Leaving the classroom: the rise of modern homeschooling

Melissa MacRunnel, senior cross-disciplinary studies teacher education major at Point Loma Nazarene University, wants to be an elementary school science teacher one day. Like so many aspiring teachers, she wants to bring enthusiasm and passion for learning to the public school classroom in order to make a difference in the lives of her students.

However, she is different from other potential teachers in one way, she has never actually been a public school student and the classrooms that she hopes to one day transform were not a part of her personal education. MacRunnel was homeschooled all the way through high school before she began studying at PLNU.

Melissa MacRunnel does homework in her dorm's study room at PLNU

Melissa MacRunnel does homework in her dorm’s study room at PLNU

She said that she believes her home school background will help her achieve her career goals. “Being homeschooled kind of gave me a real passion and being excited about learning,” MacRunnel said.

She hopes her students will get some of that passion as well. “I want something more for students.”

Homeschooling is a rising trend among American families. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in the 2011-2012 school year 3 percent of the school-age population was homeschooled.This translates to about 1.5 million home school students in America. In 1999, it was 1.7 percent.

The rise in the number of homeschooled students may be partially due to studies saying that homeschooled students generally do better academically and have greater success in higher education than public school students.

In one study by the University of St. Thomas, researchers looked at the academic achievement level of several students from different education backgrounds and tracked their progress in their college careers. Homeschooled students had a higher average ACT score and high school G.P.A than students from public, private and Catholic schools. They also had a higher average G.P.A in college than all the other categories. As far as college completion, home school students had a 66.7 percent graduation rate compared to a 58.6 percent graduation rate for public school students.

Prominent home school student Tim Tebow speaks to a sold out crowd at Friends Church in Yorba Linda.

Prominent home school student Tim Tebow speaks to a sold out crowd at Friends Church in Yorba Linda.

Vanya Wright, freshman philosophy major at Biola University, said that home schooling helped her academically, especially since she and her older siblings got to work side by side, allowing her to hear about what they were learning as well.

“It was more holistic, in not just keeping you in a box and saying you can only work on these things, but I was able to experience higher grades…I could kind of see where I was going later in high school,” Wright said. “You can go as deep as you want in education.”

Hudson Taylor, a home school graduate and current student at Harbor Community College, was public school educated through the sixth grade. After that year, his parents decided to home school him and his six siblings instead. He said he was initially hesitant about the change and was concerned about missing his friends from school.

Hudson Taylor (far right) with two of his six siblings at a Tim Tebow speaking engagement.

Hudson Taylor (far right) with two of his six siblings at a Tim Tebow speaking engagement.

“I really didn’t want to be homeschooled at first. Honestly, I felt a bit of a relief just not kind of having to get up every morning and face that crowd every day,” Taylor said. “You learn things from a different perspective, you’re not in a huge classroom surrounded by kids who just want to get in and get out. Rather you’re in an environment where learning is a positive, good thing and teaches you to really enjoy the subjects.”

However, even as number of homeschooled students continues to rise there are still major differences in how individual states regulate the practice. Some states have high standards of regulation and requirements for people desiring to home school their children, while other states have virtually no oversight of homeschooling.

According to analysis done by Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), state laws regarding the practice of homeschooling fall into one of four categories: states requiring no notice, states with low regulation, states with moderate regulation and states with high regulation. These categories refer to the varying degrees of difficulty to get official approval to home school without violating compulsory school attendance laws.

The interactive legal map on HSLDA's website.

The interactive legal map on HSLDA’s website.

For example, in a state with high regulation like Pennsylvania parents must provide the government with a naturalized affidavit as well as provide health and immunization records, an outline of proposed education objectives by subject area and a portfolio of the student’s course work year by year. In addition, they must comply with annual performance reviews in the form of student interviews with teachers certified by the state.

However, in states like Texas that require no notice, the rules are significantly less detailed and there are fewer requirements. According to the Texas Educational Code, a child is exempt from the compulsory attendance requirement as long as he or she “attends a private or parochial school that includes in its course a study of good citizenship.”

Home schools count as private schools under this law, which means that the main requirement to be homeschooled in Texas is to provide evidence to the state that the student in question completed a course in “good citizenship.”

One Texas group, the Texas Home School Coalition Association provides a curriculum for a good citizenship course that students can take to comply with the state law. The course requires students to complete a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer work in one of the following areas: voter registration, campaign process, political party participation and legislative process. Once they get a supervisor and parent signature, they can send it in and get credit.

The state does also require that parents use a written curriculum including reading, spelling, grammar and math. However, parents are not required to submit this curriculum to the state and there is no mention of a science requirement.

Most of the states fall somewhere in the middle. Only five states have high regulation and 12 are in the no notice category.

Many families opt to enroll in formal home school organizations or academies that help them navigate the legal system in their respective states. These groups are often categorized as private schools, which allow parents to enroll their children in an officially recognized school, but still do traditional homeschooling.

Taylor said that his parents enrolled him and his six siblings in South Bay Faith Academy (SBFA) based in Redondo Beach, Calif. when they decided to leave the public school system.

In order for them to enroll in this particular academy, Taylor’s parents had to identify as “born again Christians,” join the HSLDA and complete an interview and application process before being offered admission. Once they completed all these steps, Taylor and all his siblings were admitted to the academy and granted access to home school training courses, legal help, group conferences, standardized testing, counseling and curriculum resources.The MacRunnel family was enrolled in the same academy.

A home school student receives her diploma from her parents in SBFA's formal graduation ceremony.

A home school student receives her diploma from her parents in SBFA’s formal graduation ceremony.

According to MacRunnel, Wright and Taylor, groups like this function as a middle man of sorts between families and state governments. These groups also allow students to have classroom experiences by offering some formal courses.

MacRunnel said that SBFA had courses where she could take subjects like calligraphy and cooking taught by other home school parents involved with the organization. Wright had a similar experience by getting involved with Biola Youth Program and its Torrey Academy, which offers advanced humanities courses.

“I was still involved with other classes and other students in addition to having the rich, vibrant communal experience of being around other people and kids who were younger, which is kind of the best of both worlds,” Wright said.

The world of homeschooling is still fairly heterogenous. The legal barriers and necessity of having a parent in the home to teach can prevent homeschooling from even being an option for many families.

Home school students play games together at a group bible study.

Home school students play games together at a group bible study.

According to the NCES, of the total home school student population in the 2011-2012 school year, 68 percent were white, 15 percent were Hispanic, 8 percent were black and 4 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander. The majority of them came from two parent homes where at least one parent had a bachelor’s degree.

MacRunnel said that having two college educated parents at home helped her accomplish more academically. “Not everyone who was homeschooled that I got to know had that same background. I think there were some people who really struggled and kind of got in over their heads a little bit,” MacRunnel said.

Wright said that while homeschooling was the right option for her, she did not want to discount other forms of education.

“I don’t think everyone should be homeschooled, that it should be this elitist thing because I think there’s a lot of value in other types of schools as well,” Wright said. “So I think it was perfect for me, but I would never say everyone has to be homeschooled, which is sort of a vibe that the homeschooling community gives.”

Even though MacRunnel credits homeschooling for her personal academic success, she too sees the value of other forms of education and continues to pursue her goal of a career in the public sphere.

She said she knows teaching in a public school will be a little foreign to her, but that she believes her background will ultimately benefit her in the long run.

“I think it makes me a little more idealistic, which could be challenging. It might not be exactly what I want it to be. In a way it will help me because I will have a little bit different of a perspective than other people do,” MacRunnel said.

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