The heroes in this story are more than two million Americans who, often at great sacrifice to themselves, are helping their children in a profoundly personal way.
They are homeschoolers, parents who give up time and income to directly supervise the education of their children. Of all the ingredients in the recipe for education, which one has the greatest potential to improve student performance?
No doubt teachers unions would put higher salaries for their members at the top of the list, to which almost every school reformer might reply, “Been there, done that!” Teacher compensation has gone up, while indicators of student performance have stagnated or fallen nationwide.
What about smaller class size, a longer school year, more money for computers, or simply more money for fill-in-the-blank. But those factors exhibit either no positive correlation with better student performance or only a weak connection. On this important question, the verdict is in and it is definitive: The one ingredient that makes the most difference in student outcomes is parental involvement. Homeschooling is the ultimate in parental involvement.
According to Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, there are currently an estimated 2.4 million K-12 homeschool students in the United States and about 100,000 in Georgia.
As explained by Marianna Brashear of the Foundation for Economic Education: “The word ‘schooling’ in homeschooling is misleading because education takes place in and out of formal lessons, including field trips and hands-on learning. The biggest waste of time in schools comes not just from questionable or one-sided content, but also from ‘teaching to the test,’ where kids memorize, regurgitate, and forget.”
Teaching children at home isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of good schools – private, some public, and many charter schools – that are doing a better job than some parents could do. But homeschooling is working extraordinarily well for the growing number of parents and children who choose it.
This outcome is all the more remarkable considering that these parents juggle teaching with all the other demands of modern life. They get little or nothing back from what they pay in taxes for a costly public system they don’t patronize. By not using the public system, they are in fact saving other taxpayers at least $25 billion annually. You don’t hear much about this because parents don’t have their own tax-funded PR departments.
Parents who homeschool often want a strong moral or religious focus. Others are fleeing unsafe schools where discipline and academics have taken a backseat to fuzzy, feel-good or politically-correct dogma. Many homeschool parents complain about the pervasiveness in public schools of trendy instructional methods that border on pedagogical malpractice. Others value the flexibility to travel with their children for hands-on, educational purposes; the ability to customize curricula to each child’s needs and interests; and the potential to strengthen relationships within the family.
Prestigious universities, including Harvard and Yale, accept homeschooled children eagerly and often. And there’s no evidence that homeschooled children – with rare exceptions – make anything but fine, solid citizens who respect others and work hard as adults.
Recognizing the homeschool champions in our midst is long overdue.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. Each week, he writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org