In most cases the home schools of Alabama are able to function autonomously. There has been no legislation or court rulings to affect home-schooling practices. Local school districts in which home-schooled children reside are considered responsible by the State Department of Education for sanctioning home-school programs, although home-schooling families are under no actual obligation to seek that approval.
Most Alabama home schools operate “as a ministry of a local church.” The families may enroll their children in a church school or qualify their home school as a church school. In 1982 church schools were exempted by law from the supervision of the state, except for certain enrollment and attendance requirements (Code of Alabama, 1982). Therefore home schools operating under this legal umbrella can operate autonomously. The extent to which home schools are associated with a church or established church school varies, as well as the degree to which they are supervised or guided.
Another way families in Alabama may home school their children and meet the requirements of law is to provide instruction by a competent private tutor (Code of Alabama, 1987). Under this statute, the parent must be certified to teach, but most home-schooling parents in Alabama are not certified. There has been the misconception by some home-schooling parents in the state that the law has allowed the hiring of a tutor who does not actually teach the children on a daily basis. They have believed that a certified teacher could be reported as a tutor for the children and only act to supervise instruction periodically. They have also believed that in using this option, no requirements were imposed upon them regarding curriculum, instruction time, and record keeping (“Good News,” 1986). Some school boards have not questioned or contested this kind of arrangement (The Rutherford Institute of Alabama, 1985).
The legal and political ambiguities concerning home schooling in Alabama have led to inconsistencies in the treatment of home-school programs by local school districts. In some areas home schools can operate peacefully; in other areas the home-schooling families are subject to misdemeanor charges. Failure by parents to comply with the state’s requirements has been considered to be “encouraging, causing and contributing to the delinquency, dependency or need of supervision of a child” (The Rutherford Institute of Alabama, 1985, p. 6). Several families in Alabama have been legally threatened for their home-schooling activities within the past five years.
Because of this unstable situation in Alabama, a knowledge base was needed on home schooling in Alabama. A study was undertaken to develop a profile of Alabama home-schooling families and their school programs. As a part of this study, data were gathered on the academic achievement of the home-schooled children in the state and comparisons made between their achievement scores and the achievement scores of public-schooled children.
The population consisted of all families in Alabama who were home schooling elementary-age children during the 1985-1986 school year. Many of these families lived in remote areas of the state and were not easily accessible. However, there were 84 children who were readily accessible through contacts with church ministries and home-school support groups. They participated in the study along with their 60 respective parents. There were 19 first graders, 23 second graders, 10 third graders, 12 fourth graders, 6 fifth graders, and 14 sixth graders. All of the children were between the ages of 6 and 12.
The Stanford Achievement Test (SAT) was administered to the children in five locations in various sections of the state. At the same time, the parents of the children filled out an in-depth questionnaire about themselves and their reasons for home schooling their children. The items on the questionnaire were categorized into three parts. Part A, Demographic Information, was designed to identify certain characteristics of families in Alabama participating in home schooling. Part B, Information on the Existing Home School, was designed to determine certain organizational and curricular aspects of home schools operating in the state. Part C, Reasons and Attitudes Concerning Home Schooling, was designed to identify the respondents’ major reasons for choosing home schooling.
After collecting the data from the children and their parents, a profile was developed of these families and their home schools. The SAT scores were compared with the SAT scores of all public-schooled children in Alabama.
In addition, the SAT scores of Alabama home-schooled children were compared to national levels of the SAT.
Findings and Discussion
Characteristics of the Home-schooling Families
According to the questionnaire responses, the main home educator was found most frequently to be (a) female, (b) mother of the children, (c) college educated, (d) not certified to teach, (e) not experienced as a teacher in an elementary school classroom, and (f) not employed outside the home.
The main wage earner in the home-schooling family was found to be the father of the children. The father’s occupations ranged from professional to blue-collar worker with the most common occupations being engineer, business manager, salesman, and minister.
Home-schooling families were found most frequently to be (a) earning $20,000 to $29,000 annually, (b) white, (c) attending religious services regularly, and (f) having a total of five people in the household with two being adults.
The home-schooled children were found to be almost equally of both sexes and ranging from 4 to 17 years in age. Most often, home-schooled children had never attended public school and had been home schooled for 1 to 3 years.
Characteristics of the Home Schools
A majority of the home-school programs in Alabama had similar organizational and curricular characteristics. The instructional program took place in the families’ homes, and usually in the kitchen or dining room areas. Approximately 3 to 4 1/2 hours were spent daily on instruction while 1 to
2 1/2 of these hours were spent on daily teacher-directed learning activities. The rest of the time was spent on independent academic learning activities.
The parent-teacher spent about 1 to 2 1/2 hours weekly on planning. They used daily journals or logs, daily lesson plans, and long-range plans. At least 90% of the home schools planned for language arts, reading, mathematics, science, and social studies instruction on a regular basis. A majority of the parent-teachers also taught Bible or religious studies, writing, physical education, health education, homemaking, music, and art. The instructional material used for these subjects were mainly commercially prepared for private or public schools and cost the family about $280.00 per year.
Instructional techniques used regularly included field trips, direct instruction, oral reading by the teacher and student, one-on-one tutoring, household work, informal discussions, silent reading, crafts and hobbies, textbook-directed instruction, and independent projects. Materials and teaching aids commonly used included workbooks and worksheets, children’s literature, textbooks, reference books, household objects, art supplies, learning games, newspapers and magazines, and chalkboards. Few home schools used microcomputers, manipulatives, bulletin boards, or audio-visuals.
Teacher observation was the most popular evaluation method used in the home schools. Most of the parent-teachers also assigned letter grades to student work, administered standardized achievement tests, and mastery tests prepared by textbook publishers. Only one-third of the parent-teachers used teacher-made tests to assess learning.
Most of the home-schooled children were involved in social activities outside their homes. They regularly attended religious or Sunday school functions, interacted with other home-schooled children or with neighborhood children. About one-half of the children also participated in music and sports activities.
Reasons for Home Schooling
Home schooling was preferred by the parents for a variety of reasons. The two major reasons for home schooling that were identified by the questionnaire responses were that the parents considered it their responsibility as parents to educate their children and that the parents wanted to help their children develop social skills without negative peer influences. There were several other reasons which were major influences in a majority of the parents’ decisions to home school their children. They had a desire to control the content of instructional material used by their children. They wished to preserve their children’s natural curiosity and love of learning. The parents wanted to be the ones to provide the discipline their children needed. They desired their children to have more religious freedom in their education. Along with this, they wanted the opportunity to instill religious/spiritual and moral values in their children without the influence of other teachers. A warm and secure learning environment that provides a variety of rich educational experiences was sought. The parents did not want their children exposed to drugs, alcohol, or profanity. They wished to provide a learning environment based on cooperation instead of competition and free of pressure to achieve beyond the children’s capabilities. They also sought a school situation where there would be a low student/teacher ration. The only reason that might lead the parents to a possible future decision to discontinue home schooling was if the children needed more instruction than could be provided at home.
Academic Achievement of the Home-schooled Children
The academic achievement of the home-schooled children in Alabama, as assessed by the SAT, was at grade level or above in almost all subject areas. The only exceptions were scores that fell below grade level in the mathematics area for Grades 1 and 4 and in reading comprehension and vocabulary for Grade 5.
Some interesting comparisons were made using these achievement test scores. Drawing solid conclusions from these comparisons may be problematic since the sample sizes for making statistical comparisons were small, randomization was not possible, and the effects of the intercorrelations of variables and multiple testing were difficult to control. The comparisons were tested at a stringent .01 level of significance, and Bonferroni’s correction technique for multiple comparisons was used to maintain an experiment-wise error rate at the .01 level. The findings of the comparisons are noteworthy although good judgment must be exercised in interpreting them.
The first set of comparisons was made using two-tailed t-tests to test the difference between the mean scores of the Alabama home-schooled children and the Alabama public-schooled children at grade levels 1, 2, 4, and 5. The findings were that the home-schooled children performed at comparable levels to the public-schooled children at each grade level.
Other comparisons were made using analysis of variance to determine if significant differences existed in the achievement of groups of home-schooled children based on their SAT scores. The comparisons were made for the following groups using raw scores: (a) male and female, (b) level of education of the parent-teacher, and (c) teacher certification status of the parent-teacher. It was found that the home-schooled boys and girls performed comparably to one another on the standardized achievement tests. The level of education of the parent-teacher did not affect the performance of the children on the tests. And the home-schooled children whose parent-teachers were not certified to teach performed as well on the standardized achievement tests as those whose parent-teachers were certified to teach.
This study represented a sample of the home-schooled children in Alabama. Although the home-schooling movement in Alabama is new, having developed within the 1980s, it is continuing to grow. There are probably about 800 families that are home schooling approximately 3,000 children in Alabama. There is a trend of continuing interest in home schooling. Hopefully, efforts to stabilize the home-schooling situation in Alabama will increase and will be based upon accurate information. Such efforts made by informed legislators, educators, and parents will benefit all considered in Alabama.
Code of Alabama, Section 16, Chapter 28 (1982).
Code of Alabama, Section 16, Chapter 28 (1987).
Good news from Alabama. (1986). Growing Without Schooling, 50, 5.
Klicka, C. J. (1988). Home schooling in the United States: A statutory analysis. Great Falls, VA: Home School Legal Defense Association.
Richoux, D. (1987). A look at homeschooling. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 23, 118-121.
The Rutherford Institute of Alabama. (1985, June 12). Home-schooling in Alabama. Unpublished manuscript.