Homeschooling is a complex topic that rarely lends itself to simplistic narratives. We believe that homeschooling is a valid educational option, but that it should have basic safeguards to help ensure homeschooled children’s wellbeing and interest in obtaining an education. Many homeschooled children have positive experiences and benefit from the flexibility and innovation homeschooling offers; others suffer from educational neglect or are abused and find their ability to seek help severely curtailed. Whether a parent is kind and motivated or abusive and apathetic has a great impact on the child’s homeschool experience. We have created this brief to help you, as a member of the media, accurately and effectively report on homeschooling.
Homeschooling is one of an increasing array of educational options. Parents choose homeschooling for a wide variety of reasons, including concerns about the environment or academics in other schools and a desire to provide a religious education, facilitate child-led learning, or offer individualized instruction for children with special needs. Homeschooling is becoming increasingly diverse not only in terms of parental motivations but also economically and racially. Further, there are today a plethora of resources available to homeschooling families. For more, see our Homeschooling 101 pages.
Homeschooling can serve children well both educationally and socially. Many homeschooled children reach adulthood well prepared to succeed in college or on the job market. These young adults may look back fondly on their homeschool experience, and may in some cases credit it with their succes. However, in a number of cases homeschooled children are shortchanged academically or may not have their social needs met. Further, in some cases abusive parents use homeschooling to hide their maltreatment of their children and parents of chronically truant children use homeschooling to avoid truancy prosecution without ever intending to actually provide instruction. In most states, there is very little oversight of homeschooling, which can mean that there are few if any resources available for helping homeschooled children who suffer from abuse or neglect. See our Abuse and Neglect pages.
When discussing homeschooling, nuance is important. Homeschooling can and often does work out well academically and socially in the hands of dedicated and involved parents, but when parents devalue the importance of academic education or are overwhelmed by the demands of large families or a child with special needs, education may take a back burner and children’s social needs may go unmet. Not every parent can homeschool successfully, and it is important that parents remember the interests of the children. The very individual nature of homeschooling makes generalizations difficult. The fact that a homeschooling family on one block is thriving tells you nothing about the wellbeing of a homeschooling family on the next block.
Things to Think About
For the interested reporter, homeschooling may prove a rich and promising topic. Homeschooling places a great deal of power in the hands of the parents. When those parents are healthy and caring, this can work out in children’s best interests. When those parents are narcissistic or abusive, however, this can turn out very badly. This nuance may lend itself well to circumspect reporting.
“At its best, homeschooling is an innovative educational experiment designed to honor children’s natural ability to learn. At its worst, homeschooling is a cover for abuse or neglect. I think a lot of work can be done exposing these abusive situations without necessarily indicting all of homeschooling in the process. Many homeschooled children have exceptional learning environments and a healthy family structure; the problem is that, for those who don’t, there is no recourse or anyone monitoring the situation who can intervene. It’s not about rates of abuse, but about a lack of a safety net when abuse occurs. That would be a great issue about which to increase awareness.” ~ Jeremy, 29, homeschooled K-12th grade
Homeschooled children who are emotionally abused may have fewer outside adults to invest in their sense of self worth, and homeschooled children who receive excessive corporal punishment may not know that what they are experiencing is not normal. These more negative experiences should not be assumed to be any sort of norm for homeschooling—to all appearances they are not—but they still do occur, and when they do there is often little oversight in place to protect children. Raising awareness of this problem is nevertheless crucially important.
“We need to raise awareness of bad homeschool situations, not to disparage homeschooling as a legitimate means of education, but to bring attention to abused and neglected children who are otherwise invisible in today’s society. These efforts will ultimately create a more effective, safe, and reputable homeschooling community.” ~ Lana Martin, 29, homeschooled 5th-12th grade
Some homeschool parents may be defensive and wary of media coverage. Reporters who cover stories of abuse or neglect in homeschool settings may find some homeschool parents indignant and upset. Please do not let this dissuade you from writing about these topics.
“Be prepared to come under attack by the homeschooling community. You are seen as a threat. But the children have rights too, someone must speak out for them. There are good and bad homeschoolers—highlight both to be fair.” ~ Felicia McKiban, 38, homeschooled 7th-12th grade
Many homeschool parents feel that media coverage has unfairly portrayed homeschoolers as freaks, or unfairly tied homeschooling to extreme cases of child abuse. Some are fearful that negative portrayals of homeschooling may lead to calls to ban homeschooling, or to regulate it so tightly that it loses its potential for flexibility and innovation. It is therefore important to approach this topic with nuance and avoid stereotyping the increasingly diverse and freewheeling population of homeschoolers. This nuance, of course, goes both ways, and some homeschool graduates who were victims of abuse or neglect feel that their stories are not being told.
“When I grew up, I felt the general public opinion of homeschooling was very negative, and unfairly so. It was a great environment for me, academically, and while my mother was unkind at times, I don’t think I was equipped to navigate public school. It would be nice if the media offered less one-sided coverage, and showed that homeschooling can be good or bad.” ~ Sam, 23, homeschooled 1st-12th grade
“Definitely talk about the dark side of homeschooling more. All I ever seem to hear on the news is people slobbering themselves to “not offend” which can include totally icing over the horrors found in many families that homeschool.” ~ Anonymous, 21, K-12th grade
When it comes to reporting on homeschooling, you have both a challenge and an opportunity before you. But more than that, you have the chance to influence both public perception and public policy. We urge you to use your influence wisely and with the interests of both children with positive homeschooling experiences and children with negative homeschooling experiences in mind.
“Please, do more stories about homeschoolers who were abused. Please bring a focus to this issue to possibly help increase regulation.” ~ April Duvall, 33, homeschooled 2nd-12th grade
Doing the Research
Data on homeschooling should be approached with caution. Most studies of homeschooling rely on volunteer participants that are not representative of homeschooling as a whole. Even these studies’ findings are frequently misrepresented or misunderstood. Homeschool advocates’ claims that homeschooling has been proven educationally superior to other methods of education are largely myth. The data we have tells us only that homeschoolers are able to succeed academically, not that homeschoolers on average do succeed academically or that homeschooling is the cause of that success. Further, data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that homeschooling is more diverse than suggested by volunteer-based studies, suggesting that there is a wide swath of the homeschool population that is not being included in most studies of homeschooling.
Oversight of homeschooling is often lax and is currently in a state of being dismantled even further. Half of all states do not require homeschooled students to participate in any form of assessment, and even those that do have assessment requirements do not always require those assessments to be turned in or evaluated. Eleven states do not even require homeschoolers to notify education officials of their intent to homeschool. Worse yet, in a few states, homeschool parents may not actually be required by law to educate their children. Further, only one state bars parents who have been convicted of abuse or neglect from homeschooling their children. The process of identifying and intervening in cases of educational neglect in homeschool settings is often confusing or severely limited by law, which can result in severe problems for homeschooled children who reach adulthood with little in the way of education or skills. For more information on the current state of homeschool oversight and our recommendations, see our Policy Issues pages.
Potential Topics of Interest
We feel that there are certain issues and areas that would benefit from more thorough and frequent coverage by reporters. With this in mind, we have created the following list of suggested topics for media coverage.
- The role of homeschooling in concealing abuse and neglect
- The vast variance in homeschoolers’ academic performance
- The increasing economic and racial diversity of homeschooling
- The cultural diversity of homeschooling and its many subcultures
- The lack of basic oversight for homeschooling in most states
- The increase of cybercharters and online public schooling
Your are welcome to contact us if you are interested in doing a story about homeschooling and would like more information or resource.