We at CRHE believe that homeschooling is a valid educational option, but that it should have basic safeguards to help ensure that homeschooled children have a positive homeschool experience. Homeschool policy should reflect children’s interest in receiving a basic education and in growing up in a safe home environment. We have created this brief to help you, as a lawmaker, create an informed and compassionate position on homeschooling and on homeschool policy.
Understanding the Nuance
Homeschooling can serve children well both academically and socially. Homeschooling families have a wide array of resources available to them, including innovative curriculum, experiential learning opportunities, sports leagues, and co-ops and group classes. Parents choose homeschooling for a variety of reasons, including academics and special needs, and the homeschool population has become increasingly diverse. Many homeschooled children reach adulthood well prepared for college or the workforce, and live successful and fulfilled lives. For more, see our Homeschooling 101 pages.
Unfortunately, some homeschooled children are shortchanged academically, sometimes because their parents undervalue education and other times because their parents are in over their heads. Not every parent can homeschool successfully, and in some cases homeschooled children reach adulthood with little in the way of either education or skills. Further, in some cases, parents of chronically truant children may opt to homeschool when faced with a truancy prosecution, but without ever intending to provide instruction. Finally, in some cases cases abusive parents have used homeschooling to hide their maltreatment, removing their children from contact with mandatory reporters with sometimes disastrous consequences. See our Abuse and Neglect pages.
Please understand that homeschooling as a topic is complex and does not lend itself to simplistic narratives. There is a wide amount of variety within homeschooling, and that variety is growing. Homeschooling is a dynamic educational option that can work out in children’s best interests, but that can also go badly awry. Whether homeschooling turns out well or badly depends primarily upon whether parents are kind and motivated or abusive and apathetic.
The Importance of Oversight
Every child, including those who are homeschooled, deserves a basic education and a healthy and safe upbringing. Educational neglect can have a tragic and even permanent effect on children’s long term success, happiness, and productivity. Similarly, abused children who are homeschooled may find their ability to seek help severely limited.
“I was neglected educationally. My parents mostly only taught us to read. I left home at 17 with very little education. I didn’t get get my GED until I was 28 and I just barely graduated from college. It was a lot of work and I am about ten to fifteen years behind other people my age. In remedial math classes alone it cost the state money. But in opportunity costs I’ll never catch up.” ~ Emily Walton, 34, homeschooled K-12th
“Oversight is essential to prevent tragic cases of homeschool abuse (which do happen, perhaps more frequently than most are aware). Family and extended family cannot be counted on to report problems. Abused homeschool children who are forced into isolation will not come into contact with members of the community who normally detect family violence and educational problems.” ~ Lana Martin, 29, homeschooled 5th-12th
Oversight of homeschooling should focus both on ensuring that children receive a basic education and on ensuring that homeschooling is not being used to conceal abuse or neglect. There are a variety of ways to achieve these goals.
“Homeschooling needs to have some sort of regulatory oversight for the sake of abused children. The most important element of this oversight should not be standardized testing—I’m in favor of a portfolio option for homeschoolers rather than simply required testing—but should focus instead on putting every child in regular contact with social workers, doctors, teachers, and/or other professionals with the goal of increasing reporting of abuse. ~ Jeremy, 29, homeschooled K-12th
When designed carefully, basic oversight does not get in the way of responsible homeschooling and may in fact improve the homeschooling experience of even those children with capable and dedicated parents. Bookkeeping requirements and assessments provide parents with basic accountability and help them homeschool in a way that puts their children on a path toward long term success.
“I grew up in Florida, where I felt the academic aspects of homeschooling were well-regulated. Once a year, we met with a counselor who tested us and judged at her discretion that we had improved from the year before, ‘commensurate with his or her own ability’. I felt this was a very good system. My mother had to save all of our work and tests to show her. When we moved to North Carolina, I was a bit shocked to discover that there were no measures in place to ensure homeschooled children were actually learning things.” ~ Sam, 23, homeschooled 1st-12th
Basic oversight of homeschooling is important not only for the wellbeing of homeschooled children but also for the wellbeing of society in general.
“Homeschooling is not inherently bad, but unregulated it provides a framework for abuse of all kinds to thrive unchecked. Almost all states are in dire need of better safeguards against physical abuse by homeschooling parents and to protect against educational neglect. This is not just necessary to protect innocent children, but also to ensure the future of your city, state, and country. Well-adjusted, well-educated children are far more likely to become involved citizens who give back to the community and pay more in taxes.” ~ Rachel, 23, homeschooled K-12th
Homeschool laws should be structured to ensure that learning is taking place and to make it difficult for abusive parents to use homeschooling to hide maltreatment. We believe that this can be done while protecting the positive flexibility and innovative potential homeschooling often offers parents.
The Legislative Context
Many homeschool associations oppose any increase in oversight of homeschooling and some have actively worked to dismantle the oversight that is currently in place. Please understand that many homeschooling parents may react with concern to talk of oversight, fearing that oversight may place undue burdens on them and make homeschooling unnecessarily difficult. These parents should be reassured that the intent is not to limit responsible homeschooling but to safeguard the interests of children whose experiences may be less positive. Further, please do not assume that the loudest voices are necessarily representative of all homeschool parents. There are homeschool parents, homeschooled children, and homeschool graduates who are dedicated, outspoken advocates of legal oversight of homeschooling. We believe in fostering a more diverse and democratic approach to homeschool oversight by considering more than just deregulation voices.
We believe that one voice commonly missing from the discussion is that of homeschooled children themselves. Oversight of homeschooling does not exist to inconvenience homeschool parents or stereotype homeschoolers but rather to ensure that homeschooled students are receiving a basic education, and that homeschooling is not used to hide abuse. We believe that positive relationships between homeschoolers and their local school districts, or between homeschoolers and state departments of education, are in children’s best interests. It is our goal to see state legislatures, state and local education officials, and homeschool parents working together to protect children’s interest in an adequate education.
Data on homeschooling should be approached with caution. Studies commonly touted by many homeschool associations as showing the superiority of homeschooling generally rely on volunteer participants who are not representative of the population as a whole. Data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that homeschooling is more diverse in terms of parental education and income than suggested by volunteer-based studies, implying that there is a wide swath of the homeschool population that is not being included in studies of homeschooling. For more, see Academic Achievement. There is also little data on the frequency with which homeschooling is used to hide child abuse or neglect, because this data is generally not collected or maintained by any agency. For more, see Abuse and Neglect.
The current level of oversight of homeschooling varies widely by state, and reforms aimed at better protecting the interests of homeschooled children will thus look different in each place. Please take time to familiarize yourself with your state’s homeschool law. We believe that basic oversight currently lacking in most states is crucial to safeguarding the interests of homeschooled children. We ask you to use your authority as a lawmaker to maintain and legislate good homeschool policy. For more on the best practices we suggest and encourage, see our Policy Recommendations page.