NASHVILLE, Tenn. A new report by the U.S. Department of Education finds that the number of homeschooled children in America has risen steadily over the past five years and stood at about 1.5 million in 2007.
Homeschooling experts, though, place the number closer to 2 million and say the discrepancy can be attributed to homeschooling parents being less inclined to respond to government surveys.
The report from the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the federal government's education department, said in December the number of homeschooled children was up 74 percent from 1999 to 2007 and 36 percent since 2003.
Among the top reasons parents gave for choosing homeschooling over traditional education: concern about the school environment, to provide religious or moral instruction and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools.
"From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of students whose parents reported homeschooling to provide religious or moral instruction increased from 72 percent to 83 percent," the report said.
Months earlier, Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, released a factsheet saying parent-led, home-based education a decade ago appeared to be cutting edge and alternative but now is bordering on mainstream in the United States.
Ray said in July there were an estimated 2 million to 2.5 million children in grades K-12 who were home educated during 2007-08. He also said the method was growing quickly in popularity among minorities, with about 15 percent of homeschool families being non-Anglo.
In addition, Ray, author of "Worldwide Guide to Homeschooling" from B&H Publishing, noted that homeschooling relieves American taxpayers of more than $16 billion that would have to be spent if homeschooled children attended public schools.
Most parents decide to homeschool for more than one reason, he said, and the top reasons include customizing the curriculum and learning environment for each child and accomplishing more academically than in schools. Also on his list was the option to teach a particular set of values, beliefs and worldview.
Ray's factsheet addressed the academic performance of homeschooled children and said they typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students on standardized academic achievement tests. Homeschool students typically score above average on college admissions tests, he said, and increasingly they are being actively recruited by colleges.
"The home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional and psychological development," Ray said. "Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service and self-esteem."
Zan Tyler, an acquisitions editor and speaker for Apologia Educational Ministries, a homeschool curriculum and publishing company, told Baptist Press an increase in homeschooling will have a "positive benefit on society."
"They're not burned out from education. [Homeschool students] have a real love for learning by and large, and they have an independence in their learning," said Tyler, a former homeschool resource and media consultant for B&H Publishing. "They sort of own their own education. I think that's important.
"More than that, as Christians, another interesting study Brian Ray did was I think it was 94 percent of homeschoolers said they agreed that the religious beliefs of their parents are also their own religious beliefs," she said. "And this is at a time when we statistically see the 18-29-year-olds leaving the church in record numbers....
"I would say the greatest benefit of homeschooling is just that these kids are being raised in Christian homes and there's just something in the discipleship model there that obviously is a blessing of the Lord," Tyler added. "These kids are maintaining their faith as they get older in record numbers compared to other kids."
Tyler agreed with Ray's assessment that the number of homeschooled children in the United States probably is much higher than the Department of Education study found, and she said it has been her experience that "a lot of times homeschoolers just aren't going to respond to government surveys."
In 1984, Tyler and her husband Joe started homeschooling their children in South Carolina, and the state superintendent of education threatened her with jail for not sending her children to a traditional school. Through eight years in court, the Tylers advanced the cause of homeschooling in their state. In 1990, the Tylers founded the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools and through the state legislature won a statute giving SCAIHS the same power to approve homeschooling programs as local school boards.
Tyler said she wasn't sure whether the dramatic increase in the number of homeschooled children would tempt the federal or local government to intervene in the future.
"I don't know how much the increased numbers have to do with it as much as the fact that government always seeks to control or intervene," she said. "We saw that in the California decision where an appellate court there sought to make homeschooling illegal."
After she left B&H and before she accepted her current position at Apologia, Tyler served as the national grassroots director for the Parental Rights Amendment, a campaign seeking an amendment to the U.S. Constitution protecting the rights of parents to raise their children.
"With Obama being elected and Hillary Clinton his new secretary of state, she's a big proponent of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child, and that will not bode well for homeschoolers," Tyler told BP. "When an international treaty is ratified, it supersedes all domestic law except for the Constitution. That's why we've been seeking a constitutional amendment that would guarantee parental rights in a wide variety of things including educational choice how parents educate their children."
According to parentalrights.org, "Under the UNCRC, instead of following due process, government agencies would have the power to override your parental choices at their whim because they determine what is in 'the best interest of the child.' In essence, the UNCRC applies the legal status of abusive parents to all parents. This means that the burden of proof falls on the parent to prove to the state that they are good parents when it should fall upon the state to prove that their investigation is not without cause."
As for the future of homeschooling, Tyler said she believes it will continue to be an appealing option for parents who want to raise their children "in the admonition and the fear of the Lord" and according to their learning styles.
"With the economy, it will be interesting to see what happens because more mothers are going back to work. But also as more people work at home, then they're able to blend home education with working at home and all of life. It's really a very natural fit," Tyler said.