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Numbers of home-schooled children growing.

An outgrowth of the 1960's altemative school movement, called home-schooling, is on the upswing in the United States, and a Penn State researcher is trying to piece together a snapshot of the movement for which states often require little record-keeping.

"Until the 1980's, most of the students kept out of regular schools to be home-schooled were breaking state laws," says JoAnn C. Vender, graduate student in geography.

"In research on the geography of education, there are very few studies on home schooling because the data are hard to pin down. Homeschoolers represent a significant, but understudied segment of the education universe--estimated at about 1.1 million students, about 20 percent of the privately-schooled population in the United States."

Fundamentalist Christians and other religious groups who adopted the practice with vigor in the 1980's fueled the trend, pushing states to legalize the practice in the 1980's and 1990's.

A typical family involved in home-schooling is Caucasian, middle-class, and conservative Protestant, with more than two children. The mother is primarily responsible for the children's lessons. However, many home-schoolers do not fit this demographic.

Home-schoolers reflect the whole spectrum of American society. They can be divided into two broad groups: (1)those who do so primarily for religious reasons (termed "believers" by sociologist Mitchell Stevens) and (2) those who do so for ideological, social, or simply practical purposes (termed "inclusive"). In many cases, believers would enroll their children in faith-based schools if they existed in their locations, but many families live in rural areas where private schools are limited or nonexistent.

Ms. Vender's work looks at the spatial patterns of home-schooling, with case studies of four states representing varying levels at which states regulate the practice:

* Ten states have no reporting requirements; they are considered the most home-school friendly.

* Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., are considered "low-regulation" states. Parents are required to notify the state or district of their intent to home-school.

* Sixteen states are considered "moderate-regulation" states. They require registration and test scores or evaluation of progress.

* Eleven states are considered "high-regulation" states. They require notification, testing, and additional measures, such as evaluation by a state-approved educator.

"Level of regulation does not necessarily correlate with reporting and availability of data. Unfortunately, only 18 states have readily available data on home-schooling."

Ms. Vender says, "I am looking first at Michigan, Delaware, Florida, and Pennsylvania." Before 1996, Michigan home-schoolers had to register, but they are no longer required to do so. But many do continue to report, so data are still available."

The number of home-schoolers in Michigan peaked in 1995-1996, the last years of required reporting. In all likelihood, the numbers have grown, but many of the families have chosen not to report their activities.

Delaware is a low-regulation state that tracks home-schoolers by school district of residence, sex, grade, and race. The ranks of homeschoolers have grown from 471 students in 1991-1992 to 2,418 in 2004-2005. Delaware also categorizes home-schoolers as multifamily (47 percent), single-family (53 percent) and public schooled (only seven students in 2004-2005). The racial makeup of the students is 89 percent Caucasian, 6 percent African-American, 2 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent Asian.

Florida is a moderate-regulation state that collects and reports data by district of residence, race, sex, and age group. Home-schooling in Florida increased by 27 percent from 1999 to 2003, the last year for which data are available.

"Florida home-schoolers made up 1.6 percent of students in 1999 and 1.8 percent in 2003 which is fairly consistent with the national averages," says Ms. Vender.

The high-regulation state studied is Pennsylvania. Enrollment in home-schooling increased from 11,027 in 1993 to 24,415 in 2002. In 1993, only 0.5 percent of students were home-schooled; by 2002, 1.2 percent were being home-schooled.

"It is likely that more five- to seven-year olds are actually being home-schooled than the numbers reflect," she says. "Pennsylvania law does not require students to be enrolled until age eight."

The distribution of home-schooled students in Pennsylvania generally corresponds with population patterns in the state, however, the highest concentration of home-schoolers occurs in Lancaster, Berks, and York counties, all having large Amish and Mennonite populations.

She is also evaluating the relationships that home-schoolers have with their school districts. In Pennsylvania, that varies by school district: 59 districts allow home-schoolers to participate only in academic activities, 81 allow only extracurricular activities, 183 allow both academic and extra-curricular activities, and 178 do not allow any interaction at all.

In addition to examining the geography of home-schooling, Ms. Vender is also interested in understanding geography as a subject studied by home-schoolers.

"We know that home-schoolers are interested and involved in geography. Many home-schoolers are committed integrators, connecting content and activities to everyday life wherever possible, so geography is an ideal vehicle for learning. Home-schoolers in fourth through eighth grade are incredibly well represented in the National Geographic Bee. They represent about 2 percent of the students who return qualifying tests-again corresponding to national estimates of the home-school population--but more than 50 percent of these home-schoolers place in the top 100 students in their states."
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2004
Words:851
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