The Seduction of
by Chris Cardiff
Do the public school authorities feel
threatened by homeschooling? Judging by their efforts to lure homeschooling
families into dependence on local school districts, the answer is
For the last several years, homeschooling
has been the fastest growing educational alternative in the country.
Estimates of its growth rate typically range from 15-25% annually.
Homeschoolers are notoriously difficult to count, however, the National
Homeschooling Research Institute believes that currently 1.2 million
children homeschool today. While this constitutes only about 2%
of all school age children, its more than 20% of those outside
the government educational system. And, with a 20% annual growth
rate, another quarter million children will join the homeschooling
movement this year. The sheer number of homeschoolers represent
a distinct threat to the hegemony of the government school monopoly.
Qualitatively, the academic success of homeschoolers, measured by
standardized test scores and recruitment by colleges , debunk
the myth that parents need to hire credentialed experts to force
children to learn.
Homeschooling also refutes the "more
money equals better education" mantra of teacher unions. The
average homeschooling family spends approximately 10% of the per
pupil costs associated with government schools  in achieving
these academic results. Multiplied by the number of homeschoolers,
even these modest amounts add up to a sizeable market attracting
numerous educational entrepreneurs.
Besides challenging the legitimacy
of government schools, homeschoolers also pose a more direct economic
threat. Funding for government schools is based on attendance, with
a national average of almost $6,000 per student . Homeschooled
children represent over seven billion dollars out of reach of local
government schools and, at its current growth rate, each year more
than another billion dollars slips away.
Politically, homeschoolers are a force
to be reckoned with when their rights are endangered. The most highly
publicized and effective example of their growing political clout
occurred in 1994 when the House of Representatives inserted language
into an educational appropriations bill that would have required
all teachers to be credentialed. Homeschoolers perceived this provision
as a threat to their autonomy and overwhelmed phone and fax lines
to their representatives until the credentialing language was removed
by a 424-1 vote. Home schooling's economic and political impact
is keenly felt by teacher unions, educational bureaucrats, ideological
indoctrinators and other beneficiaries of todays system. What
will happen when the growing number of homeschooling families withdraw
their political support for the enormous taxes required to fund
todays $300 billion government system?
To combat these threats, defenders
of the status quo are fighting back with all the legal, legislative,
and economic weapons at their disposal. The most insidious of these
tactics is the systematic undermining and co-opting of the homeschooling
movement by establishing government homeschooling programs. Government
homeschooling programs set seductive lures before families by providing
"free" resources, teachers, extracurricular activities,
facilities, and even cash reimbursement.
When enough families have voluntarily
returned to the government system, it will be a relatively straightforward
matter to recapture the rest by imposing mandatory homeschooling
oversight regulations. Will this seduction succeed in eliminating
independent homeschoolers and derailing the growing free market
in education? Economics and the history of private schools versus
government schools provide ample lessons on what to expect.
The Birth of a Free Market in Education
The term "homeschooling"
is a bit of a misnomer. To many people, the word conjures up a vision
of mom instructing her kids around the kitchen table - a myth perpetuated
by the media who invariably demand this particular image to accompany
The reality is far different. While
instruction around the kitchen table does indeed occur in most homeschooling
families, the flexibility and range of homeschooling encourages
an enormous variety of alternative educational models. These models
range from child-led, interest-based learning (unschooling) to the
traditional, classroom model with professional teachers. They include
distance learning, cooperative teaching arrangements between parents,
commercial learning centers, and subject specific tutors. Many young
teenagers routinely take junior college or university courses. Others
participate in the revival of apprenticing.
The homeschooling boom has not gone
unnoticed by educational entrepreneurs. Homeschooling conferences
attract huge numbers of vendors catering to the hundreds (and in
some cases, thousands) of families attending. Traditional curriculum
vendors have repackaged their wares specifically for the homeschooling
market. Homeschooling magazines and newsletters flourish while increasing
in number. Organizations providing paid support (curriculum counseling,
bureaucratic paperwork assistance, legal support) for homeschooling
families continue to spring up.
Supplementing these numerous commercial
ventures and, in most cases, preceding
them, are a multitude of local support
groups that arose spontaneously to help
meet the needs of new and existing
homeschooling families. Much of the power of
the homeschooling movement comes from
these groups where families gather to meet
the social and academic needs of their
children. These voluntary groups create
the environment for low-cost/no-cost
academic solutions, such as
- cooperative teaching, which leverages
the existing talents and interests of parents;
- information sharing between parents
about what works and what doesnt for different learning
- renting community rooms (or homes)
for group activities and classes
- hiring professional teachers by
the hour (e.g., our science teacher is paid $75/hour, which breaks
down to $5/child);
- numerous field trips for hands-on
Homeschooling support groups also provide
all of the social activities found in traditional schools. One group,
All Ways Learning in San Jose, is typical of the depth of activities
provided by voluntary support groups once a critical mass of families
is involved. The group meets twice weekly, once at a local park
and once in a rented community room. Volunteer families organize
the monthly newsletter, year book, yearly "school" pictures,
monthly "PTA" meetings (aka, "Parents Night
Out"), holiday parties, dances, and choir. In addition, a homeschooling
sports league in the area sponsors baseball, basketball, and soccer
for several hundred homeschooled children. Homeschooling, with its
varied commercial and volunteer ventures, is a microcosm of what
a true free market in education could look like. Parents and children
working together, mixing and matching, tailoring the educational
style to what works best for their family. Families spending their
educational dollars as they choose, with educational entrepreneurs
creating a wide-ranging marketplace of goods and services. Its
not just mom and the kids around the kitchen table - its a
new educational model.
If You Cant Beat Em,
Stakeholders in government schools
have a vested interest in strangling this nascent free market in
education. Early efforts to stamp out homeschooling were fought
in the courts and, while homeschoolers have for the most part been
successful in this arena, the threat of legal prosecution is still
a favorite weapon of intimidation wielded against homeschooling
families. However, for the most part, the days when homeschoolers
were considered outlaws are behind us. Homeschooling victories in
the legal system forced opponents to use different means to control
homeschooling. Moving to the legislative arena, some states imposed
mandatory oversight by local school district officials requiring
curriculum approval and quarterly evaluation. Other states imposed
mandatory testing with a childs failure resulting in a return
to a government school (note, however, the lack of a reciprocal
clause forcing government schooled students who fail the test to
These coercive attempts to control
homeschooling actually pale in significance compared to the more
subtle and dangerous tactic some states use to recapture homeschooling
families - the inauguration of government homeschooling programs.
Once few in number, these programs are now widespread in states
that allow them.
Early programs in California offered
homeschoolers a straightforward $1,000 bribe to participate. To
collect, homeschoolers merely had to submit receipts to the district
for any educational activities or materials. It was an economic
win-win situation, as the district retained the remaining $3,000
in per pupil funding from the state.
Programs changed over time as the state
gradually imposed more restrictions on homeschoolers. At first,
restrictions took the form of decreasing the amount available for
reimbursement and sharply limiting reimbursable items. At the same
time, more curriculum resources and teachers were made available.
Now, instead of having the freedom to spend money from the state
on educational materials and experiences of their own choosing,
families are only reimbursed for the same consumable materials (pencils,
crayons) already offered by the district. However, despite these
restrictions, these programs still provide significant economic
incentives for both homeschoolers and school districts. For homeschooling
families, they get access to a professional teacher, all the district
resources, and extracurricular activities like sports and band -
all of it "free". With incentives like these, its
not surprising that many homeschoolers have rushed back to the same
government system they once fled and, in many cases, are demanding
their "rights" to these activities. This phenomenon is
common enough that its attracted national media attention.
 For school districts, the advantages are even greater. Districts
receive full pupil funding for only spending an hour a week with
a student . This is an enormous profit margin over full-time
students, a virtual cash cow for districts. Districts respond to
this incentive the way any profit-seeking enterprise would: aggressive
recruiting of new customers (even stealing from other districts)
, advertising their programs, conducting workshops on homeschooling
, and expanding into new markets (e.g., high school homeschooling
Crowding Out Private Educational
The damage done to the independent
homeschooling movement extends beyond offering financial and other
resources to families to seduce them into government programs. The
spirit of volunteerism that suffuses homeschooling support groups
and makes possible low-cost cooperative learning opportunities also
is undermined by government competition. Parents who offer their
time and talents voluntarily in support group situations have been
actively recruited by government homeschooling programs with employment
opportunities at $20/hour. Its a straightforward economic
calculation for most parents to make and just one more step in the
seduction of homeschoolers. The end result is government programs
siphoning the creative leadership of the private homeschooling sector.
Inevitably, there are some who follow their leaders back into the
system. Homeschooling businesses are also undercut. Private Independent
Study Programs (ISPs) typically provide a range of services to homeschooling
families, including curriculum counseling, specialized testing,
record-keeping, and other educational resources. It is increasingly
difficult for them to compete against equivalent services offered
for "free" by the state.
The burgeoning charter school movement
provides one more example of the state crowding out private educational
enterprises. Similar to government homeschooling programs, new charter
schools in California aggressively recruit homeschoolers using mass
marketing tactics: placing ads in homeschooling publications, cold-calling
during the dinner hour, and email spamming. Motivated by the same
low overhead per pupil funding for homeschoolers, their entrepreneurship
is admirable, but their goal of recapturing homeschooling families
for a government funded and chartered program is not. The most aggressive
charter schools use another traditional business technique to achieve
rapid growth - merger and acquisition. Backed by state funds , they
can afford to make generous buyout offers to private ISPs. Private
ISP owners in California charge between $100-$400 per student. Charter
schools can afford to hire ISP owners as "administrators"
and pay them $1,000 per student, while still retaining 75% of the
state funding for charter school "overhead." Everybody
wins here as the homeschooling families no longer incur the cost
of the private ISP.
Slamming the Door on an Educational
Having established a viable government
alternative to the private sector and independent homeschooling,
the governments next step is logical - outlaw or regulate
independent homeschooling out of existence. Not only is it logical,
it follows historical precedent.
This is the same pattern used in the
1800s to virtually eliminate the large private education system
that predominated at the time. First, fund it with compulsory taxes
with attendance voluntary. Once private sector competition is driven
largely out of the market, make attendance compulsory as well.
The same process is underway with homeschooling today and is at
various stages in different states. With guaranteed funding from
taxpayers, the government system can afford to spend whatever it
takes to undercut private homeschooling alternatives.
Not coincidentally, the National Education
Association (NEA) has already formulated the game plan for state
control of all homeschooling. For the last several years during
their biannual conventions, the NEA has passed formal homeschooling
resolutions demanding that:
- Teachers of home instruction programs
should meet state certification requirements.
- Authorized state or local permission
should be required annually for home study.
- Home study should be monitored by
local school administrative personnel knowledgeable about excellence
in the teaching-learning environment.
- Students should participate in state
or locally mandated testing programs in suitable settings and
in other assessments conducted by the school district.
- Students should have the option
of attending public school for part-time instruction. They should
be counted in the average daily membership (ADM) without peroration
[in other words, full per-pupil funding with minimal attendance
and overhead]. 
With the infrastructure already in
place to support homeschooling within the government system, it
would take only a small legislative tweak to make these programs
compulsory. As mentioned earlier, some states have already implemented
some of these regulations - homeschoolers in Pennsylvania and Hawaii,
for example, are subject to annual approval and monitoring by government
Other states arent waiting for
legislative tweaks and are trying to outlaw independent homeschooling
directly. At one time, the California Department Of Education maintained
a benign and even marginally helpful attitude towards homeschooling.
Today, with no legislative changes to the education codes, the California
DOE informs prospective homeschoolers that the only legal way to
homeschool is through their government programs or with a credentialed
teacher. This is misinformation at best, as even a casual reading
of the pertinent education codes demonstrates. 
Enforcing these policies is all too
easy with our existing truancy laws and is exacerbated with the
new wave of daytime curfew laws. In California, truancy laws are
enforced by Student Attendance Review Boards (SARBs). SARB proceedings
are arbitrary with little resemblance to due process. Recently armed
by the California legislature with the power to subpoena parents,
at least one SARB had parents arrested for failure to appear (they
were not homeschooling parents). 
While SARB actions against homeschooling
families are still few in California, the majority of children stopped
by police because of daytime curfew ordinances are predominantly
homeschoolers. These ordinances typically allow police officers
to write citations forcing parents to appear before a court and
pay stiff fines for repeated violations. The combination of SARBs
with subpoena powers and daytime curfew ordinances will have the
proverbial "chilling effect" on independent homeschoolers,
forcing them underground or into the government system.
A Clarion Call for Homeschooling
While educational statists will never
be able to put the homeschooling genie back in the bottle, theyve
made great strides in coaxing him to do their bidding. Many homeschooling
activists recognize the dangers and are sounding a clarion call
to resist the seductions of state funded "freebies" and
the inevitable strings attached to them.
Last years National Homeschooling
Roundtable Conference, titled "Freedom In Education",
held multiple workshops debating the merits and dangers of government
funded homeschooling programs. Organizations like the California
Homeschool Network have already taken a stand. Their recently issued
Declaration of Homeschool Independence reads in part:
"The Board of Trustees of the
California Homeschool Network holds freedom to be essential to the
fulfillment of homeschoolings promise. We therefore dedicate
our resources and services toward the protection and promotion of
homeschooling independent of government support and intervention.
This policy represents a deliberated response to the encroachments
on family independence and the security of homeschooling rights
posed by the growth of government funded and controlled home-based
Educational efforts like these are
needed to avoid following the same path of private schooling in
the 1800s which ceded 90% of the educational market to the government.
Homeschooling families need to understand that the real cost of
the "free" homeschooling resources provided by the government
is, ultimately and inevitably, their freedom.
Chris Cardiff is a homeschooling father
of three, President of the California Homeschool Network, and a
director of software engineering at Netscape Communications Corp.
Copyright 1998, Chris Cardiff
Please contact Chris Cardiff for permission
to reprint. This article originally appeared in the March, 1998
issue of The Freeman, Ideas on Liberty, the monthly journal of the
Foundation for Economic Education.
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Colleges That Admit Homeschoolers FAQ, October 7, 1997, http://learninfreedom.org/colleges_4_hmsc.html.
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"Comeuppance", Forbes, February 13, 1995, p. 121. "Inflation
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the 1984 resolutions, the substance of the resolutions has been
re-approved at subsequent conventions.
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Our Children, (Vineburg: California Homeschool Network, 1996).
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Get Schooled in Embarrassment; Attendance Up", Fresno Bee,
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