The Boom in Virginia Home Schooling

by James A. Bacon

Three percent of Virginia’s school-age population, about 43,500 children, is being home schooled, reports the Capital News Service. If home schoolers constituted a school division unto themselves, they would represent the seventh-largest district in the state.

The number of home-schoolers in the state has grown more than 20% over the past five years. The percentage of kids educated at home is highest in rural counties. Floyd County and Surry County lead the pack with 14% of children receiving their educations at home.

What accounts for this remarkable growth? One factor is that Virginia has relaxed its laws on home schooling over the past 15-20 years. For instance, a parent is no longer required to hold a four-year college degree. Another is that the home-school “industry” has increased in sophistication, creating teaching materials, online resources, and collaborative models whereby families can share resources.

The article notes that many home-school families are Christian. The unstated implication is that many families are uncomfortable having their children educated with secular values in school systems where the politically correct values of the dominant culture prevail. The reasons that Christians might prefer the home-school option, however, apply also to other religious or life-style minorities from Jews and Muslims to crunchy-granola hippies.

Bacon’s bottom line: The growth of a vibrant home-schooling movement is a positive development. Personally, I had zero interest in home-schooling my three kids. I had neither the time nor the temperament. I would have been a lousy teacher. But I think it’s wonderful if people want to take charge of their children’s learning. The movement has advanced to the point where online learning and home-school teaching collaboratives allow parent-teachers to offset deficiencies in their own educational background with outside resources to ensure that their children can master all subjects.

One of the greatest flaws in K-12 education in the United States, indeed around most of the world, is that it marches children through 12 grades at a standard pace, ignoring individual differences in how children learn and how rapidly they mature. No one knows children better than their own parents, and no school can replicate the flexibility and adaptability of a home-school environment.

Another drawback of the regimented approach to schooling is the creation of powerful peer groups that become the the dominant influence in a child’s social and emotional development. In the world outside of school, people interact with people of all ages and life experiences. The hot-house environment of K-12 schools is unnatural, it magnifies the angst associated with adolescence, and it contributes to many of the social pathologies we associate with the teenage years.

Why teach your kid at home? Let me count the reasons. First, construct a curriculum geared to your child’s individual interests, learning style, and pace of cognitive development. Second, raise your kid in an environment free from the pernicious influence of bullying and other peer pressures. And third, take charge of your child’s intellectual and moral development rather than outsource the job to teachers and administrators who may not share your values or understanding of the world.

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8 responses to “The Boom in Virginia Home Schooling”

  1. Maria Paluzsay Avatar
    Maria Paluzsay

    Funny you should post this today, I was just thinking about how the homeschool movement is affecting individual teachers. Williamsburg/James City County has so many homeschoolers that if they were to attend public school the county would need to build new schools. This trend pulls a valuable element from the public school scenario – the element of students with parents who have the time, resources, and interest to be actively involved in their child’s education. Teachers and students still in public school are losing the collateral benefit of having these now-homeschool families. I would homeschool in a second if I had the structure, discipline, and temperament.

  2. “Teachers and students still in public school are losing the collateral benefit of having these now-homeschool families.”

    I’m not sure if that statement reflects your personal view or the view of others who are worried by the home-school movement. Perhaps you can clarify. Regardless, the statement is freighted with significance: The implication is that students and their families should serve the interests of the schools rather than schools serve the interests of the students and parents. I find that view deeply disturbing.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      As I understand the comment I see nothing disturbing. This blog has been full of commentary about the importance of parents’ valuing education as a factor in student success. Who values education more than a parent willing to expend endless hours teaching their children at home? Presumably these are the same parents who would attend PTA meetings, be active in the school, know the teachers, etc. If you follow the logic of parental involvement being an important factor in student success these students would likely succeed thereby raising the overall results of the school.

      Steve makes a good comment about private schools (below). Here in NoVa most private schools have entrance requirements. They also generally have a low tolerance for misbehavior. The net result is well qualified students who behave in class. These same students (usually with actively engaged parents) would probably raise the overall results of public schools if they attended public schools.

      I wonder if school districts like the City of Richmond or Fairfax County understand the implications of their social justice theories – especially busing kids out of their neighborhood school pyramid to achieve some vague goal. It seems to me that will result in more kids being pulled out of public schools in favor of home schooling or private school education.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        I agree. Ever more of our public schools and systems are effectively engaging in self induced suicide by reason of their failure to provide even the hint of a good education, while instead providing a ill tempered den for the willful destruction of kids education and future, leaving generations of those kids uneducated, dependent, un-moored, sick and disabled.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Yet, the DOE still does not have data on private school enrollment, by locality or any which way. It has a reference on its website to the federal link above, and it seems to have nothing past 2006. Fascinating….so many of our debates over public school success or failure would be informed by that data.

    I often mention the large and growing private Christian school next door. Had an interesting conversation (well I listened) with a neighbor in our building complaining that she’d heard this (“They don’t teach evolution!”) or that (“It’s tied into Liberty University”) about the school, which she thought was just terrible! Hey, it’s a (semi) free country, the school is accredited by somebody, and even to me agreeing with Darwin is not required for citizenship or even intelligence. I agree with Maria, and the same goes for the private schools: the families abandoning the public system are a loss. (But if they want my kid listening to that Creation Science crap or a Fundamentalist reading of the whole Bible, better they leave.)

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I can’t imagine home-schooling our kids. Interaction with other people is an important part of education. At the same time, I respect and applaud those parents who home-school their children. In a diverse nation like the United States, no single educational system can meet everyone’s needs. And it’s also good that public (and private) schools pay a financial price when parents elect to home-school their kids. Each kid not in public school reduces public revenues to that school and division. Every kid not in private school reduces the tuition revenue.

    Financial pressure gives schools an incentive to improve themselves to attract more students. Focusing on parents and students instead of an internal focus is good for all schools.

    I think Maria’s point about the loss of students with involved parents is interesting and probably has a negative impact on all schools. But parents have a right to pick what type of schooling their kids use. Parents don’t have a greater obligation to society in general. Indeed, if both public and private schools were more responsive to the needs of home-schooled students and parents, they might have more students. Pressure on institutions is good for everyone.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    I do not think public education is the be all and end all by any stretch of the imagination but I also think without it – we’d be a 3rd world country.

    Despite it’s many faults – and failings – it’s a key component of any/all developed countries – all of them have public education.

    Further – home schooling is not for those who are on the lower tier of socioeconomic status. There’s home school parents that don’t have College and then there’s parents who don’t have a high school diploma or GED. Who decides what minimal qualifications are and how is that enforced?

    Finally, if someone homeschools their kids for a few years then decides they want them to attend public school – who is responsible for ensuring they are on grade-level?

    The internet has transformed home-schooling – as well as non-public school alternatives because there are now fully-qualified curricula – for instance you can sign up to have the child taught to SOL standards (or other state standards). The kids that “transfer” from home-schooling to public schools actually have to be assessed to see where they are academically.

    Kids “belong” to their parents when they are kids – but kids grow up to be adults and it’s an important responsibility to prepare them to be on their own when the time comes – and not essentially cripple them from living in a world no longer controlled by their parents and don’t dismiss that quickly – there are more and more kids who end up either staying at home or barely surviving on service or manual labor jobs and now days, I see Grandmothers who are taking care of daughters kids…

    It’s easy to criticize public schooling – and no end of critics these days – but as pointed out before – the one thread that is common among developed countries is public schooling and high literacy rates.

    Sometimes, we seem hell-bent on tearing down and destroying our most important institutions – like public education and it just boggles the mind!

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Keep in mind that Fairfax County, one of the largest localities in the U.S. , does not have a single charter school because of school board, administrator and teacher opposition. It’s all about money, power and control.

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