While reasons for homeschooling vary, concern for our children’s future remains constant

Jamie Winpenny

HONOLULU—The number of parents who choose to homeschool their children has been rising steadily overall. In 2007, the number of homeschooled students in the United States was about 1.5 million, an increase from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

In Hawaii, there were 5,907 students registered for homeschooling at Hawaii’s public and charter schools for the 2010-2011 school year. That number is actually down from the previous school years (6,974 students in 2009-2010 and 6,958 students in 2008-2009). But the decline can be attributed to a number of factors including homeschooling parents who fail to inform schools, students finishing homeschool or reenrolling in classes, and a recent data clearing at the State Department of Education, a State official said.

Parents in Hawaii who decide to homeschool need to follow the State Board of Education’s procedures for Homeschooling in Compulsory Attendance Exceptions. Parents also must submit a notice of intent to homeschool to the local public school principal.

For a list of laws pertaining to homescooling in Hawaii, click here

Proponents of homeschooling often cite statistics that show homeschooled children outperforming their traditionally schooled student counterparts. For instance, a 1997 study conducted by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute of over 5,000 home schooled students indicated that those students outperformed their public school counterparts by 30 to 37 percentile points in all subjects.

It’s a statistic that homeschooling families throughout the world aspire to.

Coreyanne Armstrong, a former nuclear submarine technician who now lives in the United Kingdom, is a mother of five and homeschools her four school-aged children.

“I love having my children at home getting to know one another, playing together, working together, caring about each other,” she says. “The 8-year-old still knows how to play with the 3-year-old, and they all love the one-year-old. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve seen it, but this is the part that can’t be replicated with the children gone 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. We are a family all the time.”

It’s a classroom that works, if the family has the time and resources to commit to homeschooling.

Kathryn Xian, a celebrated human rights activist in Honolulu, elected to pursue homeschooling in her later high school years. While she says that hers was definitely a positive homeschooling experience, it’s not necessarily the best option for every student.

“There really needs to be a lot of parent involvement,” she says. “It’s not for everyone.”

Advocates for home schooling have at their disposal an arsenal of research statistics that seem to show that home schooling is a far better educational alternative to public schools. The National Home Education Research Institute’s 1997 study showed a significantly lower disparity in test scores among ethnicities in home schools. That disparity was much greater among ethnicities in public schools.

In 2010, another study conducted among over 11,000 home school students throughout the United States, Guam, and Puerto Rico showed that the scores of homeschooled children were higher than standardized norms in all subjects.

Even with the raw data providing a compelling argument in favor of homeschooling, there are many opponents to the educational trend that, nonetheless, continues to grow. Educating a child takes a serious commitment of resources. For parents that choose to educate their child, the primary investment is time.

This means that even if a parent is inclined to homeschool their child, economic pressure often makes institutionalized education a foregone conclusion. For most single parents, homeschooling is simply not an option. Nor is it for families with two working parents. Critics of homeschooling point out that the data indicating higher achievement by homeschooled children can be correlated to economic advantages enjoyed by the family.

For many families that choose homeschooling, religion is a primary factor. NCES says that 30 percent of homeschooling families cite religion as the most important reason for their choice.

“We would rather have a gas-station attendant for a son who knows how to love and provide for his family and knows God, than an astrophysicist who is rich but is not a good father or husband and does not believe,” says Armstrong.

Although religion is an important aspect of the decision of many families in choosing homeschooling, the most statistically common reason for homeschooling is the negative environment students can encounter in educational institutions. 31 percent of those surveyed by NCES cited that exact concern as the primary reason for choosing homeschooling.

Bullying at school has become the focus of officials and parents in recent years, as the intimidation children face from their peers impacts their ability to learn. And while the public school system has taken the brunt of blame for schoolyard bullying, Kathryn Xian is quick to point out that prior to her decision to finish high school at home, she was a student at a prestigious Oahu private school.

She points out that homeschooling allowed her the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills that was not available to her even at a private school. “Conformity is imposed,” she says. “And it’s not necessarily a job skill.”

Her experience in institutional education, she believes, made difficult the critical thinking required when she began her collegiate career at Bard College in New York.

As a beleaguered public school system is beset by budget cuts, understaffing, and crumbling facilities, it seems likely that the number of families choosing to homeschool their children will continue to rise. Certainly, there are merits and drawbacks to both homeschooling and to institutionalized education. It ultimately falls on parents to decide whether or not either is the best choice for their child.

“As a closeted gay kid, it became clear that high school was not an option,” Xian says. “But neither was truancy.”

Coreyanne Armstrong and her husband have made their choice. They continue to homeschool their kids in England and have no plans to do otherwise. “We plan to continue until they are well enough educated in many facets of life to branch out on their own,” she says. “That could be when they’re 14, 16, 18, 20. It depends on the child and the opportunity they are presented with, and whether or not we think they are ready for it.”

For more information on homeschooling in Hawaii, visit the BOE website.