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Lesson 5.12

Home Schools:
How Do They Work?

What is homeschooling?

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A small fraction of California students do not attend school at all, in a conventional sense.

What is homeschooling?

Homeschooled children participate in an educational program that is coordinated by their parents.

School attendance is compulsory, so families must meet some requirements to legally pull their children out of school. The Homeschooling Association of California advises families about how to establish their own private school or how to affiliate with a Private Satellite Program (PSP).

Why do families choose homeschool?

Until recently, religious concerns dominated the demand for home schooling. In a 2011-12 survey, 17% of parents of homeschooled children cited religion as their top reason for choosing to teach their child at home.

The internet has made it significantly easier for families to learn about homeschooling options, and homeschooling is a growing movement. Computer-based instruction and online resources are making learning at home an increasingly realistic option for more families and into higher grades, especially because the pandemic made virtual learning a facet of most schools.

The top reason parents cite for choosing homeschooling is "a concern about the environment" of other schools.

The US Department of Education estimated in 2016 that nationwide homeschooling has grown rapidly to about 3.3% of students. In the pandemic, interest in homeschooling skyrocketed. By fall 2021, EdSource estimated that nationwide homeschooling had soared to 11% of students based on affidavits filed to form schools (although filing is not a commitment yet). The Department of Education survey suggests that homeschoolers are students for whom traditional school is not working for a variety of reasons, including commute distances, bullying, or other safety concerns. The number one reason that parents cite for choosing homeschooling is "a concern about the environment" of other schools.

Does homeschool work?

Skeptics of homeschooling usually raise two questions: Are homeschooled kids socially competent? Can they achieve similar academic goals compared to traditionally educated students? The answer to the first question might have been negative decades ago, but the age of social media offers a different answer. Popular social media networks provide a space for homeschooled children to interact with others, which constitute much of the social interactions even for students with a traditional form of education.

The second question is more tricky. Homeschooled students perform better than the national average on all kinds of measures for academic abilities, such as higher first-year of college GPA. However, the disproportionately high household income and parental academic attainment of homeschooled students may explain this advantage.

What are virtual schools and are they good?

A rapidly increasing number of these new homeschool students are enrolling in virtual schools that make heavy use of computing and telecommunication. Many of those in California are enrolled in a virtual school organized under the California charter school law. This approach might be cheaper than the kinds of homeschooling that require parents to purchase curricula and supplies.

Virtual schools enroll significantly fewer minority, low-income, and English learning students than the national average. According to a report by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, 501 virtual schools served 297,712 students across the country in 2017-18.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed people to consider virtual schooling as a temporary substitute for in-person schooling for a much larger population of students than ever. Some even suggest a future of public-private virtual school partnership. However, some existing research cautions against this optimism toward virtual schooling. according to the 2019 report by NEPC:

  • Current virtual schools are not very accountable. Among the 39 states with virtual or blended schools, only 21 had performance ratings assigned to them in 2018, and more than half of the schools in those states didn't have ratings assigned.
  • Students attending virtual schools perform worse academically than the national average. For example, only about half of the high school students attending virtual schools graduate on time, compared to the 84% graduation rates across all schools.
  • Literature about the experience of virtual schooling is still limited. Virtual schools tend to lack transparency regarding their instructional model, nature of the curriculum, and the type and amount of support employed by those schools.

In 2013 the largest virtual school operator, K-12, a for-profit company using charter schools laws, came under intense criticism. California outlawed some activities of for-profit charter management companies in 2018, in large part because of financial and academic performance issues.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The role of computers in learning is a far larger topic than home-based learning. The technology angle of this topic will be explored further in Lesson 6.6, in the section “The Right Stuff.”

The next lesson steps away from anything remotely "virtual." What does it take to hold a class together, in terms of discipline?

Updated July 2017, December 2018, August 2021, December 2021.


What is the main reason families cite for choosing to homeschool?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh November 8, 2019 at 9:04 am
I’d like to hear more about parents of kids with special needs turning to homeschooling. Many of us are frightened of putting our kids into a school that may not be able to handle the kids’ needs. That said, homeschooling means losing income for the family, and for special needs parents, it also means losing the tiny bit of separation time we need to avoid burnout.
user avatar
Susannah Baxendale January 25, 2019 at 4:44 pm
Parents are a child's first teachers as Head Start notes over and over, but that doesn't mean parents do well as the only teachers. Many don't know the material (I've seen way too many pictures of home schooled kids with grammatical errors in what the parent has written up on a board), or pick a poor curriculum, or lack the skills to keep their children on task. And the socializing aspect that is lost is notable. I am aware that parents who homeschool do get their children together with other children (usually homeschooled) so they are trying, but it is a self-selected group which isn't the same as what you get when you go to a public school!
user avatar
Albert Stroberg May 1, 2016 at 7:50 pm
Other than a few special situations this has become an actively bad thing. So much of a school education happens in addition to the teacher's direction. Standing in line, waiting your turn, having class responsibilities (window monitor!), dealing with buffoons, - these are all very important components of education for a future member of society.
user avatar
Veli Waller April 8, 2015 at 4:49 pm
Two families pulled their 1st graders out of my son's school earlier this year. Home schooling seems to be growing in our area.
user avatar
Mamabear March 20, 2015 at 5:02 pm
Yes, I know several home schoolers and they are required to meet with a representative from the Department of Ed to confirm progress and lesson plans. Most of the families need this option because there is inadequate support for dyslexic or mildly autistic children. I was actually told by a Unified School District employee "if we tried to help all the kids with dyslexia, we couldn't help anyone" since my daughter doesn't fall into the "special education" parameters, I have to spend many extra hours working with her after each regular school day to stay on track. Homeschool is not an option for me as a single mother.
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