Why the strong surge? In addition to the reasons traditionally given for homeschooling--to teach specific religious values, control social interactions, develop close family ties, and improve academic quality--parents cite concern for children's safety at school.
Source: 1998 study by Lawrence Rudner, Ph.D., University of Maryland at College Park
According to Michael Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, based in Purcellville, Va., "Within 48 hours of [the Columbine tragedy], our phones started ringing off the hook. Columbine erased a myth: 'It can't happen in my school.'"
"Parents can sometimes push aside ideological arguments or even their child's emotional or spiritual well-being," says Brian Ray, Ph.D., president of the National Home Education Research Institute, in Salem, Ore. "But when they think their child might actually be maimed or shot, that's when many of them will be moved to act."
No such fears plagued Tamara Konczal, of Scarborough, Maine, head of the state's Catholic homeschoolers group. Konczal had begun to teach her children at home long before the recent spate of school shootings, and even now doesn't homeschool out of fear. But she admits to feeling relieved that her kids were at home on April 20, 1999. With homeschooling, she believes, she can assert her family's religious values and protect her child from a host of unsavory threats, including precocious sexuality and peer pressure. "We do shelter our kids," says Konczal. "But they're fragile. It's like with tomatoes: You don't put them out in February."
Homeschoolers are gaining in more than numbers. In recent years, they have won national spelling and geography contests as well as entry into elite colleges. Harvard University has assigned an admissions officer to review applications from homeschoolers, and Patrick Henry College, founded to cater to homeschoolers, opened in Purcellville, Va., this fall.
Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, though it is easier to do in some than others because education policy is set by state and local agencies. Wisconsin, for example, considers homeschooling a form of private education and regulates it as such, requiring home-based schools to register with the state and teach a minimum number of hours per year, yet freeing them from specific curriculum requirements and any obligation to administer standardized tests. Other states, like Pennsylvania, directly regulate homeschooling and call for extensive oversight, including curriculum approval and submission of achievement test scores. States such as Oklahoma, Idaho, and Texas, on the other hand, have no registration or testing requirements at all.