Compulsory attendance laws were passed in Massachusetts in 1852, after which, by 1918, all states passed laws requiring children to attend school. Some parents may find it interesting to know that the laws that govern our education system are modeled after Prussia.
com·pul·so·ry [kəmˈpəlsərē] adj 1. necessary: required by law or an authority attendance at the lecture is compulsory 2. forced: caused by force, or using force to make somebody do something
In the beginning, the public schools' greatest advocates were Socialist, Unitarianism, or even Communist. And in many cases, these groups would work together while trying to promote their own agenda. Basically, a few influential people were able to promote their idea's which included compulsory attendance. Americans quickly rejected communism, but that did not stop them from working behind the scenes. As a result, accused Communist teachers and professors were being uprooted from their jobs in public and private education systems in the early 1900s.
Nevertheless, at the time, public school advocates viewed private schools as the enemy because they provided an alternative, eliminating total control or total dependency upon the public school system. Not surprisingly, a similar attitude was exhibited toward homeschool families at the beginning of the homeschool movement.
Back then, Horace Mann, secretary of the nation's first state board of education, even went as far as writing a letter to the private school community, charging them for lack of patriotism. In other words, he was trying to make parents feel guilty for not supporting their country.
In comparison, at the beginning of the homeschool movement, parents were facing charges, and in many cases, imprisoned, according to compulsory attendance laws in their state.
Back then, what began as an attempt to influence the cooperation from the private schools' community eventually led to the judicial system's use. In 1925, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of private schools, Pierce versus the Society of Sisters, in that the state could not compel children to attend the public schools; therefore, children could attend private schools.
Similarly, the homeschool movement led to the use of the judicial system. From which, Home School Legal Defense Association was founded in 1983. Their mission was and still is to defend and advance the constitutional rights of parents and protect family freedoms.
In light of compulsory attendance laws, parents now have an alternative to public or private school education.
Though compulsory attendance applies nationwide, it's managed by individual states rather than the federal government. Which is the reason the laws are similar yet different from state to state. Beginning in 1794, with New York State leading the way, eventually, every state would incorporate a department of education that would oversee the laws concerning the handling of finances, personnel, compulsory attendance, and in most cases, curriculum.
With each state responsible for themselves, they would delegate authority over the education down to the district level. This is the reason why homeschooling gets treated differently from district to district.
Consider this, in the days of Horace Mann, home schools and private schools were prevalent. Horace Mann and the public school of his time had no control and very little influence over how parents chose to educate their children. The public school system was in its earliest stages. Almost 150 years later, public schools are prevalent, and the goal is that parents will have practically no control or influence over how they choose to educate their children.
Think of where we would be today if it were not for homeschooling.