Before the beginning of American public schools in the mid-19th century, home schooling was the norm. Founding father John Adams encouraged his spouse to educate their children while he was on diplomatic missions (Clark, 1994). By the 1840’s instruction books for the home were becoming popular in the United States and Britain. The difficulty of traveling to the system of community schools was provoking detractors.
At this time, most of the country began moving toward public schools (Clark, 1994). One of the first things early pioneers did was set aside a plot of land to build a school house and try to recruit the most educated resident to be the schoolmarm. This led to recruiting of graduates Eastern Seaboard colleges to further the education oftheir children beyond what they could do at home (Clark, 1994).
As the popularity of the public school movement began to rise behind Horace Mann many states soon passed compulsory-education laws. These were designed primarily to prevent farmers, miners, and other parents form keeping their kids home to work (Clark, 1994). Ironically another factor behind public schools was the desire to use them to spread Christian morality, with its concern for the larger good over individualism (Clark, 1994). Massachusetts enacted the first such laws in 1852 requiring children ages 8-14 to be at school at least 12 weeks a year unless they were too poor. The laws proved to be effective, from 1870-1898 the number of children enrolling in the public schools outpaced the population growth.
Except for certain religious sects and correspondence schools home schooling remained limited for most of the 20th century. During the 1960’s the hippie counterculture exploded into the scene. This culture led a revolt against the education establishment. Thousands of young Americans began dropping out of society and going back to the land to live on communes that generated the modern home schooling movement.
Twenty years ago, many states did not allow home schooling. Constitutional protection has always been uncertain. The U.S. Supreme Court has never explicitly ruled on home schooling. Although in 1972, in Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Court did restrict compulsory school requirements in a limited ruling involving the right of Amish students not to attend high school (Lines, 1996).
In Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Amish parents claimed that high school attendance was destructive to their children’s religious beliefs and would interfere with their pursuit of the Amish way of life (Fisher, Schimmel, and Kelley, 1995).
Since this ruling there have been many court cases dealing with the issue of home schooling. All 50 states allow home schooling ad 34 states have enacted specific home schooling statutes or regulations (Clark, 1994).
What drives many home-schoolers are the well-documented social troubles and the declining test scores in the public schools. In 1991, the total number of children being home schooled was between 248,500 and 353,500. Many public educators feel that children who are home schooled are missing out on key learning situations that come from the public school. For instance the sciene experiments, these would be very costly to duplicate at home. Also they argue that home school children miss out on the social aspect of school. Very often they are not around many children their age and socialization does not take place.
As the home schooling movement has become more widespread, state and local officials have responded with more vigorous enforcement of their compulsory education laws. As a result of this there is more litigation and new regulations. As both parents and school official’s evidence increasing inflexibility, the statues play a central role in the battle over the education of the child. A secondary role is played by the courts which, in resolving the disputes between parents and the schools, must interpret and test the statutes (Chiusano 1996).
Parents who are being prosecuted for instructing their children at home are attacking compulsory school attendance statues on constitutional grounds. Although no case dealing specifically with home instruction has yet reached the Supreme Court, the increased activism of the home school movement may produce a ruling in the near future (Lines, 1996). Constitutional challenges have been based on the First or Fourteenth Amendment.
In many of the home instruction cases’ parents have removed their children from school for religious reasons. These parents argue that they have a highly protected First Amendment freedom to educate their children according to their religious percepts and values.
The most recent court decisions provide consistent continued confirmation of the Yoder decision. In Howell v. State (1986), Texas’ intermediate appellate court rejected Yoder protection for parents who argued that their religious conviction was to educate their children at home (Richardson, Zirkel, 1991). In State v. Schmidt (1987), the Ohio Supreme Court held that the state’s explicit-exceptions statute, which requires that home education programs be approved by the local superintendent, did not violate the free exercise clause.
Another religious issue has surfaced when parents have challenged the constitutionality of requirements concerning the qualifications of the home teacher (Richardson, 1991). A few states including Michigan require all teachers in home school to possess a teaching certificate. This requirement in Michigan was challenged in 1980, 1986, and 1991. In Hanson v. Cushman (1980), the federal district court found the statute to be reasonable because the parents had not proven that any of their fundamental rights had been violated. In the private school case of Sheridan Road Baptist v. Department of Education (1986), other Michigan parents challenged the certification requirement as a burden on the free exercise of religion. This was rejected by the Michigan Supreme Court, regarding certification as a minimal burden that was outweighed by the State’s interest in providing proper education. In People v. DeJonge parents claimed the right to educate their children at home, as an exercise in religious freedom. The court upheld the state law ruling that the state’s interest in educated citizens outweigh the rights claimed by the parents (Fischer, 1995).
In a related Michigan case, People v. Bennett (1983), the State Supreme Court ruling involving home-school families that had been convicted of violating the compulsory education statute, was reversed from he lower courts decision. The State Supreme Court permitted religious home schooling on First Amendment grounds and curbed the power of education officials to review home schooling policies (Clark, 1994).
The other constitutional attack on compulsory attendance laws is non religious, primarily on Fourteenth Amendment due process grounds that parents have the right that is, the liberty, to educate their children as they see fit (Richardson, 1991). This right argued parents is superior to the state’s right to compel attendance and regulate education.
In Scoma v. Chicago Board of Education (1974), Blackwelder v. Safnauer (1988), and Murphy v. State (1988), the courts specifically rejected the contention that the parents had an independent, non religious, fundamental right in educating their children. In Scoma, the parents sought an injunction and declatory judgment to prevent the Chicago Board from interfering with their decision to educate their children at home. Under the Pierce and Yoder test the Illinois federal district court said the statute is reasonable and constitutional (Richardson, 1991).
Now that home schooling s allowed in all 50 states, thenext step for these parents is to incorporate their children’s’ home schooling with public school activities. One such instance is in Iowa that started the Home Instruction Program giving parents several choices relating to their child. For instance, the curriculum they will follow, the type of assistance they would like from teachers, and whether their child will attend the neighborhood school part time (dual enrollment).
This program allows parent to work with public school officials. The public school teacher meets with the home school family every two weeks (Dahm, 1996).
The most recent issue being dealt with by local school boards and state governments are the extent to which home schooled students can participate in school sports and other activities.
The issues in how far public schools can open their doors to home schoolers include science labs, music classes, and extracurricular activities, but athletics get the most attention according to the Home School Legal Defense Fund (Brockett, 1995). That is because competitive sports are the one activity families can not easily duplicate as their children reach high school age.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, after three state judges ruled against home schoolers being barred from playing on public high school teams, has initiated a one year open door trial program (Brockett, 1995).
A Pennsylvania federal court ruled the constitutional rights ofa 14 year old taught at home were not violated, when the Frazier school district refused to let him play sports because the district could not verify his grades and attendance. In a related situation the Governor of Florida vetoed legislation that would have opened extracurricular activities to home schoolers. He explained that no state law bans them from participating. This left standing a policy of the Florida High School Athletic Activities Association banning non students on the theory that they can not represent what they do not attend (Brockett, 1995).
This negative attitude of High School Athletic Associations has led parents of home schooled athletes to take their argument to court. For example, in Massachusetts, Melissa Davis
was allowed to play on Norton High School softball team even though she is home schooled (Blum, 1996). The state court judge ordered Norton to allow her to play believes she may have a chance to earn an athletic scholarship to college.
To be eligible to play athletics a home schooled athlete must apply to the association for a waiver of its initial eligibility rules, submitting documents proving what they were taught at home meet N.C.A.A. standards. Under these standards a home schooled athlete who has sufficiently high standardized test scores and proof that they took at least 13 courses that meet the associations core course standards may be automatically awarded freshman eligibility
From the recent decisions handed down by the courts, public school teachers and schools are expected to cooperate with home school educators. The hostility between the two groups has
began to disappear and the focus has returned to seeing that the students get the best education they can. If both sides of the spectrum continue to work together this can be achieved.