More parents are at home with homeschooling

Shirley Brown of Garden City, Mich., is an accidental homeschooler.

She has gone from homeschooling one child part time to teaching Jay, 16, Shawna, 12, and Justin, 14, all of their courses at home. It was not a foreseen journey.

Her oldest son "was advanced in math in fifth grade but having trouble," Brown said.

"Things weren't being properly explained. We were frustrated. ...They just don't have enough time to give to the students in schools. There are so many students in the school and only one teacher."

Brown is part of a growing number of parents who have turned to homeschooling after more traditional education paths have presented challenges.

"Our research shows that from about a decade ago until now, homeschooling has roughly doubled," said Brian Ray, president of the nonprofit National Home Education Research Institute.

Families turn to homeschooling for diverse reasons, Ray said.

"They want customized education, they want more time together, they want strong family ties and they want guided social interactions. Many also see it as their job to pass on social values, not the schools," said Ray, who estimated that the number of homeschooled children is growing 7 percent annually.

The increase in homeschooled students has given rise to two major things: more educational resources for homeschoolers and more support for their parents.

Several publishers, museums, parks and communities are capitalizing on the need for homeschooling curricula and programs. And parent-formed support groups that provide social interaction and opportunities for shared learning for homeschooled children are sprouting up in diverse communities.

Heidi Pair of Milford, Mich., uses many different curricula for her two children, Jordyn, 13, and Carter, 11. She enrolled them in online classes conducted through chat rooms, e-mail and sometimes through a virtual, video classroom with homeschooled kids from across the country.

"The online is great because you don't have to worry about a younger student being with an older student. They just work at their level, if you get a teacher who's willing," Pair said.

Pair leads a support/enrichment group for 70 families in the Milford area called Schoolers at Home, Achievement, Recreation and Encouragement, which brings in teachers to lead classes on various subjects. They use a room at a church as a classroom.

"I don't want her to go to college and mom has been her only teacher," Pair said.

Colleges are seeing a rising number of homeschoolers, too.

Jim Cotter, director of admissions at Michigan State University, processes the applications from homeschooled students.

It's a small pool — for 2009-10, there were 32 applications from students who had been homeschooled out of nearly 28,000. But 25 years ago, Cotter said MSU had only one or two applications a year from homeschoolers.

The homeschooled students that Cotter said he sees these days "tend to be very accomplished academically."

A report in the summer 2010 edition of the Journal of College Admission showed that homeschooled students had higher ACT scores, GPAs and graduation rates when compared with traditionally educated peers.

Cotter said that it might be due to the homeschooling mastery philosophy — with time and autonomy, students can keep at a subject or topic until they fully grasp it.

Although most of the past home-school applicants have typically used a religious curriculum, Cotter said, the recent applicant pool of homeschoolers is split between religious and secular backgrounds.