All Commentary
Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Homeschooling: The Public Schools’ Invasive Species

To government, homeschooling resembles a weed that spreads and resists control. To homeschooling parents, it is the flowering of knowledge and values within children who have been abandoned or betrayed by public schools. A great tension exists between the two perspectives. Homeschooling’s continued growth has only heightened it.   

The federal government has reacted by attempting to increase its control over homeschooling, for example, by pushing for increased regulation of homeschool curricula. But the federal government is hindered by certain factors. For one thing, education is generally the prerogative of individual states. Nevertheless, the federal government can often impose its will by threatening to withhold federal funds from states that do not comply with its measures. 

But homeschooling parents cannot be threatened by a withdrawal of money they don't receive. As it is, they are paying double. They pay taxes to support public schools from which they draw no benefit and they pay again in homeschooling money and in terms of lost opportunities such as the full-time employment of both parents. The “profit” they receive is a solid education for their children. What they want from the government is to be left alone.  

The federal government is also hindered by not being able to play the “it's for the children” card that justifies so many intrusive policies. Homeschooled children routinely display better development than public school students. 

A 2012 article in Education News called the “consistently high placement of homeschooled kids on standardized assessment exams … one of the most celebrated benefits of homeschooling.” Education News compared the quality of homeschooling to that of public schooling. “Those who are independently educated typically score between the 65th and 89th percentile on such exams, while those attending traditional schools average on the 50th percentile. Furthermore, the achievement gaps, long plaguing school systems … aren’t present in the homeschooling environment. There’s no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels, or race/ethnicity.” Studies also indicate that homeschooled children are better socialized with both peers and adults.

It appears the federal government has failed to yank the “weed” of homeschooling. Why does the Obama administration continue to try?

1. Homeschooling is an acute embarrassment to public schools, which do not educate and are rife with abuse. News stories abound of students who are illiterate and who are being abused by teachers or by the police who arrest them for trivial offenses such as burping in class. (See “A List of 19 Children Recently Arrested (July 2013) For Trivial Things.”) 

2. Public schools are desperate for funding. The federal government especially wants to pay the expensive union salaries, pensions, and other benefits enjoyed by teachers because unions are one of the administration’s political bases. Since tax dollars are allocated largely according to class attendance, the goal is to force as many children as possible into public schools. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of homeschooled children in 2007 “was about 1.5 million, an increase from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003.” Homeschooling is currently growing by an estimated 7 percent a year. Each homeschooled child represents a loss of funds to public schools and a threat to teachers' pensions. 

3. The homeschooled child is also an embarrassment to the public schools in economic terms. As Education News explained, “The average expenditure for the education of a homeschooled child, per year, is $500 to $600, compared to an average expenditure of $10,000 per child, per year, for public school students.” Of course, that doesn’t take into account the wages a parent most forego to homeschool a child, but at least that opportunity cost is borne only by the parent.

4. The federal government wants to weaken political critics. Parents who homeschool usually do so because of religious reasons (38.4 percent), because they can do a better overall job (48.9 percent), or due to objections to the content (21.1 percent) or to the academic quality (25.6 percent) of public schools. They are “dissatisfied customers” who weaken the government's legitimacy and credibility. Those who choose homeschooling for religious or ideological reasons present an even larger problem because they are likely to dislike other government programs and positions. A clamp-down on homeschooling weakens the influence of critics, preventing them from producing future opponents. 

5. Access to children allows the government to inculcate its values. Public schools teach politically correct attitudes; for example, the diversity of race must be embraced but a diversity of ideas should be rejected. Public schools have become venues for social experiments such as the so-called healthy lunch programs championed by Michele Obama even though children often throw them away, preferring to be hungry. Public schools are also experimenting with using students as advocates for government policies. For example, America's second-largest school district, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), has accepted almost $1 million for a pilot program to train students how to convince their families to enroll in Obamacare.     

Investor's Business Daily reported an LAUSD spokeswoman proudly proclaiming that the “pilot program” would ascertain “how well teenagers serve as messengers of government-sponsored information.” Investor's continued: “If they prove proficient at influencing their own families to believe material sent home from schools, she said, the teens will be used to deliver numerous other official messages to adults in their home and neighborhoods.” 


Where the President Stands on Homeschooling

In 1999, Illinois Senator Obama voted against tax credits for parents with homeschooled children. President Obama has not taken a stand on homeschooling despite the dominant role educational policy has played in his agenda. He vocally supports “choice” in education, but the only choices his administration mentions are public and charter schools, both of which are government-approved and tax-funded. 

Despite Obama's silence, there are strong indications of where he stands.  

In his 2012 State of the Union address, he called on “every state to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.” The U.S. Department of Education blog described his 2013 address as “Bold Education Proposals to Grow the Middle Class.” The proposals strengthened tax-funded schools and programs. One statement was especially intriguing. Obama declared, “Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job.” 

The intriguing aspect is the favorable reference to Germany, which was later echoed by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Under Attorney General Eric Holder, the DOJ may well be the most loyal voice within the administration, and it would not contradict Obama. The court case Romeike v. Holder involves a German homeschooling family who sought asylum in America because Germany threated to remove their younger children. The DOJ defended the German educational model. What is that model? In 1938, Adolf Hitler ordered all children to be educated either in state schools or in state-approved private ones; homeschooling was banned. This remains the basic educational law in Germany. 

The DOJ brief stated, “The goal in Germany is for an open, pluralistic society…. Teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen in Germany.” Translation: homeschooling interferes with the state's definition of tolerance and good citizenship. The brief also concurred with a recent German court decision that found that “the general public has a justified interest in counteracting the development of religiously or philosophically motivated ‘parallel societies’ and in integrating minorities in this area.” (Translation: people whose beliefs conflict with the state's definition of “the general good” should be integrated by proxy, i.e. by forcing their children into state schools where they are molded toward the state view.)

Obama's stand is also evidenced by his close affiliation with the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA is a labor union “committed to advancing the cause of public education.” Year after year, the NEA has fully endorsed Obama's presidency and his educational vision. In turn, Obama has repeatedly addressed NEA conferences and conventions.

The NEA takes an unambiguous position on homeschooling. In a 2011 resolution the NEA declared it “believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used…. home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools…. local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting.” 

In short, the administration’s policy goal is very likely for homeschooling to be entirely under state control—at which point it ceases to be homeschooling in any meaningful sense. 



Homeschooling captures the battle between individualism and authoritarianism. The rights of parents and children are pitted against the state's demand to supersede both. 

Homeschooling is an act of defiance that frightens the state. It not only challenges the state's competence and monopoly, but homeschooling also constitutes an issue from which people will not back down. How can they? The well-being and future of their children is at stake. Unfortunately, the state is not likely to back down either. Its well-being and future are at stake as well. 


  • Wendy McElroy is the author of over a dozen books on individualist feminism and libertarian history. Her upcoming book, "The Satoshi Revolution," applies the concepts of classical liberalism to cryptocurrency. She has been published by such diverse venues as Penn State to Penthouse, FEE to Marie Claire.