Published September 22, 2008
This is part of the America's Future series airing on FOX News Channel, looking at the challenges facing the country in the 21st century.
Homeschooling is no longer just an offbeat trend or an avant-garde educational choice. It is growing exponentially and its proponents are fighting for new legal rights in the U.S.
With more than 2 million homeschooled students in the United States, parents' reasons for opting out of traditional public school are as varied as their demographics.
"It used to be that homeschooling was the domain of people on the two extremes of the political spectrum, and now you have families from every possible religious, political, philosophical, socio-economic position," said Celeste Land, chairwoman of the Government Affairs Committee for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. "You name it, we've got it."
Land says many parents who decide to take on home education come to the decision after realizing they want more for their children than school districts are required to provide by law.
It's also the law that presents some of the toughest challenges. States and school districts have a disjointed jumble of ordinances and measures that can make it tough for parents to know exactly what they are permitted to do as homeschoolers.
The situation has galvanized a nationwide movement. Legal fights to establish homeschooling rights have been launched from California to Pennsylvania. In most cases, Land says, parents are just looking for clarification.
"A family comes to us and says the school district is looking for more than the law requires or won't let them do something they want to do," she said.
Dawn Johnson, a mother of four, believes the challenges are well worth the payoff. "I don't think anything beats one-on-one tutoring, and I am allowed to talk and teach each of my children individually based on their strengths and weaknesses and learning styles," she said. "They're not held back by students in a classroom."
Her strategy appears to be working. According to Johnson, her children are now testing at two grade levels ahead of their age group. Socialization is also covered, with Johnson committing her children to activities from soccer to choir at least four days a week.
"They're probably more socialized than kids who go to school and see the same children every day because we're doing different things every day," she said.
As for financial considerations, many homeschooling parents believe the time and money they spend teaching from home is a bargain compared to private school tuition.
"You get to choose your own curriculum," said Johnson. "You can get everything free online if you want."
Some parents are also fighting for tax credits, since their tax dollars are paying for a system their children aren't using. Land says it's "very tempting" to look at education tax credits as an option for homeschoolers, but cautioned that the credits could come with strings attached, and could invite even more unwanted regulation.