With so many of California’s public schools failing their students, parents are seeking alternatives. Recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that between 2003 and 2012, the number of students home-schooled increased by 62 percent to nearly 1.8 million nationally. An estimated 190,000 students in California, about 3 percent of the state’s K-12 students, are now home-schooled.
These home-schooled kids are more diverse than they’re often portrayed to be. An estimated 220,000 African-American children are now home-schooled, accounting for about 12 percent of all home-schoolers. Similarly, home-schooling is not reserved for the wealthy, with 61 percent of home-school households earning less than $75,000 annually.
No two home schools are the same. Parents tailor lessons to their kids and take advantage of a variety of educational models. Online courses, professionally developed curricula and private tutoring are all options at their disposal. Many families also join home-school collectives where students might meet several times a week for formal instruction, hands-on learning, extracurricular activities and socialization opportunities.
Parents are home-schooling for a variety of reasons. However, nine out of 10 home-schooling parents cite concerns about today’s public school environments as an important factor in their decision. Such concerns are especially warranted in California. The state’s 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress test results, the latest available, were once again underwhelming. Fourth-graders ranked 47th in the nation in both math and reading. Eighth-graders fared only slightly better, ranking 45th in math and 42nd in reading.
Locally, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that Los Angeles Unified School District’s fourth- and eighth-grade students “performed lower than the average for public school students” in other large cities in both reading and math.
Home-schooling is becoming a more popular option as parents seek alternatives to underperforming public schools. But how do home-schools measure up?
Academic outcomes are difficult to gauge as privately educated students generally do not take state exams. In a study of more than 11,000 kids conducted by Brian D. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute in 2008, home-school students scored an average of 34 to 39 percentile points higher than the norm on standardized achievement tests.
Perhaps predictably, the National Education Association and teacher groups regularly oppose home-schooling and would like to heavily regulate it. An NEA resolution claims “home-schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.”
California is plagued by overzealous rules and red tape, but fortunately, when it comes to home-schooling the state has little bureaucratic interference compared with many other states. To get started home-schooling, a parent must simply file an affidavit to become a private school. State law mandates that subjects such as English, math and science be taught, and that parents maintain records as private schools do. This relative freedom affords parents the ability to focus on what’s important – providing customized education to their children.
Home-schooled students and their parents are achieving remarkable results and don’t need new layers of bureaucracy. In fact, public schools should be looking at how home-schoolers innovate and utilize technology to customize education. Some students are fast-tracked, others delve deep into specific subject matters, while still others might choose to focus on the arts or on practical vocational training.
The growth in home-schooling is further evidence that parents and students benefit from more choice and educational options.
Aaron Smith is the education policy analyst at L.A.-based Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.