“Homes as schools” is the title of chapter eleven in the publication Choices in Schools: What’s Ahead and What to Do by Jack McCurdy (National School Public Relations Association, 1501 Lee Highway, Suite 201, Arlington, VA 22209, 1985, 57 p.). It is the result of the writer’s review of literature and discussions with various people involved in home schooling. He briefly examines five ideas related to home education: (1) an historical perspective, (2) reasons for home schooling, (3) whether it is valid education, (4) state legislation, and (5) cooperation between home schoolers and public school districts.
With regard to home schooling’s place in history, McCurdy writes (p. 46):
Education of children at home by parents is as old as civilazation but has been largely forgotten as a serious schooling option until recently. Instruction of children by professionals away from the home has become a way of life for nearly all parents. It is, however, a relatively new tradition.
But, he points out, the proportion of young people involved in home schooling has risen faster than in any other portion of private education. Several estimates of the involved number of families, from 10,000 to 50,000 or more, are given. No one knows for sure. Once parents taught children at home because there were no schools. Today, however, “The overriding reason is to exert more control over what the child learns…” (p. 46).
In reality, the reasons for home schooling vary. A common reason is differences in religious beliefs from what can be, and is, offered in the public schools. On the other hand, some parents perceive the public schools as too conservative or traditional. Some parents are committed to strong families and more time with their children. And some believe that they can best serve the needs of a particular child. Usually there is a combination of reasons for teaching them at home. Regardless of the reasons, families who home school should be prepared to live in a way that is set apart from mainstream society.
One reason they will not be seen as mainstream is that some people question whether home schooling is really education. Some educators are afraid that these children will fail academically or socially. Although there is little strong evidence yet on how these children turn out, McCurdy says, some achievement testing shows that they do as well or better than those in schools. The question as to whether it is education also arises in the legal arena. Some states expressly permit home education and others do not address the issue. States usually require “…a home education program to be equivalent’ or comparable’ to that of a school” (p. 47). The problem is that these two terms are often poorly defined.
With various statutes from state to state, it is no surprise that the court decisions vary between states. “However, most courts have interpreted state constitutional provisions and laws as to permit home instruction…“ but some courts “…have prohibited home schooling outright” (p. 47). McCurdy points out that the U.S. Supreme Court has never “…ruled difinitivley on home education…” (p. 48). Those who advocate home education are making nation-wide efforts to alter or pass supportive legislation. Many practitioners and advocates are going “public” for the first time as a part of these legislative efforts. Even if home education is widely authorized, its spread may be limited by certain factors. One is the cost of instruction materials and another is the added responsibilities that home schooling parents accept.
Some school districts and home schooling families are finding it profitable to cooperate, while others go on fighting. For example, “Under California law, school districts can enter into an independent study agreement’ with parents who intend to school their children at home These agreements allow districts to count the students for state aid purposes (p. 48). Simultaneously, the parents receive assistance for their children from the district. Home educators and districts in other states might benefit by investigating such possibilities.
McCurdy presents a fairly balanced, general overview of the home centered learning situation in the U.S. He treats it as an issue in American education, but does not tend to bolster either side of the quieting debate. His opening statements do put home schoolers in a positive perspective, however.
Laws in many states have changed since McCurdy wrote this chapter. Those interested can contact the following regarding current state laws: (1) Rutherford Institute (P.O. Box 510, Manassas VA 22110; ph. 703/491-5411) for a 250-page legal analysis of the home school laws in the 50 states called “The home school reporter” written by Chris Klicka, and (2) Home School Legal Defense Association (P.O. Box 2091, Washington DC 20013; ph. 202/546-2335) for the “Home school statute chart of the 50 states,” also by Klicka.
McCurdy has not uncovered any research new to this author. In fact, I suspect that he could have done a more thorough literature search and found some studies to add to the “…little evidence on what happens to children schooled at home or how they turn out” (p. 47). He does provide a few references related to the area of home education. These references and other research are included in the bibliography mentioned later in this HOME SCHOOL RESEARCHER.