Homeschooling as an Educational Choice


Few choices will have as lasting an impact on one’s child than the school which he/she attends. For thirteen years, school dominates the child’s life: shaping his/her thinking, molding his/her character, and to a certain extent, determining his/her destiny. Today’s parents have three options: public schools, private schools and home school.

The purpose of this discourse is: to examine the history of homeschooling, the rationales presented for it, the reality and results of it, the legal challenges to it, the resources for it, and the prospects for its future.


Homeschooling is as old as human civilization. Obviously, Adam and Eve were the only teachers their children ever knew, and in subsequent cultures and time periods, this continued to be true for many years. From the beginning the training of children was viewed to be a religious responsibility and an economic necessity. Failure to train children was viewed as an offense, and an unskilled child was shunned.

In Old Testament Israel, God gave command to parents to instruct their children, the purpose being to read and understand God’s Word. The literacy rate in Israel was high, but they also communicated via their oral traditions and with numerous feasts and ceremonies. During captivity, the Israelites continued their tradition through synagogue schools and established them also when they returned to their own land. Attendance was not compulsory. Ten or more families maintained a synagogue school, and the authority of the teacher or rabbi came from the parents.

In the New Testament era, the education of Christian children was in the home, and for the next three hundred years Christians practiced “homeschool” and “home church.”

With the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 AD and the subsequent legalizing of Christianity, education became a political tool of the Roman Catholic church with the result that the common man was robbed of literacy.

With the Protestant Reformation came a renewed interest in the literacy and education of the masses. It was correctly thought that the ability to read and the availability of the Bible in a reader’s native tongue would be the surest path to the renewal of true Christianity. Luther established public schools in every town and made attendance compulsory. But fathers continued to teach skills to children, the favored classes educated their children in academic and economic skills; the nobility employed tutors and occasionally would invite a peasant child to join them.

In America, freedom of religion gave parents the right to train their own children and choose their own curriculum and method of instruction. Five United States presidents were educated at home: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Other “greats” who were homeschooled include: Philipp Melancthon, William Penn, Thomas Edison, Konrad Adenauer, George Patton, Agatha Christie, Douglas MacArthur and Pearl Buck.1

“The swelling urban population, with its ‘street urchins’ and its organized youth gangs, needed government intervention. The child of the immigrant with his foreign culture, needed to be melted into Protestant American culture. The child of poverty, enslaved in the mines and the factories, whose parents could not or would not provide education for him, was the real target of compulsory school attendance.”2

“Contentious dissatisfaction with public schools in the 1960s started off an actual, albeit loosely organized movement.”3 Micki and David Colfax, both teachers, and disenchanted with what they found in their new home in northern California, decided to quit teaching other kids and start teaching their own, relying on their goats to provide a modest income. “The Colfaxes registered their tiny and exclusive academy as a private school and, in accordance with California law, assembled a file of teacher resumes, course outlines and attendance records.”4 Years later, when three sons were accepted into Harvard (one of them adopted), the issue of homeschooling became a hot topic in this country.




Dean Merrill, in his article entitled “Schooling at Mother’s Knee: Can It Compete?”, printed in Christianity Today (Sept. 2, 1983), says the “push factors” are: 1) discontent with the public schools for an assortment of reasons (relativistic teachers, ungodly peers, falling achievement scores, less diScipline), 2) enthusiastic testimonials from many who are trying and claim it’s superior, 3) a growing number of curriculum publishers providing materials for home use, 4) scholarly endorsement from secular as well as Christian quarters, and the 5) knowledge that if you get taken to court, you’ll probably win.

Patricia Lines, in an article entitled, “An Overview of Home Instruction” (PI-U DELTA KAPPAN, March 1987, p. 510), says: “Some parents object to the political or cultural values they find in public and private schools. Others do not like the instructional methods. Many agree with the late john Holt that children learn best in an unstructured environment in which the child sets the pace and direction. Many parents wish to spend extended time with their young children before enrolling them in school…Today however, the largest growth in homeschooling appears to be among devout Christian parents who are unhappy with the secular nature of the public schools and have not found a suitable religious school.”6

Parents like Ruth Nobel said, “We’d already chosen a Christian school over the public ones because our basic beliefs and philosophy differed drastically from that taught in public school. We believe, for example, in the Biblical account of creation, whereas evolution is taught as fact in public schools with little or no teaching of creationism allowed. Peter and I have taught our family that God and the Bible are final authority in all matters. The public schools regard. man and science as final authority …And then the standards of both teachers and students in the public schools are different from those we want for our kids…Our philosophy includes the belief that all learning should enable us to become better acquainted with God and serve Him better. Therefore we chose a Christian school. Two years ago, however, we began to have problems, even with their program. There were doctrinal differences from our viewpoint and we found the discipline lax in the junior high. We wanted a change for our children, but didn’t quite know where to go… Then…my brother-in-law saw an ad in a magazine. The ad offered a home study program for children, using textbooks based on the Bible and the philosophy that God is, that He loves and guides, and is sovereign over every part of our lives. We investigated it further. We liked what we found.”7


“A subversive activity until a very few years ago, home schooling is quickly becoming a national movement with its own gurus, publications, and support networks,”5 says Diane Divoky. To date, the most extensive study in terms of national scope, the subjects covered, the number of families participating, and early results on the effectiveness of homeschooling has been done by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHER) commissioned by The Home School Legal Defense Association, Michael P. Farris, president. It is the largest research study of homeschooling ever done, and what follows are gleanings from this study.

The target population for the study was all home education families who are members of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Linear systematic sampling was used to select 2,163 families with the starting point on the list being randomly determined. Data were collected on 1,516 families and about 4,600 children. The instrument used was a survey questionnaire with four principal parts: information regarding all parents and family (e.g., demographics, teacher certification, status of parents) information regarding the home education legal status of the family (e.g., contact with public school officials and with attorneys); information regarding the students (e.g., demographics, years homeschooled, achievement scores, curriculum used); opportunity to volunteer for participation in a longitudinal study.

The Average Homeschool Family

The average educational level of the fathers studied was about 3 years of college, the mothers about 2 years of college. The average family was father, mother and 3.2 children or 5.2 total, 64% larger than the average United States family which was 3.17 in 1988. Only 1.6% of homeschooled families were headed by single parents and all of these were mothers.

The expenditure per student per year in homeschooling was $488 compared to $3,987 per student cost in the public school in the 1988–89 school year. The median income of homeschool families was $35,000–$49,000; the median family income in the United States in 1987 was $30.850 in 1987 dollars.

The religious preferences of the fathers and mothers were clearly Christian with 93.8% of fathers and 96.4% of mothers describing themselves as “born again.”

Homeschool Students

Male and female students were nearly equal in number in the sample. The average age was 8.24 or about third grade level. On average, the children had been taught at home for three years since age 5. A table in the study reveals that a significantly larger percentage of people are moving their children into the home education option than are leaving it. Parents reported that, in 2,434 cases out of 4,620 they intend to home educate their children up to the eleventh grade level (10.88).

Curriculum 67.4% of the parents indicated that they hand picked the curriculum. A satellite school curriculum was used for 5.1% of the children. A home education program provided by a local private school was used for 1.3% of the students. Finally, parents reported they used a complete curricular package (i.e., including language, social studies, mathematics, science material for full year) for 31.4%of the students. Percentages do not total 100% because several parents selected multiple options.

Standardized Achievement Tests

The California Achievement Test, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and Stanford Achievement Test accounted for 80% of all the tests taken, and of the 3,034 students who were at least 5 years old, 1,471 (48.5%) took a standardized achievement test during the 12 months prior to the study.

Copies of the test results were attached to the returned questionnaire for 66.1 % of the students who took the tests. The achievement scores of these home-educated students were quite high in all areas considered. Data were collected on the following: reading, listening, language, math, science, social studies, basic battery (typically reading, language, and math), and complete battery (all topics included in the overall testing of the student).

The home-educated students scored on the average at or above the 80th percentile in all six of the preceding categories. The national average in conventional schools is the 50th percentile.

Consistent with data in several other studies and reports, these findings show that the achievement scores are high in all grade levels (K–12) and in all subject areas. It could be argued that these students would have done well in any educational setting, considering the family backgrounds and motivational levels of parents from which they come. On the other hand, a logical argument could be made that the home education environment naturally causes higher achievement because of factors such as low student-to-teacher ratio, flexibility that is possible in a small, private setting, close contact between parent and child, and the enhanced opportunity to individualize curriculum and methodology to meet the gifts and limitations of a particular child.

Number of Homeschooled Children

It appears that there are 630,418 children living in homeschooling families and 474,165 children of school-age, but these numbers are only estimates. It may be possible that HSLDA’s membership is not representative of the total population of homeschoolers since some of the correspondence programs have group discount programs with HSLDA. If their sample is skewed, the number of homeschooled students may actually be somewhat larger than this estimate.

Policy-making Conclusions

Several relationships between the home-educated students’ achievement scores and variables relevant to policymaking were discovered in the study. First, the parental education level explains or predicts at most, less than 4% of the variance in anyone of the achievement score areas. Such correlations are considered slight or negligible. Second, only 6% of the fathers and 13.9% of the mothers surveyed had ever been certified teachers. The relationship between student achievement and the teacher certification status of the parents was significant in its absence. The findings of this study do not support the idea that parents need to be trained as certified teachers to assure successful academic achievement for their children.

Third, only seven hundred sixty two (51.1%) of 1,468 families surveyed have submitted any type of paperwork to state or local school authorities to notify them of their homeschool. The achievement levels of students according to the home education legal status of their families represented no significant correlation.

Regulation in the States There are varying degrees of state regulation of homeschooling. Iowa and Michigan are the most restrictive, and California and Texas are the least restrictive. New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina a rerestrictive to a high degree. Students in all three regulation groups scored on the average at or above the 76th percentile in the three areas examined: total reading, total math, and total language. These findings in conjunction with others described in this section, do not support the idea that state regulation and compliance on the part of home education families assure successful student achievement.

Income Level of Parents

While total reading and total language scores did not differ according to the income level of the home education family; total math scores showed some variance. Students in families with incomes of $50,000 and above scored better in math than students in families with incomes under $10,000; those in families with incomes from $50,000–$74,999 scored better in math than those in families with incomes in the $10,000–$14,999 bracket. Nevertheless, students from all income groups scored at or above the 60th percentile on national norms in math. These findings do not support the idea that home education students in low income families are at risk of not doing well in terms of achievement.

Homeschool Students after High School Graduation Information about adults who had been home educated was gathered for only 99 subjects. This analysis did not report how long these individuals had been taught at home. Half (50.5%) of them attended either a junior college or four year college after high school “graduation.” Another 12.1% engaged in full-time employment, while the remainder pursued other activities.9


In 1986 John and Sandra Bermett were convicted in Michigan for “failing to send their four children to school as required by the compulsory attendance provisions of the School Code.” The Bermetts had withdrawn their children from the public schools and were teaching them at home using a home-based education program sponsored by Clonara. The parents’ action was based on “dissatisfaction with the public school system, not any religious belief.”10

On May 25, 1993 the Michigan Supreme Court “vacated the criminal conviction of the Bennett family because the government did not first take the Bennetts through a lengthy administrative process outlined by state law before dragging them into criminal court.”11 David Kallman, the Michigan attorney who has helped HSLDA with this case, said that this ruling means “that no home school family can be immediately taken to criminal court, but must first go through the administrative proceeding. This will make it very difficult for the government to prosecute homeschoolers in Michigan.”12

In 1984 Mark and Chris De Jonge of Michigan began teaching their children at home because they wished to provide them with a “Christ-centered education.” They were convicted, fined $200 each, and sentenced to two years probation for instructing their children without state certified teachers. On May 25, 1993 the Michigan Supreme Court voted 4–3 to exempt families who homeschool due to their religious beliefs, from the state requirement that students be taught by a state certified teacher. The court ruled in People v. De Jonge that the Michigan school officials failed to show that the teacher certification requirement was the least restrictive means of discharging the state’s interest in seeing that children are educated. This ruling protects families that are homeschooling for religious reasons because the First Amendment says that the government can interfere with religious freedom only if the government has a compelling interest that is implemented by the least restrictive means.

On February 24, 1994 a vote was scheduled in the House of Representatives, Washington D.C. on H.R. 6, a $12.4 billion education bill known as the Improving America’s School Act. Ten days before the scheduled vote, Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex) notified Home School Legal Defense Association president, Michael P. Farris that Rep. George Miller (D-CA) had inserted a late amendment that could endanger homeschooling. “The provision would have required by late July 1998, full-time teachers to be state certified in each subject taught. States failing to comply would lose all federal education funds.”12

The amendment did not distinguish public and private schools, so Armey as a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, sought an exemption for children taught at home and in nonpublic schools. All 15 Republicans on the panel agreed with Armey, but the 27 member Democratic majority unanimously refused.

Then the Virginia-based HSLDA went to work, contacting 150 state and regional homeschool organizations. Via a phone-tree network, an estimated 900,000 homeschooling parents were asked to call congressional representatives and urge a “no” vote against the bill and a “yes” vote for Armey’s amendment. Christian radio talk shows were also instrumental. The response was phenomenal, and on a roll call vote for the record, the House voted 424-1, with Miller standing alone, to repeal the Miller amendment. Then representatives approved Armey’s provision which says, “Nothing contained in this act shall be construed to affect homeschools,” by a 374–53 tally.13


There are a number of resources that are available to those who homeschool. The Calvert School located in Baltimore, MD offers home study courses for K–8 in basic skills, particularly writing and grammar. Reading programs rely on classic children’s literature rather than Dick and Jane style readers; science and math use up-to-date textbooks. Courses include poetry beginning in kindergarten, and art history in grades 5 through 7.

Clonara School located in Ann Arbor, MI offers a flexible correspondence program for all grades from kindergarten through high school. They also provide a guidance service and legal help if needed, a newsletter, report cards, transcripts and achievement tests.

Hewitt-Moore Child Development Center based in Washougal, WA has a Christian-oriented curriculum for preschool through grade 12 and provides special assistance to families with learning disabled children. The materials try to encourage discussion, creativity and independent thought. The program’s newsletter, Family Report, has legal updates and teaching tips.

Independent Study High School operating out of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, offers correspondence courses for grades 9 through 12.

Learning at Home, based in Honaunau, Hawaii, has teaching guides for grades 1 through 6 in language arts, math, social studies and science.

The Big Book of Home Learning by Mary Pride is a thorough source of general information about curriculum materials, tests, correspondence schools, state homeschool organizations, newsletters and other support for homeschoolers.

Growing-Without Schooling (Holt Associates, Boston, Mass.) is a bimonthly newsletter founded by the late John Holt, an educator who believed that children learn best in an unstructured setting where they can work at their own pace, choose their own books and judge their own work.

The Complete Home Educator by Mario Pagnoni (Larson Publications, Burdett, N.Y.) offers sensible advice from an experienced public school teacher who taught his kids at home. It includes useful tips for teaching the three R’s and an extensive discussion of computers, focusing on word processing.14


According to Patricia Lines (PHI DELTA KAPPAN, March 1987, p. 511), “It seems likely that more efficient printing and the cheapness of electronic media will make further expansion (of homeschooling) even easier. Recent changes in state laws have made home instruction simpler from a legal standpoint.”15


We have seen how homeschooling has spanned all the centuries of human existence. Rationales for homeschooling are varied, but religious reasons, especially Christianity, are dominant. Early survey results demonstrate that most homeschool parents have some college training, homeschool costs are relatively low, most children being homeschooled are young, curriculum is hand picked and varied, achievement scores by the estimated 500,000 students are dramatically higher than the national average, the homeschools are only loosely regulated by the states, income levels of parents do not measurably affect the achievement of students, and legal challenges have favored homeschoolers. Resources for homeschoolers are adequate and multiplying. The future for homeschooling looks favorable.


1 Merrill, Dean. (1983, Sept. 7). Schooling at Mother’s Knee: Can It Compete? Christianity Today, p.19.

2 House, H. Wayne, Ed. (1988). Schooling Choices. Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, p. 186.

3 Tice, Terrence N. (1992–October). Research Spotlight. The Education Digest, p. 37.

4 Seligmann, Jean, & Abramson, Pamela. (1988, Feb.). From Homespun to Harvard. Newsweek, p. 49.

5 Merrill, Dean, op. cit., p. 16.

6 Lines, Patricia. (1987, March). An Overview of Home Instruction. PHI DELTA KAPPAN, p.510.

7 Moore, Raymond, & Moore, Dorothy. (1982). Homespun Schools. Waco, Texas: Word Ikx:Iks, pp.72-73.

8 Divoky, Diane. (1983, Feb.). The New Pioneers of the Home Schooling Movement. PHI DELTA KAPPAN, p. 395.

9 Staff. (1990, December). Initial Results from Nationwide Survey Give High Marks to Home Schooling. Home School Court Report, pp.2–8.

10 Bruin, Linda L., Ed. (1993, Summer). Education and the Law: Supreme Court Decides Homeschooling Cases. MASB Journal, p.19.

11 Staff. (1993, May–June). DeJonges Celebrate Victory at Michigan Supreme Court. The Home School Report, pp. 1–2.

12 Kennedy, John W. (1994, April 4). House Learns Civics Lesson. Christianity Today, p. 76.

13 Ibid.

14 Henderson, Nancy. (1987, March). Teaching Your Kids at Home. Changing Times, pp. 8687.

15 Lines, Patricia, op. cit., p. 511.

Laurie Vanden Heuvel, Co-editor of The Outlook, has taught full or part-time in Christian schools (CSI) for thirty years. She is currently beginning her tenth year of teaching at Hudsonville Christian School, Hudsonville, MI. She is the mother of five children and grandmother of ten children. (Next month, Laurie Vanden Heuvel will share the results of two interviews done with two fine homeschool moms, and a report on a visit made to a homeschool networking session, followed by an analysis and conclusions regarding the visits.)