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Home Is Where the School Is: Understanding Home-Schooling in the United States

History of Home-Schooling

Before the advent of formal, communal education, children were educated in the home. But with schools opening in the American colonies in the 1600s, education outside of the home has been common practice in the United States for centuries.

The past four decades have seen a resurgence of home schooling in the U.S.


John Holt founds “Growing Without Schooling” and calls for parents to reject formal education in favor of what will come to be known as “unschooling.” (1)


Educational theorist Raymond Moore suggests that children should be home-schooled until age 8 or 9, and his book “Home Grown Kids” quickly becomes popular among home-school enthusiasts. (1)

Home schooling is legal in every state, but regulations vary, with some states requiring parents who wish to home school to have teaching licenses. (1)

Mid- to late 1980s

Many conservative Christians begin favoring home schooling as an alternative to public schools they believe are disruptive to their faith. As a result, many local school systems, previously friendly to the home-school movement, begin to feel threatened and less cooperative with home-schoolers. (1)


About 850,000 students are home-schooled in the United States. By 2011, that number will grow to more than 1.7 million. (1)


While in the 1980s, religion was a primary reason for parents to home-school, today that has changed, with fewer than 1 in 5 parents saying faith is the biggest reason why they home-school. (1)

State of Home Schooling

What is the picture of home-schooling today?


Percentage of school-age children who are home-schooled (2)

Percentage of children home-schooled by year (3)

1999: 1.7%

2003: 2.2%

2007: 2.9%

2011: 3.4%

Ethnicity of home-schooled American children (3)

White: 68%

Black: 8%

Hispanic: 15%

Asian/Pacific Islander: 4%

Other: 5%

Home-schooled students per total school-age students by state (4)

North Carolina: 0.059

Indiana: 0.032

Alabama: 0.029

Alaska: 0.029

Arizona: 0.029

Arkansas: 0.029

California: 0.029

Colorado: 0.029

Connecticut: 0.029

D.C.: 0.029

Georgia: 0.029

Hawaii: 0.029

Idaho: 0.029

Illinois: 0.029

Iowa: 0.029

Kansas: 0.029

Kentucky: 0.029

Louisiana: 0.029

Maine: 0.029

Maryland: 0.029

Massachusetts: 0.029

Michigan: 0.029

Mississippi: 0.029

Missouri: 0.029

Montana: 0.029

Nebraska: 0.029

Nevada: 0.029

New Hampshire: 0.029

New Jersey: 0.029

New Mexico: 0.029

New York: 0.029

North Dakota: 0.029

Ohio: 0.029

Oklahoma: 0.029

Oregon: 0.029

Pennsylvania: 0.029

Rhode Island: 0.029

South Carolina: 0.029

South Dakota: 0.029

Tennessee: 0.029

Texas: 0.029

Utah: 0.029

Vermont: 0.029

Washington: 0.029

West Virginia: 0.029

Wyoming: 0.029

Florida: 0.026

Virginia: 0.022

Delaware: 0.021

Wisconsin: 0.02

Minnesota: 0.019

Reasons for home-schooling, percentage of parents citing reason (2)

Religious instruction: 64%

Moral instruction: 77%

Concern about environment of other schools: 91%

Dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools: 74%

Nontraditional approach to child’s education: 44%

Child has other special needs: 17%

Child has a physical or mental health problem: 15%

Other reasons: 37%

Home-schooled students typically score 15-30 percentile points higher than public school students on standardized tests. (5)

Getting Started: Tips for Home-Schooling Your Children

Interested in removing your children from regular school? Consider the following issues: (6, 7)

The law

Rules and regulations about home-schooling vary widely depending on where you live. Before you take any steps to remove your kids from school, be sure you know exactly what’s expected of you. Consult the Home School Legal Defense Association (http://www.hslda.org/), or your state’s home-school association.

Your approach

What methods will you use educate your children? Will the curriculum be highly structured? Will you allow your children to determine the course of their education?

Rely on community

With home-schooling growing in popularity, many options exist for finding networks of other parents who home-school.

Especially when you’re getting started, these resources can be invaluable for developing your teaching style or simply providing moral support when things get tough.

Set a space

While your child won’t be leaving the home for school, it’s important to create some sense of separation so that the tasks of schoolwork don’t become too intermingled into the household.

Establish expectations

Decide how you will evaluate your child’s progress in each subject and communicate that at the outset.

Don’t forget friends

The social aspect of formal education is sometimes neglected when children are home with their parents all day every day. Interaction and play with children outside the family is vital for social development.


1. http://www.responsiblehomeschooling.org
2. http://www2.ed.gov
3. https://nces.ed.gov
4. http://a2zhomeschooling.com
5. http://www.nheri.org
6. http://www.pbs.org
7. http://school.familyeducation.com