Protestant period, beginning with the development of United States public education and lasting well into the nineteenth century. Next came a relatively brief period of non-denominational religious emphasis, an emphasis that never completely permeated American public education before it was overtaken by the third, and current, era of secular education.
The working class and Roman Catholics led the opposition to the development of the public education system. The political efforts to stop or alter the development of public education failed; the private education efforts endured. Well over 90% of the children in private schools were in Roman Catholic schools from the middle of the nineteenth century until the mid 1920s (Good & Tiller, 1983).
One public response to the new private schools was hostility. While the emergence of Catholic schools might have been seen as a clear benefit to overcrowded public schools hard put to accommodate the large numbers of new immigrants, some people saw the growth of new Catholic schools as a threat to public schools as well as undesirable and even unpatriotic. This movement had great influence on the concept of the rebirth of the home-school movement.
It should be noted that the underlying principal for a public system today is Jeffersonian. That is, ordinary people are the best managers of their own affairs. They should not be forced to attend a school planned only by administrators. This concept pushed many parents into the home and out of the public schools.
The historical background of our country reveals our traditions and ideas, and has embedded public education in our constitutions and governmental institutions. The founders of this country turned to the idea of public education to build common commitments to their young for their role as self-governing citizens rather than subjects bound to an alien sovereign. The idea of the common school took root in the nineteenth century and flourished in the twentieth century.
Post-World War II America was a very different nation from the one that had given birth to progressive education. The advance of the mass media, the proliferation of social welfare agencies under public sponsorship, and the rapid extension of industry-sponsored education programs literally transformed the balance of forces in education. Americans could concentrate more on the needs of the youth (e.g., education) and on the regrouping of society within the physical boundaries of the country.
The central effort of the fifties was to define more precisely the school’s responsibilities and to delineate those things that the school needed to do since no other institution would or could get them done. The social activism of the 1960s helps to explain some of the social tensions of the 1970s and 1980s. The decade of the sixties is acknowledged to be a time of tremendous changes in the areas of race relations, sex roles and mores, and student activism. Among other things, the Vietnam War was a divisive issue for all Americans from 1964 to 1975. It took resources away from the war on poverty. Marches and draft card burnings dramatized the opposition. In addition, black Americans organized massive civil rights protests in pursuit of legal and social equality.
The advocacy of women’s rights paralleled a “sexual revolution,” a change of standards of conduct. The conflict over role of the woman in America persisted in the seventies and eighties.
The decade of the seventies has been described as the “me decade” when Americans were preoccupied with personal, not social issues. Social critic Lasch (1979) described America as a “culture of narcissism” in which each person looked out for his own security and survival. Schaeffer (1976) described the cultural shift from the optimism of the New Left and the youth culture of the sixties to the fixation on “personal peace and affluences” in the seventies.
Americans lost interest in promoting social change since they were skeptical of their power to change the world for the better. The Vietnam War was humiliating for many people. In 1974, the first resignation in the history of an American president occurred after charges of dishonesty and political espionage were substantiated against Richard Nixon and his staff. The price of gasoline quadrupled after an Arab oil embargo. The United States suffered a recession that included high unemployment and double -digit inflation in the seventies. Survival was an individual response.
The majority of the school-age population attended public schools despite a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the quality of the education provided. Declining discipline was a major complaint, as was the decline in scores on standardized tests. Parents worried about drug use and sexual experimentation by students. concerns over the physical safety of students became a public issue.
Some Americans were not satisfied with conventional schools, public of private. The ideals of social equality and the desire for freedom from the “Oppressive” conventional institutions gave rise to several kinds of schools. To the existing private schools were added new secular educational options. “Free schools”, “freedom schools”, “community schools”, and “alternative schools” were begun in the sixties and seventies. New Left Alternative Schools emerged in the 1960s as a criticism of American society as unjust not only to blacks but to the poor generally. The influential social critic and self-styled “anarchist” Goodman (1960) became a spokesman for the New Left with the publication of Growing Up Absurd, a searing indictment of the American educational “establishment,” the “organized system.”
The alternative school movement contributed to the emergence of home schooling in several ways. Alternative school advocates criticized public schools and created their own options outside the system using non-certified personnel. Alternative schools allowed parents and children a choice among different teaching methods and curricula. Existing alternative schools provided curricular and legal support for home schools.
The literature and this author’s research suggest that reasons for educating children in alternative settings include ideas related to parents finding the public schools too orthodox in their curricula and procedures, escaping racial integration, separation from government-controlled education, religious and “sociopsychological objections” to public schools, the desire to protect children from exposure to objectionable secular values, disagreements with teachers and other school officials, and the desire for a quality education.
Statutes requiring school attendance at certain ages have long formed the backbone of the American Educational system. In Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the United States Supreme Court declared that the state has the power “to require that all children of proper age attend some school.” The United States Supreme Court ruled in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1977) that the parents’ rights to direct the religious upbringing of their children must be weighed against the state’s interest in educating children. The Court based its decision on 300 years of Amish mode of life which produced self-sufficient citizens. The 1943 ruling in Commonwealth v. Bostlik confirmed that the Compulsory Education Statute does not require children to attend public school. It is the parents’ decision to send them to private school, a tutor, or educate them at home. The United States Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) established the importance of compulsory school attendance.
Home-school litigation has stemmed from the basic concept of the compulsory attendance laws in the fifty states. These cases have been based on the belief that parents have a natural and constitutional right to determine the manner and place of their children’s education and that fundamental rights of parents are abridged by compulsory attendance statutes.
Religious motives are behind much of the recent surge in home schooling. The growth of home schools parallels the rise of Christian fundamentalism, which describes a perceived “godlessness” in the public schools and which includes belief in literal interpretation of the Bible.
The purpose of this study was an examination of state control of curricula offered in home schools. Research for this study was accomplished through a review of literature, and analysis of the statutory provisions of the fifty states, and a study of judicial decisions rendered in relation to the statutes. No attempt was made to create an ideal curriculum for the education of students. Instead, this researcher sought to ascertain the current legal status of what is required and what is allowable in curricula of home schooling. It was found, as a general rule, that no state had a prescribed curriculum at the end of 1986. However, currently some states are considering, or have considered, a prescribed curriculum for home schoolers.
Many educators within the public sector have been concerned about the retreat to non-public forms of education rather than seeing this as an opportunity for parents to exercise an option of providing what they believe to be a better educational opportunity for their children. Many of them have retreated to non-public and home schools for purported religious, social, ethical, or philosophical reason.
This research was undertaken, not for the purpose of evaluating the desirability or need for standard curricula within home schools, but rather for the purpose of determining what is legal for a segment of society faced with making informed decisions related to the curricula of home schools in relation to the curricula offered by their public counterpart. Parents considering home schooling need to know the legal ramifications of establishing a curriculum. Legislators need to know the judicial aspects of enacting laws relating to the issues of curricula, and public school employees and boards must be prepared for issues relating to the area of curriculum within their local and immediate purview.
The following recommendations are offered for the above categories of people who are concerned with and affected by home schools:
1. All who have vested interest in education of children should be familiar with statutory requirements for curricula of home schools within their states. An awareness of the current rapidity of change in this area is of paramount importance. Therefore, a complete and thorough understanding of statutory changes is highly recommended.
2. A working understanding of current trends in home-school curricula legislation is helpful for planning and implementation of programs, statutes and legal sanction. A familiarity with court decisions on home-school curriculum within the state and at the federal level is highly recommended.
3. Before entering suit, litigants are encouraged to be cognizant of the procedural due process rights of parents, and these rights must be honored.
4. Statutory interpretations and their implementation through policies, rules, and regulations need to be clearly understood and applied in a non-discriminatory manner. This should prevent litigation based on arbitrary or capricious application of the statutes.
5. It is the responsibility of the home school to abide by statutes governing curricula in a home school, and it is the responsibility of school officials to ensure that the legal implementation of the statutes is adhered to.
6. It is recommended that home schools be licensed so that home school parents and proponents can be notified of statutory requirements for curricula, testing, and all the aspects of home schooling covered by statute.
7. When public officials challenge parents who offer home schooling, they should be prepared to prove that the curriculum is not meeting statutory requirements.
8. Legislatures within a state should make every effort to eliminate ambiguity in existing statutes.
Brown v. Board of Education, 74 S. Ct. 686 (1954).
Commonwealth v. Bostlik, 5 Monroe L.R. 24 (1943).
Good, H. G., & Tiller, J. D. (1983). A History of American education. New York: McGraw Hill.
Goodman, P. (1960). Compulsory mis-education. New York: Random House.
Goodlad, J. (1983). A place called school. Random House.
Harris, J. J., III, & Fillo, R. E. (1982). Outlaw generations: A legal analysis of the home-instruction movement. Educational Horizons, 61 (Fall), 26-31+.
Lash, C. (1979) The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. New York, NY: Norton.
The National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983) A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.
Nolte, C. M. (1984). The principal’s perspective. High Tech Schools. National Association of Secondary Schools Principals.
Peterson, P. (1983). Making the Grade. A background paper for The Report of the Twentieth Century Friend Task Force on Federal Elementary and Secondary Policy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute.
Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925).
Principals’ perspective. (1984). High Tech School. National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Schaeffer, F. (1986). How should we then live? Old Tappan, NJ: Revell.
Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock. New York, NY: Random House.
Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1977).