Federal Homeschooling Estimates Questioned

Published December 17, 2017

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released data in October 2017 showing homeschooling exploded between 1999 and 2012, growing from 1.7 percent to 3.4 percent of all children educated in the United States.

“But by 2016, that growth had stalled, and the number of homeschoolers has remained basically the same: 1.7 million students nationwide, or 3.3 percent of the overall K-12 student population,” EdWeek.com reported in October, adding as a parenthetical, “That number is likely an underestimate, because it’s very hard to count home schoolers.”

‘Numbers Conflict’ with Experience

Will Estrada, director of federal relations at the Home School Legal Defense Association, says the national data does not represent what his organization has observed.

“I don’t know if these numbers are correct, completely bogus, or somewhere in between, but what I do know is that these numbers conflict with what we’re seeing across the states,” Estrada said. “The interesting thing is that most states don’t require homeschoolers to register with the government, and for those that do, numbers aren’t kept, making it difficult.

“Of the 16 states which do accurate tracking of homeschooling families, fifteen of those have shown growth, and most have seen large growth,” Estrada said. “These numbers conflict with the DOE numbers.”

‘More Popular than Ever’

Estrada has been tracking the numbers of homeschoolers attending homeschool conferences, and he says attendance is growing.

“Florida is up to 18,000 attendees at their convention,” Estrada said. “North Carolina is up to 10,000 [attendees], and we’re continuing to see growth. Being on the ground, homeschooling is more popular than ever. Could the DOE numbers be reflecting households who use various methods for schooling their kids—the ones who take an ‘app store’ approach, doing more of a customization of education? Most of the states that track homeschoolers have seen an increase in numbers of homeschoolers.”

Homeschoolers ‘Hard to Reach’

Brian Ray, founder and president of the National Home Education Research Institute, wrote a rebuttal to the national numbers in October for the organization.

“The investigators mailed printed questionnaires to most of the 206,000 households that they selected and ended up with a sample of 13,523 school-enrolled and 552 homeschooled children,” Ray wrote. “From data on these students, the investigators estimated the U.S. homeschool population size and its demographic characteristics and reasons that parents gave for homeschooling.”

Ray told School Reform News this sample appears to be very small, though it might not be the researchers’ fault.

“Homeschoolers are a hard-to-reach population, especially when it’s the government that’s trying to reach them,” Ray said. “They remember that there was a time when homeschoolers and parents were threatened with jail, so they don’t often choose to respond to these kinds of surveys.”

Contrary Research Results

Ray analyzed homeschooling data himself and says he found most states’ results contradicted those reported in the study.

“The vast majority of states saw vast increases in numbers of homeschoolers during those four years,” Ray said. “Twelve of thirteen states saw increases anywhere from about 10 to 95 percent [Utah] across those four years. One state saw a 3.4 percent decline [Delaware].

“This finding matches what I’ve thought over the past number of years: that there is a notable continued growth in the population of homeschooling families,” Ray said. “People are still not happy with public schools. Americans are not impressed with what happens here academically, with bullying, or teacher behavior—either abuse or harassment—and parents say they want to spend time with their children and impart their values to them.”

‘Not What We’re Experiencing’

Robert Bortins, CEO of Classical Conversations, one of the nation’s largest networks of homeschool co-ops, says his company has expanded by leaps and bounds.

“I was surprised to see the NCES estimates, as that is not what we’re experiencing here at Classical Conversations,” Bortins said. “Since 2012, we’ve grown over 140 percent in the United States. If you look at my home state of North Carolina, which is one of the better documented states, homeschooling has grown significantly since 2012 and even outnumbers private schooling.”

Says Millennials Like Homeschooling

Bortins says the younger generation favors homeschooling.

“Twelve percent of millennial parents would homeschool if money and transportation were no issue,” Bortins said, citing a 2016 EdChoice survey on “Schooling in America.” “This wouldn’t indicate that homeschooling has necessarily grown, but it is certainly an increase in the positive perception of homeschooling.

“We hear more now from parents who believe they are capable of giving their child a customized education that will be more beneficial to their success,” Bortins said. “It used to be the number of people who homeschooled for religious reasons was extremely high, but as resources have increased and we’ve developed a proven track record of success, the door has opened for more people to choose homeschooling.”

Bortins says he believes homeschooling will continue to grow if parents are able to afford the income tradeoff.

“We can only encourage this behavior by asking our friends in government not to give money to homeschoolers, but instead, lower our tax burden so people can once again afford to live off one income and we don’t all have to work for ‘the man’ to feed, clothe, and house our families,” Bortins said.

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., “Homeschooling Growth Nationwide: Multiple Data Points Indicate a Continued Increase through 2016,” National Home Education Research Institute, October 6, 2017: https://nheri.org/research/homeschooling-growth-nationwide.html