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Education Reporter

Homeschooling Continues to Grow, Reflecting  
Parents' Dissatisfaction with Public Education
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Almost 1.1 million students were homeschooled last year, an increase of 29% since 1999, according to new Education Department figures released August 3.

In surveys collected by the National Center for Education Statistics, parents offered three main reasons for educating their children at home:

  • concerns about the environment of regular schools
  • the flexibility they have to teach religious or moral lessons
  • dissatisfaction with academic instruction in schools.

Homeschooled students now account for 2.2% of the U.S. school-age population. The government numbers may underestimate the true number: The National Center for Home Education asserts there are 2 million homeschoolers.

"There's potential for massive growth," center spokesman Ian Slatter told the Associated Press (8-3-04). "Homeschooling is just getting started."

The federal government counts as homeschoolers students who spend at least part of their education at home and no more than 25 hours a week in public or private schools. More than 4 out of 5 homeschooled students spend no time at traditional schools.

Pennsylvania lawsuits filed 
Two Pennsylvania families recently filed lawsuits challenging that state's homeschool reporting requirements, considered among the most stringent in the nation. The suits rely on the state Religious Freedom Protection Act, which allows challenges to laws that impose "substantial burdens upon the free exercise of religion without compelling justification. Similar laws were passed in 11 other states after a federal religious freedom law was declared unconstitutional in 1997.

Pennsylvania's homeschooling regulations require parents to submit notarized affidavits at the start of each school year for children 8 years and older about what they plan to teach. The parents must keep a log and chart their children's progress in preparation for an end-of-year report signed off by a third party that must be submitted to school superintendents. Parents also are required to submit medical information about their children and attest that they have never been convicted of crimes. (Associated Press, 8-2-04)

New Tolkien curriculum 
As homeschooling has achieved greater acceptance, curricular materials and supplementary courses aimed at that market have proliferated. (See accompanying article on the activities of a homeschoolers' economics class in Chester, NJ.) Capitalizing on the success of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, a North Carolina teacher has developed a one-year curriculum called "Literary Lessons from Lord of the Rings" for students aged 12 to 18.

The course includes background on classic epics such as Beowulf, The Iliad and Arthurian romances but focuses on J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy. Amelia Harper designed the $125 620-page textbook and teacher's edition for homeschooled students, including her own son, and has also used it in pilot courses taught in public schools in Kentucky and Colorado. (Washington Times, 7-19-25-04)

Avoiding Planned Parenthood 
Planned Parenthood's presence in Sarasota County, FL public schools is an example of the kinds of school practices that drive parents to homeschool their children. The pro-abortion organization is teaching portions of a mandatory course on basic life skills, covering the topics of human sexuality and pregnancy prevention. The district received so many complaints from parents last spring that it has decided to allow parents to keep their children out of the Planned Parenthood portions in the coming year.

"Why do Sarasota County public school leaders insist on choosing one of the most divisive, politically extreme organizations in the country to come into the schools and teach classes on sexual relations and birth control?" asks columnist Rod Thomson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (7-16-04).

U.S. homeschoolers still have it better than their counterparts north of the border. In British Columbia, homeschooling parents "are fuming after the B.C. Education Ministry ordered thousands of them to stop using faith-based materials — or any other 'unofficial' resource — when teaching their children at home," according to the Vancouver Sun (4-22-04).

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