T. Jameson Brewer, Ph.D.
Educator, RESEARCHER, author
Homeschooling is on the rise in the early twenty-first-century United States, as parents embrace this approach and advocacy organizations promote it as part of a larger “school choice” movement. Estimates suggest that there are currently 2.3 million American students that are homeschooled compared to 50.1 million students in public schools and 4.9 million in private schools.
Homeschooling rests on the foundational idea that parents, as children’s legal guardians, are the primary decision makers for their children until they become adults. Nevertheless, this understanding of parental sovereignty coexists in uneasy balance with the obligation by the wider public to ensure the general welfare and protection of all children. Policymakers and parents should thus consider the wider implications of this practice and examine the empirical evidence about the effects of homeschooling.
The phenomenal growth of homeschooling in recent years demonstrates not only the appeal of this educational approach but also the notable policy acumen of the homeschooling movement's leading advocates. This analysis examines and critiques the empirical claims made by homeschooling proponents to justify further expansion and deregulation of the movement, and sheds light on the homeschool advocacy agenda explicit in those claims. Advocates often strongly suggest a causal connection between homeschooling and academic success, postsecondary attainment, and even enjoyment of life. Seemingly, these benefits are experienced all at a reduced cost per student. It is through such claims that homeschooling advocates have expanded the practice of homeschooling and have pressed for fewer state regulations and less oversight. This article outlines and challenges those claims, showing the tenuous basis for such conclusions. Instead, in an era when policymakers demand evidence of effective educational practices, we note the remarkable lack of empirical evidence on the effectiveness of this popular approach and suggest that continued efforts to claim such evidence exists indicates the desire of advocates to further advance what is largely an ideological agenda of deregulation as an end in itself.
This article provides an exploratory overview of the history of homeschooling in the United States in addition to examining some of the claims made by advocacy organizations. There are two broad categories of rationales for homeschooling: (1) empirical — claims of greater efficiency, effectiveness, or pedagogical appropriateness; and (2) ideological – often informed by a religious or political disposition. A detailed discussion of both rationales is provided. First examined are claims made by homeschooling advocates related to effectiveness and efficiency, finding that this rationale does not have the same validity that ideological rationales like religion and safety may have. Finally, these rationales are cast against the backdrop of the aims of education as a mechanism for the collective good or for the individual good.