Cheryl Certain taught her children at home for six years. She found homeschooling rewarding—and grueling.
Nobody knows for sure how many children are homeschooled, but in 2001 the National Center for Education Statistics estimated between 709,000 and nearly 1 million students in grades K-12 were receiving their education at home by a parent.
In her article in The Public Interest, “Homeschooling Comes of Age,” Patricia Lines wrote that at a 10 percent growth rate for this year, homeschoolers total between 943,700 and 1.32 million, which accounts for two percent of the 50 million school-aged children in the United States.
About one-third (32.4 percent) of the homeschooling population lives in rural areas where bus rides to school take up to an hour or more one way.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Education, families choose homeschooling over public schools for three primary reasons. Nearly half of homeschooling parents said they could give their children a better education at home. Thirty-eight percent cited religious reasons. Others considered their local schools’ learning environments poor.
Certain believed she could do a better job. She began homeschooling her three children because she felt they weren’t learning what she thought they should learn.
“I remember helping our daughter, Danielle, with her homework when I realized that she wasn’t reading any of the classics in literature,” Certain told EthicsDaily.com. “It was breaking my heart to see that she was missing out on some very important elements that should have been in her education.”
Like many homeschool parents, Certain and her husband, Randy, are college graduates. They said they did not have the money to send their children to private school in the Los Angeles area where they lived. Certain also wanted her children to learn to read using phonics. The Certains were also wary about the safety of their children at public school.
“I grew up in L.A.,” Cheryl said. “I went to L.A. public schools so I know what goes on there, and I am afraid of what could happen to them.” The Certains also felt they could emphasize a Christian perspective in the curriculum.
Dallas, Texas, resident Donna Vaughn homeschooled all three of her daughters for religious reasons. Vaughn told EthicsDaily.com that she felt schools were teaching too many controversial subjects that conflicted with her faith.
The Conrads live in Newport News, Va., but they don’t know when or where they might live in six months. Pete and Tanya are both military professionals and move frequently. They told EthicsDaily.com that they chose homeschooling because of its flexibility and consistency.
Cheryl Certain said it takes more than good intentions to homeschool.
“Homeschooling is a spiritual calling,” she said. “It is … a big sacrifice both of yourself and financially for your family.” For the Certains, homeschooling meant Cheryl had to quit her job.
Certain carefully researched homeschooling curriculum and legal matters before quitting her job to teach her children. While homeschooling is legal in the United States, each state has its own requirements.
In addition to teaching her children at home, Certain joined other parents in a homeschooling support group and attended conferences and other homeschooling events.
“People say that homeschooled children are not learning how to relate socially with their peers but that is just not true,” she said. “My daughter and two sons were active in dance, soccer and just about every other activity as those who attend public schools.”
Some homeschoolers have returned the criticism, saying that children in public schools are more detached because the children are sorted by age and ability and isolated from their parents and siblings.
The Certains, the Vaughns and the Conrads fit the profile of most homeschooling families.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, most homeschoolers are middle-class whites, with 62 percent of the households reporting three or more children. Girls and boys are equally represented among homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers.
Trying to homeschool three elementary-aged children and care for a toddler proved to be too much for Cheryl Certain. “I simply burned out,” she said. “The kids began taking advantage of the situation. Here I was trying to work with three different grade levels and care for a baby.”
When Randy Certain’s company wanted to relocate him to a small town in Kentucky, the Certains didn’t think twice.
The family moved to a smaller community and put their children back into public school—where all three tested higher on academic placement tests than their grade levels.
Ray Furr is a freelance writer and operates his own communications / marketing business in Poquoson, Va.