March 8, 2004

A Free Market in Education

The London Economist recently 'discovered' homeschooling, in part, because "the market for teaching materials and supplies for homeschoolers is worth at least $850 million a year." As the market for homeschooling materials approaches one billion dollars, even the most skeptical observers are forced to admit that something significant is happening here in America.

Homeschoolers provide a free market in educational goods and services, unlike the vast majority of other K-12 education in America. A homeschool parent can walk into a curriculum fair, examine a new product, make a decision, pull out the checkbook, and walk home with a whole new way of teaching. By contrast, children in traditional classrooms cannot obtain a new textbook without weeks, months, or even years of committee meetings, memos, and bureaucratic red tape. Bold and innovative approaches to education are flourishing within the homeschool community, while they are suffocated in other schools.

Much of the creativity in a homeschool market comes from homeschoolers themselves, who have set out to "build a better mousetrap" for their own families and for others. Many of the vendors at a homeschool convention are other homeschoolers. These small business owners are motivated as much by love for education and children as they are for money, but they are also learning valuable lessons about business and economics.

One homeschool family started a homeschool retail business in 1994, and spent the last 10 years learning how to successfully serve other families that teach their own children at home. Nathan and Lindley Rachal have decided to take what they learned as homeschool entrepreneurs to serve other homeschool businesses. They have founded the homeschool books and business association, with a trade journal, "The Connection," and a website at www.hsbba.com. Their mission is to make sure that other homeschool families don't have to "reinvent the wheel" as they step out to bring new products to market.

Free minds and free markets have made America great, and homeschoolers are well on their way to establishing a lasting tradition of entrepreneurship in education. As more families choose homeschooling and more homeschoolers serve this market, the "Economist" story will not be the last on homeschool capitalism. Next stop, Wall Street Journal?