Photo courtesy John Edelson

Fewer home-school families cite religion as their main motivation

WASHINGTON (RNS) When Jennifer Pedersen-Giles started to home-school her son Westen six years ago, it was because he needed a more hands-on environment than what public schools could offer. Now the eighth-grader studies writing, music, art, geometry, literature and world religions from his home in Arizona.

Religion, in other words, had nothing to do with his mother's decision.

She's not alone. According to the federally funded National Center for Education Statistics, the share of parents who cited "religious or moral instruction" as their primary motivation for home-schooling has dropped from 36 percent in 2007 to just 21 percent during the 2011-12 school year.

“You used to have to be a hero to home-school,” said John Edelson, founder and president of Time4Learning, a curriculum provider for home-schoolers. “You were really going against the mainstream. Your mother-in-law didn’t understand it, the neighbors didn’t understand it, police would stop you in the middle of the day and wonder what was going on.”

Photo courtesy John Edelson

Photo courtesy John Edelson

As home-schooling slowly becomes more mainstream -- 3 percent of American students age 5-17 are home-schooled, up from 2.2 percent in 2003 -- most parents cited the environment of public schools (25 percent), not religious belief, as the main reason behind their decision to home-school.

Edelson said the number of home-school families who do so for religious reasons has not decreased, but the percentage of those who list it as a first priority has dropped as other parents join the home-schooling community for different reasons.

“You go to any cocktail party, church, any group of people and you say, ‘I’m in the home schooling business,’ and all these women will jump on it and say, ‘Oh, we home-schooled,’” Edelson said.

Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that conducts original research, said years of studies on home education led to its increasing acceptance.

“In the earlier days of the modern home-school movement, because home-schooling was such a tiny, tiny minority of the public, parents had to be very strongly committed to what they were doing,” Ray said.

Gretchen Buck, administrator of Global Village School, the customizable home-schooling program that Pedersen-Giles uses, said there is more demand for home-schooling as public schools struggle. Many parents do not like the emphasis on standardized tests; others remove their children because of bullying.

Others, like Pedersen-Giles, realize their children struggle when asked to sit at a desk for extended periods.

“By third grade, school was more about production levels with the onus being on the child to adapt to the classroom environment,” she said. “(Westen’s) individual needs were not being met. It would have taken so little for things to be different, but after exhaustive pleas to teachers, I decided that I would have to create my own change.”

This rise in mainstream home-schooling is reflected in curriculum needs, Buck said.

“A lot of people who contact us are looking for an alternative to the very many overtly Christian home-schooling programs that are out here, because that just does not fit in with their values,” Buck said. “They’re looking for secular home-schooling or just generally nonreligious.”

In the case of Pedersen-Giles, her family does not adhere to a particular religion. She often discusses world religions with her son, and said he is free to choose his own beliefs.

Edelson said there are generally three types of home-schoolers: those who do so for religious reasons; the “free spirits” who oppose a regimented public school system; and the “accidental home-schoolers” who find their children do not thrive in a traditional school environment.

“Part of it is driven because they’re disappointed in the schools,” Edelson said. “If we had better schools, if the schools weren’t so confused and having trouble with testing and having trouble with budgets -- that’s one of the things that’s fueling the home-school movement.”



  1. First, an increase of .7% over 10 years, with the new total being 3%, does not mean that homeschooling is becoming “more mainstream.”

    Second, in talking with folks who are home schooling, what I hear when you dig a little bit is not so much that parents keep their kids home from school not as much for religious reasons (those parents who fear science might undermine religion…Darwin anyone?), but unfortunately, many of these parents want to keep their children away from people who don’t look like them or who have a different culture than them. Thats right folks….kids get homeschooled for the same reasons they get put in “Christian Academies,” which is due to racism. Spend some time talking to these folks and what their anxieties are, and it very much comes out.

  2. LOL…..RACISM is your reasoning for homeschooling families? Race-bait much? Even if you actually have talked to “folks who are home schooling”, you have no real facts or statistics for your nonsensical diatribe.

  3. Well that is the dumbest thing I have yet to read today…. I homeschool because my son has massive struggles in a classroom… I love how you just insinuated that homeschoolers are closet racists… *facepalm*

  4. Katherine. I think this is a great article. Thanks. I’d like to add two points that didn’t make it into the article which both show that homeschooling is larger than the much cited 3% number. One, many people think of virtual schooling – when the students are enrolled in a public, private, or charter online school – as homeschooling. This is a red-hot trend that probably covers another few percentage points of the population. Virtual schooling (or dual enrollment) however,is not counted in 3 of the population that is reported as homeschooling. Secondly, many parents homeschool for a few years and then move their children back into private or public schools. I don’t have any data on this so I won’t speculate on the magnitude of “many.” But, the 3% number really is 3% at any given time. Overall, the number of students who were homeschooled or virtual schooled for a part of K12 is probably a much larger number, perhaps as large as the number of kids attending private schools.

  5. Even the 3% figure is probably unreliable.

    The studies which have been performed on homeschoolers in the past came from advocacy groups with no objectivity or were so oft repeated as to be assumed true. The insular nature of homeschooling and defensive nature of its proponents doesn’t lend itself to objective studies.

  6. I think we all have more problems to worry about than racism! Enough with the racism canard!!! It’s outdated and immature!!! This isn’t 1993 anymore!

  7. I was surprised to learn this weekend that a daughter of a family friend is “home schooled”. When I probed a bit more into the how / why, I found out that she’s attending virtual high-school as provided by the state and receiving private tutoring to make up for any gaps. The “why” in this case has more to do with the individual student’s personal preference. I also wouldn’t classify the “how” as true home schooling as the parent is not acting as the primary educator in this case.

    This ties into John’s comment on the impressive growth of home schooling when you do take into account virtual schools. Florida Virtual School (FLVS) for example has seen (approximately) a 25 fold increase in growth, based on the number of semesters completed between 2002 and 2012 (10 year period).

  8. I don’t keep my children home due to xenophobia … I keep them home due to the fact we are atheist and live in the south where atheism makes you less liked than ethnic minority groups. I keep them home due to the sex abuse; lack of funds and resources for teachers who often foot the blame for politicians; for safety reasons – I don’t want my child shot. I dislike the way the schools are constructed and often “open” to freely traveling pedestrians and etc. I dislike the bathrooms being in open hallways… Up north our schools were closed off and everything was indoors, and doors were locked so people couldn’t come in nor out … The newer schools are too open and subject to random people. I dislike curriculum in a constant battle- I prefer science to be science. I like challenging math and other curricula for my child. Yes there are homeschoolers who keep their children home for abusive purpose- even if they see it not as being abusive… I see families who deny their daughters education at certain points, changing out for homemaking. They are handicapping them, it’s not the way the future will be and so their child will be forced to acquire advanced academic skills later in life. Abuses happen in public school too … Children get left behind, fall through cracks and etc.

    So let’s not pretend that public education is a bullet to low intelligence and abuse…

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