An Empirical Study on Factors Influencing Parents’ School Choice

Paul M. Ajuwon, Ph.D. and Brenda K. Bradshaw

Introduction

Parent-directed initiatives at educating their children at home have engaged the attention of families and educators since the 1980s. Americans are embracing homeschooling over public and private schooling in a bid to preserve their children’s religious, cultural, and family values.  A report conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that there was an increase in homeschooled students in the United States from 850,000 students in the spring of 1999 (1.7 percent of the total student population) to 1.1 million students in the spring of 2003 (2.2 percent of the total student population) to 1.5 million students in the spring of 2007 (2.9 percent of the total student population).1 In another study, the Oregon-based National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) estimated that 1.9 to 2.4 million children were home schooled during 2005-2006.2 Thus, in various communities across the country, home schooling has become a recognized option for parents who wish to provide for their children a quality education, religious training or social environment that they believe is nonexistent in public or private schools.

Early in a child’s life, most parents become preoccupied with the pervasive concern of the type of school choice for the child. Outcomes of empirical studies point to parent choice of home schooling as a viable alternative for shaping children into adults that parents would like them to become. These parents, like early proponents of home education, have argued that home education should not be seen as an attempt to bring the formal school construct into the home. Rather, they perceive home schooling as a natural, experiential feature of life that occurs as the members of the household are involved with one another in daily living and functioning.

Several studies have documented the popularity of home schooling in the United States.3 Despite its widespread appeal in different communities, home schooling has been a controversial and thought-provoking topic. Critics posit that home schooling hinders children from developing social relationships with peers as are generally noticeable in typical public or private schools.   However, some parents believe home schooling does not deter social relationships, and maintain that the many advantages of home schooling far outweigh any skepticism that exists with socialization. These proponents maintain that home schoolers today have a variety of activities and opportunities for their children and families including, but not limited to: sports, band, geography bees, debate, spontaneous neighborhood games, co-ops, scouts, and religious activities. Further, the amount and diversity of extracurricular offerings has grown immensely as more public schools continue to accommodate the social and recreational needs of home schooling families within their boundaries. Thus, for some, such extracurricular activities enable home schoolers to socialize with other children.4 In the assessment of one parent who practices home schooling: “The children develop friendships and function like a community because they spend so much time together and are forced to work on their differences.”5

Home schoolers today are found in various religious, racial, ethnic and economic groups, with the typical American home schooling parents being white, married, with three or more children, and a stay-at-home mother. Perhaps, the question that should be posed at this juncture is: Why do more and more parents choose home schooling for their children?  There are multiple reasons why parents gravitate toward home schooling. Some of the most prevalent reasons cited in the literature include: to propagate religious beliefs,6 to instill character and morality in children,7 to enhance quality of education, especially at elementary and secondary levels,8 to get away from an impoverished school environment,9 and to sustain family values.10 By far, religion is generally cited as one of the top reasons for home schooling children.11