EDUCATION TRENDS Home schooling is growing, and questions remain

Safety and morality issues fuel the growth of home schooling.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For more and more pupils, homeroom has become a room at home.
Almost 1.1 million pupils were home-schooled last year, a 29 percent increase since the last government survey in 1999. The growth comes as more parents, frustrated with traditional schools and limits on curriculum, say they would rather handle lessons themselves.
The estimated figure of pupils taught at home comes from parent surveys. The results were released by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department.
Two main reasons
Parents offered two main reasons for choosing home schooling: 31 percent cited concerns about the environment of regular schools, such as drugs, lack of safety and negative peer pressure; 30 percent wanted the flexibility to teach religious or moral lessons. Sixteen percent said they were dissatisfied with academic instruction at other schools.
"There's potential for massive growth," said Ian Slatter, spokesman for the National Center for Home Education, which promotes home schooling and tracks laws that govern it.
"Home schooling is just getting started," he said. "We've gotten through the barriers of questioning the academic ability of home schools, now that we have a sizable number of graduates who are not socially isolated or awkward -- they are good, high-quality citizens. We're getting that mainstream recognition and challenging the way education has been done."
In perspective, the 1.1 million home-schooled pupils accounts for a small part -- 2.2 percent -- of the school-age population in the United States, young people age 5 through 17.
Slatter said the new figures accurately reflect the growth of home schooling but underestimate the number of children involved; his group says it is 2 million.
In the government's view, home schooling means pupils spend at least part of their education at home and no more than 25 hours a week in public or private schools. Overall, more than four out of five home-schooled pupils spend no time at traditional schools.
A separate federal report showed a rising number of teenagers are skipping school for fear of getting hurt, even though reported school violence is down.
That sense of anxiety -- fueled by terrorism warnings, high-profile school shootings and a desire to keep children out of harm's way -- probably has helped home schooling grow, said Ted Feinberg, assistant executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists.
Home schooling presents several questions that must be considered, he said. Among them: Do parents with no formal training as teachers know how to handle a variety of subjects or to tailor instruction for children of different ages? Do pupils get the same materials they would have at schools, from books to science labs? Are families with two working parents prepared to live off a single income so that one parent can teach at home?
Also, Feinberg said, parents must consider whether their children will emerge from home schooling with limited exposure to other children and various cultures. More federal research is needed to help resolve such questions about home schooling, he said.
"At some point, children are going to have to interact with the rest of the world," he said. "If they haven't had the opportunity to build their emotional muscles so they have that capacity to interact, how effective are they going to be outside their cloistered environment?"

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