Prior to March 1, 2020, statistics indicated homeschooling registration numbers were beginning to tick predictably upward. Mid-March brought on COVID-19 pandemic-related movement to “school at home” or homeschooling based on massive school shutdowns mandated in an attempt to control the virus before it spun out of control. Suddenly, pretty much all K to 12 aged school children in the U.S. were confined to in-home classrooms, parents were increasingly being assigned to work from home, and the great homeschooling experiment was in full swing.
The question during the apparent August-September 2021 pandemic wind-down has become – will the surge in homeschooling numbers “stick” and how many U.S. students are now officially registered as home schoolers?
NATIONAL CENSUS BUREAU (USCB) STATISTICS
The National Center for Education statistics (https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2016/2016096rev.pdf ) indicated in 2016 that, according to the USCB, the national homeschooling rate grew rapidly from 1999 to 2012. Surprisingly, from 2012 to 2016, the numbers remained steady at about 3.3% of the K to 12 student population. (https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2016/2016096rev.pdf)
However, based on COVID-19 pandemic-related school at home mandates, parents are increasingly more interested in the idea of home schooling and “the appeal of alternative school arrangements has suddenly exploded.” (https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/home-schooling-is-way-up-with-covid-19-will-it-last/2020/11)
USCB 2021 data showed “that of all school-age children during March of 2021, 85.8% were public schooled. 8.2% were private schooled, and 6.04% were homeschooled.” (https://www.nheri.org/how-many-homeschool-students-are-there-in-the-united-states-pre-covid-19-and-post-covid-19/#:~:text=The%20USCB%20data%20showed%20that%20of%20all%20school-age,the%20USDE%20estimated%20homeschooling%20at%203.3%25%20in%202015-2016%29. .)
This 6.04% 2021 number indicates a 2.74% increase in number of K to 12 students being homeschooled from 2016 to 2021. Assuming there are 48.1 million public school students enrolled in K to 12, this means a statistically relevant increase in homeschool registrations for school year 2021-2022.
THE IMPACT ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In many instances, U.S. families have been significantly “under-impressed” with online public education. Based on that experience, some families are beginning to experiment with alternate educational modes, including homeschooling.
An October 2021 survey conducted by BestColleges.com indicated that “58% of public school principals and superintendents interviewed for the survey said that homeschooling is a major contributor to falling enrollment – more than any other single reason.” States that track homeschoolers (and not all states do) “saw giant spikes in families filing Notice of Intent to Homeschool.” (https://www.bestcolleges.com/blog/homeschooling-during-covid-19-and-student-outcomes/)
The same BestColleges.com survey stated that “Parents’ dissatisfaction with the public education system and a newfound preference for working from home could lead to a permanent increase in the popularity of homeschooling. Many academics who study homeschooling say the pandemic’s boost to the homeschool movement will last.” (https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/home-schooling-is-way-up-with-covid-19-will-it-last/2020/11 )
Alex Spurrier of Yahoo News reported on September 21 of this year, that “While traditional public schools and private schools lost enrollment from 2019-20 to 2020-21, there were gains in public charter school, micro schools, learning pods and the biggest enrollment winner: homeschooling. Data suggest that approximately 1.2 million families switched to homeschooling last academic year, bringing the total number of homeschooled students to 3.1 million.” (https://tytonpartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/School-Disrupted-04.21-FINAL.pdf)
WHY HOMESCHOOLING NOW?
To put it simply, now that so many companies have moved large numbers of employees to permanent work-at-home situations and based on parents’ experiences with homeschool over the past year, more and more parents are willing to assume full responsibility for educating their own children.
Columbia University education professor Luis Huerta suggests that “many parents feel they need to take control of their children’s education.” NBC news reports that “millions of families experienced learning from home for the first time during the pandemic. And many – across income and race groups – are finding homeschooling a workable option.” (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/parents-are-opting-home-school-their-children-due-covid-19-n1232739 )
Along the same lines, the New York Post reported in July of 2021 (Associated Press, July 26, 2021: https://nypost.com/2021/07/26/sparked-by-pandemic-fallout-homeschooling-surges-across-us/ ) that “Although the pandemic disrupted family life across the U.S. since taking hold in spring 2020, some parents are grateful for one consequence: They’re now opting to homeschool their children, even as schools plan to resume in-person classes.” (https://nypost.com/2021/05/08/more-parents-than-ever-turn-from-public-schools-to-homeschool/ )
The CATO Institute writer, Kerry McDonald, wrote a commentary on June 21, 2021, headlined “Four Signs Parents Won’t Be Sending Their Kids Back to Public School This Year; Parents are discovering new educational options like never before.”
Here’s an abbreviated version of McDonald’s observations:
1. Kindergarten enrollment declined dramatically in Fall 2021 – “Some of this public school enrollment decline could be attributed to families who left heavily locked‐down states like New York and California for more open places like Florida. In San Francisco alone, 53,000 people left the city. But other districts are seeing similar downward patterns in fall public school enrollment.”
2. Millions of New Homeschoolers Will Keep Homeschooling – “Rasheeda Denning, the founder of Black Homeschoolers of Central Florida, says that her members who are new to homeschooling this year have found it to be rewarding and re‐empowering. They don’t plan to send their children back to school… Some new families will return to traditional schools, but we’ve found that most of our families are enjoying this new way of schooling and will stay with homeschooling, seeking out support to help them on their journey.”
3. More K-12 Learning Options Are Sprouting – “Other states have also enacted new school choice legislation, driven in large part by rising support for school choice policies over the past year. Whether it’s virtual learning providers expanding their reach in more states, visionary educators opening small homeschool resource centers, or edtech startups gaining momentum, entrepreneurs are increasingly inventing new learning options for families.”
- Divisive School Practices Continue to Lure Parents Away – “Some parents are pulling their kids out of schools that they think are indoctrinating their children to view others as members of an identity group rather than as individuals. No longer content to stick with an assigned district school by default, many parents have uncovered a variety of education options over the past year that work better for their kids.”
Many homeschooling researchers conclude that the number of homeschool students will stay in the considerably higher range, year-over-year from school year 2020-2021 to school year 2021-2022. An increasing number of parents have recognized the benefits to both their children and their families, of working from home and educating their children from home.
Several factors contribute to this groundswell change in the U.S. education system. Home school entrepreneurs are providing new models for learning, resources for homeschool use are increasingly available and school choice regulations are changing across the country. The net result is that more education possibilities are available to a growing number of families who are choosing to homeschool.
Alex Spurrier (see September 21, 2001, Yahoo News reference, above) effectively described this new era in U.S. K to 12 education. U.S. education programming “is not likely to return to pre-pandemic models and patterns: for the first time in modern history, families have explored and adopted different approaches to schooling on an unforeseen scale. Their experiences during the pandemic have changed how they prioritize what their kids need for their physical, social, emotional, and academic development.”