Although home schooling had been practiced for generations in the United States, it was largely illegal during most of the 20th cent., but since the 1970s it has become one of the most rapidly growing educational trends in the nation. The contemporary movement initially arose mainly among Protestant conservatives who wished to provide their children with religious and moral instruction forbidden in public settings. By the mid-1980s there were roughly 50,000 home-schooled children in the United States, and by 2000 an estimated 1.5 million were being educated at home. The movement has largely been an American phenomenon. In Europe, home schooling is usually illegal or tightly restricted. The largest European home education community is in Great Britain, where by 2000 approximately 10,000 children were being home-schooled. At the beginning of the 21st cent. a majority of the parents engaged in home schooling continued to be motivated by religious beliefs. The home school movement has, however, always had other components, and it encompasses a broad cross-section of Americans, both religious (in a wide variety of faiths) and secular.
During the late 20th cent. the fastest-growing approach to home schooling was generally called "unschooling." In this system, which arose largely from educator John Holt's books How Children Fail (1964) and How Children Learn (1967), teaching responds to an individual child's talents and interests rather than adhering to a conventional curriculum. Whatever their manner of practice, proponents of home schooling cite figures showing that children who learn at home generally score higher on standardized tests than their traditionally schooled contemporaries. Some critics nonetheless question the real quality of such education, and also argue that it isolates children, depriving them of necessary social interactions and inhibiting collaborative and cooperative skills.
In the United States, home schooling has been legal in all 50 states since 1993, with regulatory laws and performance-tracking procedures differing widely from state to state. Some home school opponents feel that many state laws are too lenient, permitting teaching by parents who are inept or inattentive. The Home School Legal Defense Association, founded in 1983, provides information to parents and others on home schooling and its regulations; it also actively opposes the creation of nationalized standards for home schooling. Most states also have a number of local home schooling organizations. Publishers, responding what is now a mainstream movement, are producing a variety of materials geared toward home schoolers, and most colleges and universities now have developed criteria whereby they can admit the home-schooled.
See study by M. L. Stevens (2001).