Unto the next generation: Homeschooling

Homeschooling is booming, with religious and moral motivations pushing the trend. According to a National Household Education Surveys Program study, more than 1.5 million students were being homeschooled in 2007 — up from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003. That accounts for nearly 3 percent of the country’s school-age population.

The reasons parents choose to educate their children outside of the public system are complicated and varied. According to the 2009 National Center for Education Statistics study, “the three reasons selected by parents of more than two-thirds of students were concern about the school environment, to provide religious or moral instruction, and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools.”

The modes of homeschool education can be as varied as the motives for it. Contrary to popular belief, homeschooled students do not always study in isolation or even at home. They often participate in co-ops or cultural programs, sit in regular classrooms at least part of the time in an umbrella school, or even take courses online. Whatever the method, the curriculum is driven by the goals and standards of the parent/educators and the cultural or faith community in which they live. For many Christians, homeschooling is inspired by biblical admonition: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). But parents have other motivations as well. Whether secular or religious, homeschoolers bring an intentional perspective to the education of their children.

This edition of ReligionLink provides resources, experts and background for covering this growing segment of the educational world.

Why it matters

Homeschooling is on the increase and may be the fastest-growing segment of American education. It is also a regular source of church-state friction as governments try to regulate homeschooling while many parents claim they do not need strict oversight. Frictions also arise when divorcing parents disagree about homeschooling. The impact of homeschooling on the local tax base is another issue. With school budgets so tight, if even a few homeschooled children are sent to public schools — perhaps because a parent must search for work because of hard financial times — it can upset financial projections.


Terms and concepts

Researching the homeschooling movement can be complicated because there are many stakeholders, and not all agree on the requirements, motivations – or even how to refer to the practice. Look for these search terms online: homeschool, home school, home learning and home education.


  • “Home Room: What we don’t know about homeschooling”

    Read an Oct. 29, 2009, article from ChristianityToday.com about misconceptions of homeschooling in America by Robert Kunzman of Indiana University (Bloomington) School of Education.

  • “Homeschooling FAQ”

    See Indiana University education professor Robert Kunzman’s homeschooling FAQ.

  • “Home Schooling”

    Read an overview of homeschooling by Editorial Projects in Education, the parent company of Education Week magazine. It was originally published on August 4, 2004, and was updated on July 13, 2011.


Each state determines how homeschooling is regulated, and sets age limits and curriculum requirements.

In February 2008, the California Court of Appeals issued a ruling that homeschoolers believed could have forced them to become credentialed teachers. In March 2008, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced that the rules for homeschoolers would not change. California currently requires that parents who teach their children outside the public system file an annual Private School Affidavit.

  • “Homeschoolers’ setback in appeals court ruling”

    Read a March 7, 2008, San Francisco Chronicle article about a California Court of Appeals ruling that made homeschoolers believe they would be forced to be credentialed teachers.

  • “The Legalities of Homeschooling”

    HomeSchoolFacts.com offers a map linked to pages of information on teacher certification and other requirements for each state.

  • HSLDA: State Laws

    The conservative Christian advocacy group Home School Legal Defense Association offers a map to show the level of regulation in each state.

  • “The Battle of H.R. 6”

    In February 1994, Christian homeschoolers were organized by the Home School Legal Defense Association to stop an amendment to HR 6, a reappropriation bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, that could have required teacher certification in some homeschools. Read the defense association’s account of the campaign.

Homeschooling options

Along with traditional family instruction, modern homeschoolers may also take advantage of additional resources, including:

  • Cooperative study groups: Homeschool co-ops let like-minded parents share time and expertise. Carol Topp, author of Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out (2008), blogs about the issues of running a co-op.
  • Community and academic enrichment: Parents take primary responsibility for the education of their children, but sometimes seek enrichment or special studies in local institutions. For example: Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in Wheaton, Ill., offers a Community School of the Arts for homeschoolers.
  • Umbrella schools: Umbrella schools can include correspondence courses, charter schools, even learning centers within the public school system. Some homeschoolers prefer to work through umbrella schools because they can offer access to accreditation programs or standardized testing.
  • Concepts from early educators: Some homeschoolers, especially conservative Christians who eschew what they perceive as the damaged moral environment of public education, have embraced 19th-century classical education principles or the Charlotte Mason Method.
  • Online learning: Some public universities offer online courses for high school students; for example, see the program at the University of Missouri’s Center for Distance and Independent StudyGlobal Student Network is one of several companies offering online courses specifically for homeschoolers.
  • Unschooling: A movement advocated in the 1970s by educator and homeschooling advocate John Caldwell Holt. Unschooling differs from homeschooling in that it values experiences over structured studies.

Denominational statements

Religious groups vary in their support of homeschooling. Some embrace the practice, while others advocate that their members work to influence the public school system. Here are a few examples:

  • “SBC calls for cultural engagement; education resolution declined”

    In 2004, the Southern Baptist Convention rejected a resolution that would have included a declaration against public school education and called for adherents to remove their children from public schools. Read about it in a June 16, 2004, article from The Baptist Press.

  • “On Engaging the Direction of the Public School System”

    In 2006 the SBC passed a resolution that encouraged “all Southern Baptist churches to solicit individuals from their membership to engage the culture of our public school systems nationwide by running for election to their local school boards and exerting their godly influence upon these school systems.”

  • “Supporting Public Education: Resources for Advocacy and Action”

    The Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have issued statements or resolutions supporting public education, according to resources offered by the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Earlier studies

Publications and sites


Additional reading

National sources

  • Bruce S. Cooper

    Bruce S. Cooper is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham University in Manhattan. He edited Homeschooling in Full View: A Reader.

  • Milton Gaither

    Milton Gaither is associate professor of education at Messiah College, a Christian liberal arts college in Grantham, Pa. He is the author of Homeschool: An American History (2008).

  • Robert Kunzman

    Robert Kunzman is an associate professor at Indiana University (Bloomington) School of Education. He posts the Homeschooling Research & Scholarship Web site. He is the author of Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling (2009).

    Contact: 812-856-8500, 812-856-8122.
  • David Sikkink

    David Sikkink is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He wrote the article “Who Gives to the Poor? The Role of Religious Tradition and Political Location on the Personal Generosity of Americans Toward the Poor” for the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (1998).

    He is the author (with Jonathan Hill) of “Religion and Education” in the Handbook of Religion and Social Institutions and (with Michael Emerson) of “Homeschooling” in Contemporary American Religion.


Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Michael L. Coulter

    Michael L. Coulter is a professor of humanities and political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. He is the author of “Home School Legal Defense Association” in the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics.

  • Melissa Deckman

    Melissa Deckman is professor of political science and public affairs at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. Her specialties include religion and politics and women and politics. She wrote School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics (Georgetown University Press, 2004) and “Christian Right School Board Candidates” for the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics (Facts on File, 2003) and co-wrote Women With a Mission: Gender, Religion and the Politics of Women Clergy.

  • Charles L. Glenn

    Charles L. Glenn is a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Boston University. He wrote “P.C. Censorship of Textbooks” for The Journal of The Historical Society (2004) and The Ambiguous Embrace: Government and Faith-Based Schools and Social Agencies.. He has written on children, religion, and education.

  • Dayna Martin

    Dayna Martin is the author of Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun (2009). She is the public face for UnschoolingAmerica.com, which is based in Madison, N.H.

In the South

In the Midwest

  • Robert Kunzman

    Robert Kunzman is an associate professor at Indiana University (Bloomington) School of Education. He posts the Homeschooling Research & Scholarship Web site. He is the author of Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling (2009).

    Contact: 812-856-8500, 812-856-8122.
  • Carol Topp

    Carol Topp, author of Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out (2008), blogs about the issues of running a co-op and offers workshops and other resources to parents interested in homeschooling children. Topp is a CPA who works out of her home office in Cincinnati.

In the West

  • Dr. Mark Lowery

    Dr. Mark Lowery is a professor of theology at the University of Dallas, an independent Catholic school in Irving, Texas. Lowery has written extensively on the traditional Christian view of sexuality.

    He wrote “The Father’s Role in Home Schooling” in Catholic Home Schooling.

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