Homeschool numbers growing
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
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Bellefontaine Neighbors — Weekdays in the Perry household start like those
in any other. The kids brush their teeth, dress, grab a quick breakfast.
Then, they make their way to school — at the dining room table.
Anna, 7, tries to focus on her workbook. Bekah, 5, squirms in her chair and
plays with 2-year-old Danielle, who needs a nap and starts wailing. Books
are stacked on every surface. Little posters with insects and alphabets dot
the walls, stand-ins for typical dining room decor.
"Welcome," says their mother Kim Perry, smiling amid the disorder, "to our
The Perrys are part of a growing home-school movement. In 1999, according
to federal statistics, there were 850,000 home-schooled children in the
United States. In 2003, that number rose to 1.1 million. Some estimates put
the figure today as high as 2.4 million.
"It’s certainly on the rise, there’s no doubt about it," said Brad Haines,
executive director for the Missouri-based Families for Home Education.
"Exactly how fast is up to speculation."
Before their four children were born, Kim and her husband, David, decided
they were going to home-school them. They had the most common reasons for
doing so: They wanted an alternative to the sometimes violent culture of
American public schools, and they wanted to educate their children with a
"People always ask me, ‘Why do you want to stay home with your kids?’"
Perry said. "I tell them, they’re my kids. I want to have a positive impact
on them. I want to raise them according to my values not someone else’s."
Neither Missouri nor Illinois tracks students who are educated at home; the
two states have some of the loosest regulations on home-schooling in the
A parent doesn’t have to tell authorities they’re deciding to home-school
their children, and home-schoolers want to keep it that way. Efforts in
both states to tighten the rules have been extinguished as quickly as they
In both states, home-schooling support groups have flourished and
multiplied. Membership in support groups suggests the number of
home-schooled children in the St. Louis area is 6,000 or higher.
"I get calls from people all the time, from people who want to pull their
kids out of public schools," said Perry, who is on the board of an
80-member home-school group. "We’ve been growing by a third every year."
In both Illinois and Missouri, parents who home-school their children, in
effect, set up a private school, usually with the mother as teacher and
father as principal. Neither needs any particular academic qualifications.
There are lesson plans they can follow, and bookstores cater to home-school
For many families, though, the most important resource has become the
Internet, which has linked even isolated households and helped support
groups organize field trips, athletic events or classes.
"It’s certainly made it a whole lot easier," said Wayne Walker, minister of
the Affton Church of Christ, who home-schools his two children. "You can
find like-minded people, more information."
Walker sends a 20-plus-page weekly e-mail with a list of available classes
and activities to a host of home-schoolers every week. Like many
home-schooled children, his participate in many activities. "It’s really
provided an opportunity for our children to meet friends," Walker said.
Home-schoolers say they feel more connected to a community.
"We’ve chosen to be at home, but if we wanted to, there are so many
classes, we could be gone all day, every day," Perry said.
Education authorities say they worry that, because home-schooled students
aren’t required to take statewide achievement tests in many states,
including Missouri and Illinois, students may not meet expectations.
Science class in a home-school household, for example, might veer from
teaching evolutionary theory. A science course might instead have a name
like "God’s Design for Heaven & Earth," as it does in the Perry household.
Home-schoolers say the diplomas they confer on their children are evidence
of a solid education. So are the transcripts they submit to colleges.
Increasingly colleges say they agree.
"They were so used to dealing with traditional transcripts and grades,"
said Ian Slatter, of the Home School Legal Defense Association. "Now the
overwhelming majority of colleges have home-school admissions policies or a
home-school admissions officer."
The University of Missouri and the University of Illinois have learned how
to evaluate home-schoolers, though they receive relatively few applications
"We’re trying to do more to reach out to them," said Barbara Rupp, director
of admissions at the University of Missouri. "I see a big difference in the
level of sophistication of transcripts. But, yeah. Mom and Dad are
Regina Morin, director of admissions at Columbia College, says the school
is seeing more home-schoolers apply each year.
"They tend to be better than their public school counterparts," she said.
"They score above average on tests, they’re more independent, they’re often
a grade ahead."
"Traditionally colleges can be afraid of them," Morin added. "They don’t
know how to assess them."
The home-school community concedes that not all kids emerge college-ready
and that some parents aren’t up to the task.
"This is not an escape," Haines said. "It’s a choice you make and stick
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