History of Homeschooling

when did education become compulsory in the us

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If you’re homeschooling (or thinking about homeschooling), you may be wondering about the history of homeschooling. How did homeschooling get started? Why was homeschooling illegal? When did homeschooling become legal (again)?

To understand where homeschooling is today, you must first take a look back at homeschool history.

History of Homeschooling Timeline

When Did Education Become Compulsory in the US?

Homeschooling was actually the norm in early America, going as far back as colonial times when people came over on the Mayflower. Then, it was standard to school your children at home while completing all the other homesteading chores.

It wasn’t until 1837 when Massachusetts opened its first public school that the move toward compulsory education started. Compulsory education means that education is required by law for  children. During this time, attendance in a school became required for all Massachusetts school aged children.


According to the Georgia Home Education Association (GHEA), the first public school created the “first statewide school system in which schools were centralized, state controlled, and financed by property taxes” and “was the beginning of state-controlled secular education and the first significant loss of freedom for individuals and families in Massachusetts and, consequently, the entire country.”

By 1918, all states enacted compulsory education, requiring children to attend school, and making homeschooling a crime in all states.

homeschooling 70s

Why was homeschooling illegal in the 1970s?

Jump forward a few decades to the liberating 1960s and 70s when homeschooling started to gain a widespread interest again. However, at that time removing children from public schools to homeschool was illegal. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), school officials called the process of removing a child from a public school to a home school “criminal truancy.”

During this time, when parents removed a child to homeschool, the traditional schools recorded the amount of time that children were out of the school as unexcused absences instead of a withdrawal from the school. This forced parents who wanted to homeschool to take an illegal underground approach. Some parents started the homeschool process before children were ever enrolled in the traditional school system so that no public school record of the kids existed. Some families even went as far as to move to a new community where their children were never enrolled in that local school system. Unbelievably, some parents were still fined or even served jail time for simply wanting to teach their children at home.


When did homeschooling become legal?

Right before this time, Nevada and Utah had started to allow homeschooling. Nevada passed homeschooling legislation in 1956, followed closely by Utah in 1957. It wasn’t until 24 years later in the 1980s, that other states followed. By 1989, Michigan, North Dakota, and Iowa were the only three states that still considered homeschooling illegal. By 1993, all 50 states had enacted legislation to make homeschooling legal.

Today, homeschooling legal requirements vary based on the state where you live, but it is legal to homeschool in all 50 states.

If you live in another country, you will need to check the homeschooling laws for that country.

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Part of this post was excerpted from It’s Homeschooling, Not Solitary Confinement: Busting the Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation About Homeschooling.

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