By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/23/2004 7:59:42 PM ET 2004-09-23T23:59:42

The day starts early in Linda Knipper's Sarasota classroom.  Pencils are sharpened, books are out, eyes are focused — and "Knibbles," the dog, is under the table, at the children’s feet.

For Laura, Kayla, and Megan, the classroom is just off their kitchen.

A former teacher, Linda says traditional schools simply waste too much time and she was convinced she can do better at home.

"I could be right there with them, and I just thought there was just a richer environment there for them," says Knipper.

She's not the only parent taking a more hands-on approach.

Across the country, home-schooling book fairs and magazines now cater to families — many of them religious — who are concerned about school violence, the social scene, and the quality of education.

"A lot of them are just tired of everything that goes on in the school system," says Karen Tompkins, a Christian home school advocate.

In Florida, the number of home-school students has nearly tripled over the past ten years.  Nationally, the United States Department of Education says the number has swelled to more than a million kids. Home-school experts say it's even higher.

Oregon researcher Brian Ray, of the National Home Education Research Institute, estimates two million kids are now taught at home. 

"In the last four years, we think home schooling has grown at least 30 percent," says Ray. "Study after study, many of which I've done, have shown that home-schooled children are well above average — 15 to 30 percentile points above on standardized achievement tests."

Ray points to last year's first and second place winners of the National Spelling Bee -- both home-schooled. And now even Harvard University says it accepts home-schooled applicants.

Still, skeptics say traditional schools are better at developing social skills, conflict resolution, even test-taking — and doubt whether home-schooled kids get enough hard science.

That’s not so, say the parents, who often band together and turn to community colleges, 4H clubs, and the Internet for lesson plans and resources.

"I want them to develop a love of learning… a home-grown love of learning, to last a lifetime," says Linda Knipper.

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