HOME SCHOOLING: A GUIDE FOR PARENTS
By Caven S. McLoughlin, PhD, Kent State University; &
Helena Chambers, EdS, Warren City (OH) Schools
The home schooling movement has gained sufficient momentum to become a viable and
increasingly popular alternative to traditional schooling. This handout provides information for parents
considering home schooling.
What Is Home Schooling
Definition. There is no developed consensus on the definition of home schooling although it
generally refers to an alternative or supplemental form of education in which a parent teaches children
at home. The U.S. Department of Education simply defines home schoolers as “students whose parents
report them as being consistently schooled at home instead of in a public or private school.” It can also
be defined according to the laws and regulations that govern the practice from state to state. Some
families choose home schooling part time and some full time. Ultimately, home schooling is an
alternative educational practice where parents assume primary responsibility for supervising the
education of their children. Between 1 and 2 million children learn outside the traditional classroom (2%
of all children receiving an education).
Structure. The structure of home schooling varies by state, community, and even by family. Home
schooling naturally lends itself to a variety of philosophies and approaches. Parents decide what format
for instruction is appropriate. Some families replicate the traditional classroom experience including a
daily routine incorporating a set curriculum. Others pool their resources to form cooperatives reflecting
different parents’ expertise. Some have their children take Internet-based virtual courses offered by
private, public, or independent agencies. Still others reflect a radical and unstructured form referred to
as student-led schooling (often called unschooling) advocated by the home schooling pioneer, John Holt,
who said children deserved freedom to design their own education; that is, what, when, and how they
A Brief History
It is impossible to talk about home schooling without mentioning religion. Religion is believed by
many to be a main component shaping western culture and civilization. To a large extent, the Judeo-
Christian church established the foundations of the western system of education. Church schools were
first created by colonists for the education of their children and were based on the European educational
tradition. Prior to the separation of church and state, church officials often served as school principals.
Children either learned in the church schools or were schooled at home.
Thomas Jefferson initiated the movement for free public education where, regardless of wealth, all
children were encouraged to attend. There were strong disagreements between public education and
church school officials. Interpreted by church schools, the goals for children included reading scripture
and advancing the faith. The leaders of the newly emergent public schools felt that religious goals
conflicted with the goal of universal education.
Although public education became mandatory soon after public high schools were first opened in
Maine and Massachusetts in 1821, children continued to be taught at home and in church-run schools.
Landmark court rulings over the next 150 years slowly established the parents’ right to select other than
public schools for their children, including education at home. Since home schooling and education in
religious foundation schools rely on the same court rulings to establish their permission to operate, they
have evolved many of the same philosophies and practices.
In 1977, the first newsletter directed to home schooling families, Growing Without Schooling, was
published by John Holt. Soon after, the first program labeled as “home schooling” was started in
Helping Children at Home and School II: Handouts for Families and Educators
Michigan with just three students. By 1982, home
common characteristics. While the majority of children
schooling was established in 40 states as an
are home schooled full time, 20% are also enrolled in a
educational alternative. In 1983, attorneys established
public or private school. More children are presently
the organization, Home School Legal Defense
home schooled than attend charter schools, another
Association (HSLDA) to advocate for the rights of
parent-initiated alternative to public education.
families choosing to home school. Home schooling was
Generally, parents who home school have graduate
present and legal in every state by 1994. Each
degrees, higher household income, three or more
organization formed during this stage of rapid
children, and live in two-parent households with only
development and every affirming court decision
one adult in the labor force. Home schooling has
strengthened the movement and encouraged more
become especially popular with white, middle-class
parents to consider their educational options.
families with strong religious convictions. Home-
schooled children span the grades from kindergarten to
Legal and Local Support
grade 12. The same proportions of boys and girls are
Local and state regulations. Home schooling is
home schooled across all grades and income groups.
legal in all states. All compulsory education laws
explicitly make home schooling a valid educational
Potential Benefits of Home Schooling
alternative. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld parents’
Parent choice. Parents have a variety of reasons for
rights to decide their children’s education. Since each
choosing home schooling. At the top of their list is a
state regulates home schooling differently, parents must
belief they can provide their child a superior education,
examine local laws carefully to determine obligations
followed by religious reasons and a concern about poor
and latitude. All states require families to file basic
quality opportunities in their neighborhood schools.
information when choosing to home school. Parents
Other reasons reflect a desire to develop character while
benefit by discussing their options with others
providing greater challenge for their child. Some parents
participating in home schooling to gain suggestions on
object to the secularity of public school and want to
how best to proceed. Federal control of home schooling
emphasize their morality and values. Few parents
is prohibited. Home schools are not subject to No Child
choose to home school children with special educational
Left Behind (NCLB) regulations or NCLB assessments.
needs or those who have a history of being behaviorally
HSLDA reports that 35 states do not require home-
challenging in public settings. Since most of the
schooling parents to meet specific teaching
published information on the benefits of home
qualifications. Most states require a total number of
schooling is prepared by individuals who themselves
hours or days a child must be taught during the
home school, there is more consideration of the
academic year, by grade level. However, specific
positives. Considerations of customization, safety, high
curriculum decisions are generally left to parents, with
achievement, and one-on-one instruction are offered as
checkpoints varying widely across states.
the primary benefits of home schooling.
District support. School districts offer supports to
Customization. Customization refers to the idea
families who choose home schooling. Supports include
that parents can personalize their child’s curriculum and
providing parents with texts and curriculum guides and
pace of learning. Parents generally can respond more
the opportunity for children to attend class part time.
rapidly to the child’s need to move to another topic with
Home-schooled children are generally welcome to
less delay than in traditional classroom. One-on-one
participate in public school–sponsored extracurricular
instruction is also mentioned as a prime benefit. Since
activities. However, many parents are unaware what
parents have fewer pupils to monitor than in a typical
supports their local public schools offer.
classroom they can make sure that their child
understands concepts; that is, clarification or correction
Home Schooling Characteristics
can be offered right away. Older siblings, too, can help
In 2000, the National Center for Education
as co-instructors. Home schooling advocates suggest
Statistics estimated that 850,000 students were being
that it is the personal nature of home schooling that
home schooled. That estimate may be low. Education
avoids a one-size-fits-all approach. The closely
Week, a publication covering K–12 education issues,
supervised, intentional customization make the effort
reported that “[t]he consensus among those who study
worthwhile, they say.
home schooling is that at least 1 million U.S. children
Safety. Parents generally want to shield their
were educated at home in 1999.”
children from societal ills, including violence, drugs and
Home schooling is individualized, and varies from
alcohol, early sexual experiences, and peer pressure.
family to family. Despite the variety, there are some
Through home schooling, parents attempt to protect
Home Schooling: A Guide for Parents
their children from the negative influences they perceive
different grade levels, abilities, and with different
as present in traditional school cultures.
High achievement. Research on the educational
Citizenship education. Critics argue that home-
outcomes for home-schooled children provides an
schooled children have a narrower horizon of experiences
interesting counter to popular beliefs about the
than do children in traditional classroom settings. Lack of
effectiveness of home schooling. Some studies
opportunity to develop citizenship is a concern that
comparing the performance of home-schooled children
arises because parents are the only filters for their child’s
to non-home–schooled children routinely conclude that,
education. This creates a compromise to citizenship
on average, those home schooled score significantly
education in three ways: the inability to develop respect
higher on standardized achievement tests. For example,
for others’ beliefs, religious and otherwise, that conflict
in a study (supported by a grant from HSLDA) of 20,760
with their own; the inability to share something in
home-schooled students, those who were home
common with fellow citizens; and the inability to be
schooled performed as well or better on standardized
exposed to diversity within a democratic society and live
achievement tests than their traditionally educated
a life of their own design. In schools, children must learn
peers (Rudner, 1999). According to HSLDA, 69% of
to accommodate people from all walks of life with civility
home-school graduates go on to postsecondary
and respect. Schools are institutions that celebrate
education and are actively recruited by colleges. Many
diversity; home schooling shields children from diversity.
of these studies, however, do not control for family
Another citizenship concern relates to a potential
income or parent education levels, which are also
reduction in socialization opportunities for home-
predictive of higher academic performance regardless
schooled children. Critics suggest that home-schooled
home or traditional schooling.
children may be less well equipped to cope with the wider
world. Parents who home school offer a counter
Criticisms of Home Schooling
argument: Their children are socialized through sports,
Areas of concern focus on quality of instruction,
music, church, and other carefully selected, closely
family income, lack of citizenship, number of children to
supervised extracurricular activities.
home school, and lack of necessary related services for
Special education and related services. Parents of
children with special needs who choose to home school
Quality of instruction. The quality of instruction
may forfeit special education and related services that
offered to children who are home schooled is widely
their child needs. It is the local school district that
questioned. Since home schooling parents are generally
determines eligibility for additional special services
untrained in teaching methodology, their efforts may be
(counseling, special education, school psychology,
less beneficial for their child than they intend. The
speech therapy, occupational therapy). No regulations
capacity of the parent to differentiate the elements of
require schools to provide services to children who have
content, process, products, and learning environment on
rejected the offer of an education and who fail to enroll.
the basis of their child’s readiness, interests, and
For some children, such services are critical to their
individual learning style may be limited when compared
success at becoming contributing members of society.
to licensed teachers. In addition to a parent’s gap in
Therefore, forfeiture of related services may have an
knowledge about the process of learning, educational
impact beyond repair.
materials and resources in the home may also be
sparse. Lack of materials is a particularly acute concern
for advanced academic subjects, as is the parent’s
There is considerable controversy regarding the
ability to teach advanced concepts.
benefits and drawbacks of home schooling.
Family demands. The decision to home school
Customization of the educational experience and one-on-
makes critical demands on the entire family. Family
one instruction are cited as the primary benefits of home
income is compromised when a parent is unable to
schooling. Parents who home school their children note
participate in the labor force. Fewer educational
many advantages, including the opportunity to create
materials can be afforded and the learning environment
appropriate, personalized, and powerful learning environ-
parents once believed they could provide may not be
ments where their children have the potential to learn at
possible. As the number of children being home
their own speed. The home school schedule of instruction
schooled increases within the family, the demand on the
is flexible, the class size is necessarily small, and parents
family’s financial resources also increases. Additionally,
are available. However, critics suggest that individual
the home schooling parent may have difficulty juggling
children and society may be short changed when the
the curriculum demands of home-schooled children at
universal experience of public schooling is avoided.
Helping Children at Home and School II: Handouts for Families and Educators
This handout provides parents with information
about home schooling for comparison with traditional
education. Historically, many families choosing to home
school did so to support their strong religious beliefs;
the contemporary trend is for more secular parents to
The National Association of School
select this option. The decision to home school is not an
Psychologists (NASP) offers a wide
easy one. It is important for parents to consider both
variety of free or low cost online
resources to parents, teachers, and others
arguments for and against before deciding what is best
working with children and youth through
for their children and their family.
the NASP website www.nasponline.org
and the NASP Center for Children & Families website
www.naspcenter.org. Or use the direct links below to
access information that can help you improve outcomes
Rudner, L. M. (1999). Scholastic achievement and
for the children and youth in your care.
demographic characteristics of home school
students in 1998. Education Policy Analysis
About School Psychology—Downloadable brochures,
Archives, 7(8). Available:
FAQs, and facts about training, practice, and career
choices for the profession.
Crisis Resources—Handouts, fact sheets, and links
Education Commission of the States (ECS)—www.ecs.org
regarding crisis prevention/intervention, coping with
A non-partisan, independent 49-state compact
trauma, suicide prevention, and school safety.
created in 1965 to improve public education by
facilitating the exchange of information, ideas, and
Culturally Competent Practice—Materials and resources
experiences among state policymakers and
promoting culturally competent assessment and
education leaders. Links are provided to extensive
intervention, minority recruitment, and issues related to
resources providing balanced analyses and critical
cultural diversity and tolerance.
examination of home schooling issues.
National Home Education Network—www.nhen.org
En Español—Parent handouts and materials translated
Fosters advocacy by parents, provides information,
into Spanish. www.naspcenter.org/espanol/
advocates networking and promotes public relations
on a national level.
IDEA Information—Information, resources, and advocacy
tools regarding IDEA policy and practical implementation.
The National Home Education Research Institute—
Conducts and collects research about home
Information for Educators—Handouts, articles, and
schooling and publishes the journal Home School
other resources on a variety of topics.
Information for Parents—Handouts and other resources
Caven S. McLoughlin, PhD, is a school psychology trainer
a variety of topics.
at Kent State University, Kent, OH. Helena Chambers,
EdS, is a school psychologist with the Warren City (OH)
Links to State Associations—Easy access to state
© 2004 National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway,
Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814—(301) 657-0270.
NASP Books & Publications Store—Review tables of
contents and chapters of NASP bestsellers.
Order online. www.nasponline.org/store
Position Papers—Official NASP policy positions on
Success in School/Skills for Life—Parent handouts that
can be posted on your school’s website.
Home Schooling: A Guide for Parents