This is a paper I wrote for an American Public Policy class and is informative for those interested in home schooling policy as well as those (like Tracy, from etricities) who may be interested in the history and motivation of the public school system. It’s long, but worth it!

Despite increased national attention on improving the United States’ education system through such measures as the “No Child Left Behind” Act, more parents each year are deciding to educate their children at home. Home schooling is nothing new, as it was the educational method of choice for a vast number of our founding fathers, continuing into the twentieth century (Lerner). Our country has, over the last 100 years, moved toward a more state-centered education system, but as parents become disenchanted with the public school system and crave more control over what their children are taught, many are choosing to return to the educational method of the past – home schooling. Because the United States made the move to a more state-centered education system, laws have been altered over the last few decades in order to accommodate those who wish to pursue home education rather than the education offered by the public system. I will here discuss a brief history of home schooling, the rationale of those who oppose home education on the grounds that society as a whole is not best served through home education, the laws and major Court decisions that have ensured that parents have the right to decide how their children will be educated, and the effect that the home schooling movement is expected to have on U.S. education policy in the future.

Compulsory education laws have existed in the United States since 1642, but Massachusetts became the first state to enact a compulsory attendance statute in 1852 (Page). Massachusetts’ enactment of compulsory attendance laws represents a fundamental shift in the way that the government views public schools. Prior to the enacting of compulsory attendance laws, public schools were viewed as institutions that assisted parents in their duty of educating their children. When government enacts compulsory attendance laws, a state interest in education is asserted over and above merely assisting with a duty that is considered to belong to the parents. During the middle half of the twentieth century, public school education became the status-quo, with some parents opting for private education, and very few educating their children at home. The modern home schooling movement began during the 1960’s with two very different groups making the newly rare decision to educate their children at home: the “New Left”, who was a group of parents dissatisfied with the restrictions placed on their children in public schools, and the religious movement, stemming from those who wanted to ensure a religious, rather than secular, education for their children (Bach). Home schooling was considered by many, although this is not entirely accurate, a fringe movement of parents, mostly in the Christian faith, who wanted to ensure that their children received a religious education, but either couldn’t afford parochial school or felt that the individual attention offered through home schooling would best benefit their children. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s home schooling moved from a fringe movement of approximately 300,000 home schooled students to a widespread phenomenon of nearly 1.5 million children educated at home as parents became upset with the lack of religious freedom within the public school system and the increase in drug-use and violence among public school children, along with increasing statistical evidence of the success of home schooled children.

Many opponents of home schooling believe that children educated at home will not be adequately “socialized.” This idea stems from two separate ideas of socialization: the first is the ability to interact with other children, and the second is from Dewey’s philosophy which supports the idea of giving all children an equal chance and “inculcating into pupils a world view necessarily different that the one he perceived to be prevalent” (Page). Dewey felt that proper education is essential for teaching children how to interact in the world and for training “by society in the views deemed appropriate” (Page) for members of a democracy in which training in science is imperative to the society’s welfare. The first argument, that children will be unable to interact with their peers, is easily refuted by the assertion that home schooling parents are particularly interested in their children’s upbringing and are more likely to encourage social interaction with other children and adults due to the simple fact that such action is one that is encouraged in order to produce a well-rounded child. Additionally, home schooled children are more likely to be exposed to a wider variety of children in differing age groups through scouting, church, and home school support groups than children in regular school situations in which age segregation is practiced. Some critics, however, will be dissatisfied with, not the amount of socialization, but with the type of socialization practiced. Especially in Christian homes, children are most likely going to socialize primarily with other children of the same faith and/or belief system. With, however, increasing access to public school activities and city sports organizations, this, too, is becoming less of a problem. Dewey’s argument, on the other hand, is most damaging to the home school argument for those who believe that it is the job of the state to ensure the proper education of its citizenry in that, in the home school environment, the state is unable to encourage the belief system that may be most beneficial to society as a whole.

Other home school opponents argue simply that parents are not qualified to teach their children, or, at the very least, are not qualified to teach advanced subjects. This argument has been diminished by statistical evidence that home schooling parents are currently educating their children as well if not better than their public school counterparts. To this, opponents answer that the success of under-credentialed home educators may work to diminish faith in the public school system and thus decrease funding for public education, easily making a bad public school situation worse.

It is also argued that some home schooled children will “slip through the cracks.” This argument brings up the concern that, while some home schooled children will excel, others will do poorly and, without state intervention, no one will know or be able to remedy the situation. To answer this problem, many states require home schooled students to take standardized tests and then prescribe remedial classes for children as needed.

One of the major arguments against home schooling is that it threatens public schools. This claim is put forth in two different ways: first, it is argued that extensive home schooling will result in decreased funding for public schools, especially if parents who educate their children at home are ever able to receive vouchers and/or tax credits as do parents who send their children to private schools. Secondly, according to Dewey, it is necessary for the excellence of the public school system to maintain the enrollment of even the most brilliant students – even if they are being held back by limited academic opportunities in the public schools. To remove some of the best and brightest students from the public school system in order to educate at home – for whatever reason – according to Dewey, is inherently unfair to the students who must remain in the public school system. Dewey argued that any good parent must want what is best not only for his/her own child, but also for all children in the community, and keeping children in the public school system is a requirement to ensure that all children receive equal education – even at the risk of personal freedom and excellence.

It is for the reasons listed above that home schooling has become such a heated political battle. Parents who desire to educate their children at home are at odds with those who believe that there is a significant government interest in educating our country’s children. Although the maintenance and regulation of education is primarily a state issue, the Supreme Court has ruled on issues affecting home schooling across the nation, and legislation on a national level has primarily given more freedom to parents who wish to educate at home rather than less.

Thirty six states have home school statutes, while thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow home schooling under private tutor, private school, or parochial school statutes. The state of Connecticut has no home schooling statute, but allows it through the Department of Education. Regulation of home schooling varies greatly across the country, including two states, Alaska and Idaho, which leave home schooling essentially unregulated. Of those states which do impose regulation of home schooling, some of those regulations include notice of intent to home school, curriculum requirements, attendance requirements, standardized testing, record keeping, and parental education requirements. A few states require teacher certification of parents, although some of those statutes have been deemed to pose an undue burden on home schooling parents unless the state offers other options to meet the certification requirement. Thirty nine states have notice requirements, which require parents to file written notification to education officials of their intent to home school their children. Some states require a one-time notice, while others require annual notification. Notice requirements have withstood Constitutional challenges.

Another way by which some states regulate home schooling is by instituting curriculum requirements, including subjects that must be taught, textbook submissions, or detailed lesson plans that must be submitted and approved by the state. Attendance requirements, such as the ones used in thirty one states and the District of Columbia, call for parents to spend a particular number of hours per day, week, month, or year on schooling. Standardized testing requirements typically compel home schooled students to take the same standardized tests that public school children must take. Although it has been argued that standardized test scores are poor indicators of academic performance, many states still impose this requirement. Record keeping requirements have been instituted in only twenty two states and the District of Columbia and require that parents either merely maintain the records or submit them at the end of each year. The records must include such information as attendance records, lesson plans, and/or immunization records. Some states impose minimum education requirements for parents ranging from a high school diploma or equivalent to a baccalaureate degree. States that enforce these requirements, however, often offer other options for parents to meet the standards.

Congress has recently entered the home education battle as Idaho Senator Larry Craig introduced the “Home School Non-Discrimination Act” (HONDA) of 2005. This bill, if passed, will clarify current home schooling legislation which is inadvertently discriminatory towards home schoolers. Statutes that would be altered by HONDA would allow home school students to apply for the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program and place home schoolers on par with public and private school students when entering the military. Currently home schoolers are not permitted to apply for the aforementioned scholarship program and, when entering the military are listed as “Tier II” recruits, which places them on the same level with GED recipients and high-school dropouts. These are areas where home schooled children have been treated differently and, in the eyes of Senator Byrd, unfairly in the past. HONDA would also clarify that those institutions of higher education who accept home schooled students would still be eligible for federal funds and would allow parents to use Coverdell Savings Accounts to cover home schooling expenses just as parents who are allowed to use these accounts for private school educational purposes. (“The America’s Intelligence Wire”)

While the Supreme Court has never ruled on home schooling per se, home schooling advocates have heralded four primary sources in the Constitution from which they derive the right to home school their children and many lower court decisions have affirmed these assertions. The Fourteenth Amendment is proclaimed as a major indicator of the constitutionality of home schooling, particularly through the Due Process Clause which has been said to apply in three different ways to the right to home school (Lukasik). First, the Due Process Clause has been interpreted to protect the parents’ right to home school their children in that it allows for parents to control the education of their offspring. Second, the Due Process Clause prohibits laws that are too vague, which advocates of home schooling have argued can be applied to compulsory attendance laws, particularly in the way they are applied to home schooling. Third and finally, the Due Process Clause prohibits laws or regulations that give more than acceptable administrative power to a particular agency, and this can be applied to home schooling statutes that require approval from a school board or superintendent before they may begin educating their children at home.

The Supreme Court has typically used three inquiries in making decisions on whether a state statute, such as one that limits access to home schooling, infringes on an individual’s right to free exercise of religion. The first is whether the state action does, in fact, infringe upon the individual’s rights, i.e., whether the claim is a legitimate one rather than some arbitrary assertion. Courts have consistently found a burden if the governmental act forces the individual to choose between following the state statute and abandoning the precepts of his/her religion. If it is determined that the statute forces such a decision on the part of the individual, the Court then determines whether the state has a compelling interest in enforcing such a statute, usually to the extent of the state having to show a “clear and present danger” that is at stake without the statute. Finally, if the state shows that the statute is necessary, then the Court must determine whether accommodating the individual will unjustifiably interfere with the fulfillment of the governmental interest. (Whitehead) Using this line of reasoning, the Court made landmark decisions that, although not directly related to home schooling, had a major impact on allowing parents the right to educate their children at home.

There are three major Supreme Court cases, all from the 1920’s, which assert the parents’ right to decide the “manner and means” of their children’s education (Lukasik). In Meyer v Nebraska the Court struck down a Nebraska statute that forbade any public or private schoolteacher from teaching any language other than English. The Court affirmed the parents’ right to decide what language their children would speak and to request that their children be taught in their native tongue if they so desired. The Court essentially declared that the Nebraska statute interfered with both a teacher’s fundamental right to decide to engage in the profession of teaching and a parent’s right to encourage and control their children’s education which, according to this Court, are liberties afforded by the Due Process Clause. Because these liberties were ascribed to the individuals through the Constitution, the state’s interests were placed under strict scrutiny and were considered inferior to the rights of parent’s and teachers in deciding in what manner children are to be educated. (Good)

Shortly after deciding in the Meyer case, the Court was asked to consider Pierce v Society of Sisters which called into question an Oregon statute which required that every parent of guardian of a child between the ages of 8 and 16 is required to send said child to the public school and that failure to do so was considered a misdemeanor. Two schools, one religious and one a private military institution challenged the statute. The Court reasoned that no liberty afforded by the Constitution may be abridged by a state “which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the state” (Lukasik). The state could present no legitimate reason to standardize all children within its boundaries by forcing them to be taught only by public school teachers, and thus the statute was struck down.

Soon after Pierce, the Court affirmed Meyer and additionally recognized a parental right to seek out education outside of the public school system. Farrington v Tokushige was the third case decided during the 1920’s which outlined the rights of parents to decide the means and manner of their children’s education. In Farrington, the Court upheld and expanded Meyer and Pierce by ruling that once parents make the decision to educate their children outside of the public school system, the state may not interfere or impede the performing of that education through unreasonable regulations imposed on parents after-the-fact. More specifically, the Court decided that the state may not regulate the details in the day-to-day running of the alternative school in such a way that would deny the students and the educators their freedom to run said school in the way that they see fit. (Lukasik)

Many argue that Meyer, Pierce, and Farrington, while not dealing directly with home schooling, laid the foundation for a Constitutional right for parents to decide the educational direction of their children. So, while it was not decided during the 1920’s that there existed a Constitutional right for parents to direct their children’s education from home, Meyer, Pierce and Farrington established the groundwork for a Court-determined entitlement.

In 1972, the Court accepted to opportunity to apply Meyer in a case of an Amish parent who argued that he had the right to remove his children from school after completing the eighth grade, as per Amish custom, despite state compulsory attendance laws in Wisconsin v Yoder. Wisconsin’s compulsory attendance law required that all children attend either a public or private educational institution until they reach the age of 16. The respondents, rather than sending their children to public or private schools, opted to instruct their children, ages 14 and 15, at home, in the manner outlined in their religious practices, teaching their children the ways and customs of the Amish faith. The Supreme Court ruled that the Wisconsin statute was unconstitutional as applied in that it 1) impeded the right to Free Exercise of Religion for Amish families in the state, and 2) that the statute prevented Amish families from deciding and directing the education of their children. The Court expressly held that parents have a right to determine the education and religious upbringing, which lies over and above the state’s desire to direct the education of all children. In Yoder, the Court upheld Pierce, and affirmed its application in home school situations.

Another Constitutional right that home school parents assert as a means to validate the right to home school is the First Amendment’s right to free speech and the right to free exercise of religion. Because the vast majority of parents who home school their children do so because they believe that education should be “Bible-centered”, if the state prevents parents from acting on this desire, it impedes parental rights to the free exercise of religion and is thus unconstitutional. This idea was substantiated in the Yoder case, in which the Court decided that the parental right to freely practice their religion, in that the values present in the public school system was vastly contrary to Amish beliefs, overrode the state’s desire to educate all children “equally.”

Because education, as it currently stands, is primarily the concern of the states, as opposed to the federal government, statutes and state court decisions in the different states vary greatly. It cannot, however, be denied that home schooling is on the rise and that nearly every state has had or will have to make a decision on their treatment of home educators and children who have been taught at home. As the home schooling movement expands, many speculate the effects that increased parental control over education and lessening interest in public schooling will have on the public school system as a whole. Although some may argue that this will be just the push that the public school system needs to improve, others believe that the public school system, without its best and brightest students, will get continually worse. (Hill)

Those who argue that the home schooling movement will force the public school system to improve point to actions like the “No Child Left Behind Act” as something that shows that a worsening education system will draw the attention of the national government and force changes to improve. These public school supporters also argue that, even if hordes of parents take their children out of the public school system in order to educate them at home, there are still numerous bright and exemplary students who will maintain public faith in the public school system. Some also argue that, without Christian parents “meddling” in public school curriculum, teachers will be free to educate based on science, rather than the religious beliefs of those who happen to live within the district.

There are those, on the other hand, who fear that home schooling will drain the public school system of its best and brightest (for these students are typically the ones whose parents take the greatest interest in their children’s education), leading to an even greater crisis in public education. With fewer exceptional students attending and fewer parents supporting the public school system, a bad situation may only become worse. The public and government leaders must ask, however, if the focus should be on the condition of the public school system, or the education of our children. Many home schooling parents will argue that we must ensure that our children are educated to their utmost, be that at home or in the public school.
Without question, the home schooling movement is growing to a greater extent each year and the state must ensure that those who would like to home school have the opportunity, but also that those who are not able to educate at home still have an acceptable alternative in the public school system. Slowly but surely, the states must place their focus on ensuring that each and every child has adequate access to education, be that at home, in the private sector, or in the public school system.

Works Cited
Bach, Laura J. “For God or Grades? States Imposing Fewer Requirements on Religious Home Schoolers and the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.” Valparaiso University Law Review, Valparaiso University, © 2004.
“Craig Introduces Home School Bill.” The America’s Intelligence Wire, © Sept 13, 2005. (as accessed through JSTOR)
Good, Heather M. “”The Forgotten Child of Our Constitution”: The Parental Free Exercise Right to Direct the Education and Religious Upbringing of Children.” Emory Law Journal, Emory University School of Law, © 2005.
Hill, Paul T. “How Home Schooling Will Change Public Education.” Hoover Digest, © 2000.
Lerner, Jon S. “Protecting Home Schooling through the Casey Undue Burden Standard.” University of Chicago Law Review, University of Chicago, © 1995.
Lukasik, Lisa M. “The Latest Home Education Challenge: The Relationship Between Home Schools and Public Schools.” North Carolina Law Review, © 1996.
Page, Bruce D., Jr. “Changing Our Perspective: How Presumptive Invalidity of Home School Regulations Will Further the State’s Interest in an Educated Citizenry.” Regent University Law Review, Regent University, © 2001/2002.
Whitehead, John W. & Crow, Alexis Irene. Home Education: Rights and Reasons. The Rutherford Institute, © 1993.