Throwback Thursday: Home schooling’s quest for acceptance

There’s a reason school district policies requiring home school parents to show proof of gaurdianship, or more details about their reading materials, or other information that isn’t required by state law can draw dozens of parents to school board meetings.

It’s worth recalling the history recounted in this 1997 article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which looked back at what was then 12 years of home schooling in the state.

Not long ago, home schooling was practiced on the fringes of the educational world, in secret, in defiance. Until 1985, home schooling had no legal status in Florida. Those few parents who were determined to do it could operate a “private” school, or just keep quiet and hope their neighbors didn’t turn them in to the truant officer.

“It was drastic, I can tell you,” said Jeannie Hochstettler of West Palm Beach, one of Palm Beach County’s pioneer home-schoolers. “We were fearful of authority. You never knew who would call you in. We never let our children outside before 2 p.m. because people would say, “Why are your kids not in school?”’

Twelve years later, the article noted, home education was becoming more accepted.

It helped that a 13-year-old home-schooled girl from Brooklyn won the National Spelling Bee in May. A Fort Lauderdale woman who was home-schooled was named 1997 Florida College Student of the Year, another first.

Even the speaker of the Florida House home-schools his six children. Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties rank first, second and sixth in the state in numbers of home-schooled children. Florida has the fourth-largest number of home-schoolers, behind Texas, California and Ohio.

While still rare – about one percent of students in Florida – home schooling has achieved a level of respectability its pioneers barely dreamed of.

This week, when home-school parents flooded an Alachua County school board meeting, they pushed back against stereotypes. Several commented on a passage from the district’s existing policy, also flagged by the Gainesville Sunthat, to them, seemed to recall that earlier era, before home education was a accepted practice.

The Board encourages the enrollment of all school-age children resident in this District in public schools or in registered parochial or private schools so that they may enjoy the benefits of a well-planned educational program and the socialization possible in a group environment.

Now, home schooling has reached its 30th anniversary in Florida, and has grown to include about three percent of the state’s students. That growth has meant home school families have more resources available, more parents with whom they can share ideas, and more fellow students to offer their children opportunities for “socialization.”

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)