The Washington Times
August 12, 2004

Washington Times Op-ed — Trend Even Stronger than Figures Show

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, released its estimate for the size of the 2003 homeschool population. According to the NCES, 1.1 million children are homeschooled in America, up 29 percent from the previous estimate of 850,000 in 1999. These numbers mean homeschoolers were 1.7% of the school age population in 1999 and 2.2 percent in 2003.

The Home School Legal Defense Association agrees with much of the NCES survey. The growth rate of 29 percent over four years tracks with our research. HSLDA also agrees with the NCES on the reasons parents choose homeschooling. The top reason is the negative social environment of public schools. From crime, to drugs, to poorly socialized peers, many parents do not want to expose their children to this type of environment. The next most popular reason to homeschool is the lack of a religious perspective in public school. Parents do not want to compete with a public system that is likely to teach positions that contradictory to their deeply held convictions.

Where HSLDA parts company with NCES is on the actual number of homeschoolers. The estimate from the National Home Education Research Institute is 1.7 million to 2.1 million. The main reason for the disparity is the nature of the NCES survey. Homeschoolers must positively identify themselves as homeschoolers to be counted in the NCES survey. However, many families that fit the "homeschooling" category are nevertheless considered to be enrolled in private schools. In California and Texas, homeschools are defined as private schools. Therefore, if parents in California and Texas are asked, "Are you a homeschooler?" a truthful answer is "no" because the term "homeschool" isn't recognized in those states though it is a legal alternative to public education.

Despite this disparity over homeschool numbers, it's clear that homeschooling is becoming the education phenomenon of the 21st century. It's proving itself to be the most effective form of education. Study after study demonstrates the academic ability of homeschoolers. On average, homeschoolers score 20 to 30 percentile points above their public school counterparts. In addition, a new NHERI study has shown that once a homeschool adult graduates, he or she is able to find work in any sector of society and will be more engaged in the community than the average public school student.

Homeschooling is an unrivalled success story. It's great news for children, parents and communities, but it's bad news for the entrenched public school bureaucracy. The public school system will have to answer the challenge of the individualized education system offered by homeschooling, in which the average homeschool family spends just $600 per child per year, compared with the most recent average for a public school student, which is $9,000 per child per year.

Just twenty years ago, few believed parents could produce high-quality citizens at a fraction of the cost of the state. The critics were wrong. Homeschooling is a method of education that the wider society is beginning to recognize. Who doesn't want to see an education system that produces high quality citizens at little or no cost to taxpayers?

We may look back at this point in history and determine that the beginning of the 21st century was the turning point when homeschooling became a valued education alternative.

Education choice and the ultimate expression of that choice – homeschooling- are the future of education. The NCES has helped confirm this remarkable trend.