by Dr. Steven Duvall, HSLDA
During my 40 years in the field of school psychology, I’ve observed a significant shift in parents’ primary reasons for homeschooling. Although years ago, many parents used to rank religious reasons at the top of their motivations for homeschooling their children, they now first list their safety concerns for their children in traditional schools, especially public schools. The data show parents are right to be concerned.
Long before I began directing school psychology training programs at the university level, I learned of families who were homeschooling in the districts where I worked as a public school psychologist. At the time, having no personal interaction with these families, homeschooling seemed to me to be nothing more than a peculiar way for parents to provide religious instruction unavailable through public schools for their children. However, my views of homeschooling as a serious form of education began to develop after being summoned to evaluate the educational progress of homeschooled children with disabilities.
Finding that most homeschool students performed at or above expected levels of achievement was surprising and intriguing, especially considering that the parents were rarely, if ever, certified teachers. Eventually, I had the opportunity to work with other researchers to conduct some studies observing instruction and learning taking place in homeschooling. Several research studies in the late ’90s and early 2000s, including ours, confirmed the phenomenon that I had observed: high levels of active academic engagement (AAE) occurred during home instruction. Because AAE was known to be a key ingredient for helping students to develop their basic academic skills, this data explained, at least to a degree, why most homeschool students — even those with disabilities — could do well at home. Furthermore, because small instructional groups typically yield higher levels of AAE levels than do larger groups, it followed that the very small groups or, in some cases, one-on-one instruction that occurs in homeschool environments, could often result in high AAE levels.
Because I have seen homeschool instruction work so well in so many instances, reading The Risks of Homeschooling in Harvard Magazine, in which Elizabeth Bartholet issues an unnecessary and extreme call for banning homeschooling in all but an extremely small number of situations, compelled me to respond. Furthermore, banning homeschooling in the way Professor Bartholet proposed ignores or overlooks the top reason why most parents choose to teach their children at home: the lack of safety in traditional school settings.
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