A Brief History Lesson
From the earliest days, a child's education took place inside the home. Children learned from parents, from a large extended family, and from everyday life. They learned to read books on their own or from older siblings. They practiced their alphabet, penmanship, and math problems on slate with a slate pencil. Families made sure their children learned important life skills; reading, writing, and math skills; and socialization skills. They taught their children morals and values, proper manners and etiquette, how to get along with others, and how to respect their elders.
In 1642, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law that required parents to make sure their children could read. Just five years later, they passed another law that required towns with fifty families or households to establish an elementary school. Towns with at least 100 households were required to establish a grammar school. The first public school, the Boston Latin School, opened in 1635. By the mid-1600s, schools began to crop up in other New England towns. Many of these were plain, one-room schoolhouses.
Public school did not become mandatory in the United States until individual states began to enact compulsory attendance laws in the mid-to late-1800s. Even then, it was difficult for every child to attend school. Some children were kept at home by inclement weather, snowstorms, or floods. Not every child could walk the distance to and from school, and mass transportation was not yet an option. These children continued to be educated at home by parents or taught by a tutor, while others received instruction in a nearby church.
As the Industrial Revolution swept the country, school transportation improved and so did attendance at public schools. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, some families, disappointed with the public school system, began teaching their children at home. Early homeschool pioneers and advocates broke new ground in the homeschool territory. Family-centered education began moving to the forefront of society once again.
The number of homeschooled children continues to increase each year. More parents are homeschooling because they feel they are best able to pass morals and value systems on to their children, and because they believe they have more time for their child, as well as a better understanding of their child's educational needs.
By the mid-1980s, the successes and benefits of homeschooling had become more apparent. Research was documented, books were printed, dedicated magazines took hold, and word spread like wildfire. It was estimated that approximately 150,000 to 200,000 children were homeschooled in the mid-1980s. By the mid-1990s, the number had grown to approximately 500,000 to 600,000.
Number of Homeschoolers Today
The National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) reported 1,096,000 students being homeschooled in the United States in the spring of 2003. This is a 29 percent increase from the estimate of 850,000 children homeschooled in 1999. Other estimates place the number of homeschoolers at 2 to 2.5 million during the 2007–2008 homeschool year. A steady growth rate of about 10 percent per year is observed by Dr. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI).