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Home-school culture shifting away from religious ties

Home-schooling has risen among secular students in recent years. A 2013 National Center for Education Statistics study showed home-schoolers no longer list religion as their top reason for schooling from home.
Home-schooling has risen among secular students in recent years. A 2013 National Center for Education Statistics study showed home-schoolers no longer list religion as their top reason for schooling from home.
Gerry Broome, Associated Press

Eric Peschel and his family have different reasons for home-schooling.

One of his sons was taken out of public school for religious reasons and bullying. Another is taught at home because the public education system wasn't working for Peschel. His daughter was home-schooled too, but "bonding issues" caused the Peschels to put their daughter back into public school.

“Just seeing the difference between what is being taught in public school versus our school, it’s not even close,” Peschel said. “They’re not even close in the vocabulary they’re teaching, the math they’re teaching. It’s off the charts different.”

Though home-schooling has been a historically popular choice for religious conservatives, it's becoming more common among secular students. A National Center for Education Statistics study showed home-schoolers no longer list religion as their top reason for opting out of public or private schools. More than 91 percent see the environment as a reason to home-school, while 64 percent (about 692,299 students) see religion as an important reason to home-school. In 1999, about 327,000 students were home-schooled for religious reasons.

And home-schooling has been on the rise, too. More than a decade ago in 1999, about 850,000 students were home-schooled, which was nearly half of the 1,770,000 home-schooled students reported for the 2011-2012 school year, according to the NCES.

Between bullying worries and lack of belief in the public education system, many parents choose home-schooling to avoid these problems, experts say.

“I’ve seen some remarkable quality educations given to home-school kids in remarkable ways,” said John Edelson, founder and president of Time4Learning, a home-school curriculum organization. “While I see that in public schools, too, parents are a lot more resourceful to give kids quality educations.”

But as home-schooling becomes more popular, it also faces added scrutiny. In Nebraska, the Department of Education is looking to add new stipulations to track attendance for home-schoolers, which requires parents to fill out more paperwork. Other parents worry about the influence Common Core Standards is already having on their ability to shape curriculum to the needs of their children. For many, taking back control of their child's education is a fight that only continues.

A new market

Edelson of Time4Learning said there are three types of home-schoolers: religious people, free thinkers and “accidental home-schoolers,” who are “pragmatically doing what’s best for their kids.”

Because of this, academies that cater to home-schoolers or companies like Time4Learning have to adapt.

Edelson offers students a non-religious curriculum that is part online and part offline. It begins with an opening discussion, then 30 minutes of computer work and 30 minutes of desk work throughout the day.

It's a way of tapping into a new market of virtual home-schoolers, who are on the rise too, Edelson said. Instead of using the traditional method of hiring a home-school teacher, some parents want to enroll their children in an online education system, which they can also do from home, Edelson said.

Jessica Parnell, principal of Bridgeway Home School Academy, which offers curriculum for home-schooling parents, is also marketing itself in new ways by including mainstream and secular curriculums as a way to bring in families who want to avoid religious teachings.

Global Village School, a home-schooling organization that offers online and text-based curriculum, decided to shift its marketing focus in recent months toward secular students due to demand, said Gretchen Buck, the school's manager. She said part of this increased interest in home-schooling is from parents who think their children aren't getting enough attention in public schools.

“We’re not looking to fit all the square pegs in little round holes,” she said of her company's curriculum.

Peschel said public schools also don't have the materials and resources for optimal learning, like textbooks or writing utensils. Sometimes students can't take home a textbook to further develop their understanding, leaving them with less homework and less time to study.

“You want them to learn the material, but the only time they can learn it is when they’re in the class,” Peschel said.

Parnell agreed.

“They’re just not being helped,” Parnell said. “They’re getting passed along."

Another reason for the rise in new home-schoolers is because parents don’t see the traditional classroom setting as helpful for their children, Buck said.

“It doesn’t fit them, and they don’t do well at a traditional desk,” she said.

Parents, then, are taking it upon themselves to start teaching, Parnell said, as they believe they can teach their children better than public school teachers.

"Parents are saying, ‘I want control back,’ ” Parnell said.

In many cases, home-schooling parents will choose to home-school as a “last resort,” Edelson said, when the traditional educational system isn’t working.

“They get all fired up when they get into it and see the possibilities," Edelson said.


Twitter: @hscribner