The most extensive study ever conducted on home schooling reveals that the movement has more students than had previously been believed and shows no signs of peaking.
The new report, "Strengths of Their Own: Home Schoolers Across America," also indicates that the educational level attained by the parent teaching the child at home makes little difference in the scholastic achievements of the children.
The 103-page report is published by Brian D. Ray, president of the Salem, Oregon-based National Home Education Research Institute. Data were collected on 5,402 pupils. Ray reported that 1.2 million students were educated at home during the 1996-97 school year, up from an estimated one million two years ago (CT, July 17, 1995, p. 50).
"The growth rate appears to be 15 percent per year," Ray says. "The main motivations for home schooling haven't changed much." The movement appears entrenched: 89 percent plan to continue through high school.
Patricia Lines, policy analyst with the U.S. Department of Education, concedes that the movement has grown to roughly 2 percent of 50 million students. But Lines cautions that the study only includes students whose parents volunteered the information—and those students might have tested as well in public schools. Lines also says, "Home schooling is not for everybody, especially parents who have limited social and financial resources." The median family income for home schoolers is $43,000, according to Ray's report.
All but 5 percent of the income in home schooling households is earned by fathers, although 16 percent of the mothers are working outside the home—an average of 14 hours per week. Mothers do the teaching 88 percent of the time.
MARKS OF THE MOVEMENT: The study reaffirms beliefs that home schooling is almost exclusively a white, Christian phenomenon. According to the report, 95 percent of those who participate are white and 90 percent are Christian.
Ray found no significant relationship between test scores and the highest formal education level attained by the mother, whether the mother is a certified teacher, the level of family income, or the amount of state regulation.
Students scored at the eighty-seventh percentile on standardized achievement tests. Mothers had an average of 2.7 years of college, with 15 percent of them certified teachers now or in the past.
One reason Ray believes home schoolers score so high is because they receive individual attention. "These parents accept and fulfill their responsibility to personally raise and educate their children," Ray says. "They do not excessively depend on their villages."
As for religious affiliation, 23 percent identify themselves as independent fundamental/evangelical (down from 26 percent in 1990), 19 percent as Baptist (up from 18 percent), and 9 percent independent charismatic (down from 14 percent).
Lack of socialization has been a factor in public educators' arguments against home schooling. But the study shows that home-educated students are involved in outside activities, an average of five per week, including field trips (84 percent), group sports (48 percent), music classes (47 percent), and volunteer work (33 percent).
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