Back in the ancient days when I began homeschooling (more than twenty years ago), homeschoolers were considered something of an oddity. People would point to us in the grocery store and whisper. Some brave souls would come up and ask us how we could "get away" with doing this and weren't we afraid of being arrested. That is because in 1980, homeschooling was technically illegal in thirty states in the U.S.1 When I began homeschooling in 1988, we were one of the first wave of families to begin homeschooling legally in my state. However, in the past twenty years the homeschool climate has changed considerably. Recent data suggests that homeschooling has grown at a steady rate and will continue to mushroom in the years to come.

Many people who are just now beginning to homeschool are not aware that the modern homeschool movement began as something of a cultural phenomenon. In the late 1960s, researchers estimate that the number of homeschoolers in the U.S. was between 10,000 and 15,000.2 These early homeschoolers were often considered the rebels. In Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, a paper published by the Fraser Institute, the authors state, "Although the contemporary image of homeschooling parents depicts a homogeneous, deeply religious, socially conservative sub-group of the population, back in the 1960s and 1970s, most homeschooling parents were members of the counter-cultural left, principally advocates of New Age philosophies, hippies, and homesteaders."3

By the 1980s, the homeschool landscape in the U.S. had begun to change dramatically. By 1985, an estimated 50,0004 children were being educated at home as some Christians who were frustrated by the liberal, humanistic bias in public schools began looking for alternatives in greater numbers. Though the growth of the Christian school movement in the latter half of the twentieth century answered the need for many, others were looking for options that were more affordable, more available, and more conducive to building a strong family core. Books written in the 1980s by authors such as Dr. Raymond Moore (Home Grown Kids and Better Late Than Early) brought awareness of the benefits of homeschooling both educationally and in terms of strengthening religious and family ties.

How things have changed in the past two decades. Now homeschooling (in some form) is legal in all fifty states5 and is becoming more widely accepted as an alternative form of education. During the 1990s, attitudes toward homeschooling began to shift. A Gallup poll taken in 1985 indicated that only 16% of U.S. families considered homeschooling a good idea; by 2001, that figure had escalated to 41%.6 In addition, a 1998 Newsweek poll revealed that 59% of respondents felt that homeschooled students were at least as well educated as their traditionally schooled counterparts.7

Homeschooling began to catch on quickly as the public perception caught up with reality. By 1992, researchers estimated that there were 300,000 homeschooled students8—a six-fold increase in just seven years. In the 1995-1996 school year, the U.S. Department of Education placed the number of homeschooled children at between 700,000 and 750,000.9 By 1999, that figure had risen to more than 850,000, or roughly 1.7% of the school-age population.10 Also, by this time, practicing Christians represented about 75% of American homeschoolers.11

In the twenty-first century, homeschooling has maintained steady growth. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that there were 1.1 million homeschooled students.12 The number of homeschoolers not only increased, but the rate increased as well: 2.2% of U.S. school-aged children were homeschooled in 2003, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.13 Perhaps these figures reflect a growing frustration with the public school system. According to a 2003 U.S. Census Bureau report, 7% of households with children in the public school system said that they were dissatisfied with the schools.14