Jenny Lilienthal was worried about her youngest son, Josh, when he started a new school with his brother Paul in Schoharie, New York. "Things seemed fine at first, but then someone picked on him," Lilienthal says. Because of the school's zero-tolerance policy on bullying, Josh was sent to the principal, along with the perpetrators, and treated the same way. "They all admitted Josh had done nothing, not even to defend himself," she recalls. But when the incidents continued and Josh got a report card with his first-ever Fs, she knew a change was necessary. Lilienthal decided to homeschool her boys, and as a certified elementary teacher and pysch-ed major in college, she felt well equipped.
Bullying is a big reason parents choose to homeschool, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. Other factors include the desire to give religious instruction, a growing concern over the Common Core standards, and special needs or gifted children not receiving the attention they require. And homeschooling is on the rise: The U.S. Department of Education states that, between 2003 and 2012, the number of kids ages 5 to 17 who were taught at home rose 61.8 percent, while data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows about a million kids being homeschooled in 2003, but more than 1.7 million in 2012.
Parents who homeschool do everything you'd expect of teachers in a public or private institution, including giving homework, chaperoning field trips, conducting science experiments, and breaking for recess. But because they're in the minority in most communities, they're often viewed as an oddity. Neighbors may wonder if these kids are really learning or whether the parents just let them run wild. Others think the children are isolated, won't make friends, or will never be able to participate in sports.
To get the real deal, we've interviewed parents from across the nation, asking them to clear up common misconceptions as well as share the challenges and rewards they've experienced with their children. Get ready to be schooled by parents on the front lines of education: