Future of homeschooling: Less religious, more regulated?
The homeschooling movement in America is experiencing potential changes in its religious makeup and new challenges from government regulation.
Steven Craig Policastro, founder and executive vice president of the International Association for Creation, told The Christian Post that in recent years, the biggest change in state-sponsored resistance to homeschooling has been a “shift” from attempts to ban homeschooling to “extremely oppressive” regulations.
“Opponents of home education have realized that since they are unable to make homeschooling illegal, they can at least attempt to place extremely burdensome regulations on parent-led, home education to make it difficult or nearly impossible,” said Policastro.
“There also are constant attempts by school districts all over the country to require things of homeschool students and parents that are not required by law. There are times in which the school districts do not properly know the law, but in other instances the school board leaders do not care and they want their regulations mandated regardless of the law.”
The International Association for Creation is a Christian Young Earth organization and will be hosting its annual “National Homeschool Day” observance on Feb. 23. Speakers from dozens of locations will address people worldwide in a livestream online to discuss topics related to homeschooling and Christian resources for home education.
On regulation, Policastro noted the importance of “state organizations” and the Home School Legal Defense Association in monitoring proposed legislation and maintaining good communication with school districts.
“Such government oversight is a continual battle, it has not let up; it has merely changed forms, going from the outlawing of parent-led education to now having parent rights constantly in jeopardy due to ever-changing regulations,” he noted.
“The famous quote, ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,’ is very apropos here because that's what all of us who believe in educational freedom and parental rights do. We seek to be vigilant so that our God-given right to train up our children is not impeded upon by bureaucrats and legislatures.”
A recent example of this regulation effort can be found in Iowa, where earlier this month Democrat State Rep. Mary Mascher introduced House File 272, which if passed would, among other things, require school districts to conduct "health and safety visits" for homeschooled children.
Israel Wayne, director of the Michigan-based ministry Family Renewal and a scheduled speaker for this year’s National Homeschool Day, likewise viewed proposals to increase regulation as a constant threat to homeschooling.
Wayne also serves on the board of the Michigan Christian Homeschool Network, which is the Christian homeschooling association for the state, where he works “on behalf of homeschooling freedoms.”
“Almost every year, in almost every state legislature, bills are introduced in the various education committees seeking to increase regulations over all homeschoolers,” Wayne told CP.
“The regulation does not increase academic performance in any way, it merely serves to create unnecessary hassle and needless government red-tape for homeschooling parents who are doing what is best for their students.”
Over the past several years, the homeschooling movement in the United States has grown considerably. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that from 1999–2016, the percentage of American students educated in homeschools went from 1.7 percent to 3.3 percent.
“The most important reason for homeschooling in 2016 was ‘concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure,’ reported by 34 percent of parents of homeschooled students,” noted the NCES in a 2017 report.
“Other reasons cited as most important by families of homeschooled students in 2016 were dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools (17 percent of homeschooled students’ parents) and a desire to provide religious instruction (16 percent).”
Having 16 percent of respondents pick religious instruction as their most important reason in 2016 indicates a considerable decline from 2003, when NCES found that 29.8 percent of respondents selected “religious or moral instruction” as their most important reason.
Some have speculated that the homeschooling movement is becoming less religious, with the Pacific Standard declaring in a 2018 article that modern day “homeschool advocates aren't the Christian Right.”
Policastro told CP that while the homeschooling movement is becoming more diverse, religiously speaking, over two-thirds of homeschooling parents are self-identified Christians.
“When analyzing the number of parents who choose to home educate due to religious reasons, we see that this data continually points to exponential growth which consistently makes religious homeschooling more common than its secular counterpart,” said Policastro.
Wayne also acknowledged that motivations for parents seeking to homeschool their children were largely secular. However, he told CP that he believed the story was more complex.
“I think we see a shift here over time, but I don't think we should assume that means secular homeschooling is taking over the formerly Christian-dominated landscape,” said Wayne.
“Increasingly, I think fewer Christian families are homeschooling for religious reasons. They might be Christians, but they're motivated by their child's safety, poor academic performance, special needs, etc., and less by biblical reasons.”