Homeschooled students, and the educational opportunities available to them, are becoming more diverse than ever, a new study from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) states.
“Black families are increasingly rejecting traditional district schools in favor of homeschooling,” writes Aaron Hirsh in his CRPE policy brief on “The Changing Landscape of Homeschooling in the United States,” released July 22.
About 26 percent of U.S. homeschooling families—more than 400,000—are Hispanic, and 8 percent—about 130,000 families—are black, National Center for Education Statistics data show.
“The homeschooling community includes Muslim and Jewish families, military families, families of gifted students and of those with special needs,” Hirsh writes. “Homeschoolers run the political spectrum from left to right and the economic spectrum from wealthy to poor.”
Estimates of the number of homeschooled students in the United States range from two million to three million.
“While only 3 percent of K-12 students in the United States are homeschooled, this percentage has grown since 1999 and shows signs of continuing to increase,” Hirsh writes.
Dissatisfied with Government Schools
Homeschooling was once perceived as a niche educational alternative practiced largely by conservative white families for religious reasons, but homeschoolers today come from many backgrounds, says Aaron Smith, director of education reform at the Reason Foundation.
“The fact is that homeschool families are much more diverse than commonly believed, and there are many reasons parents are increasingly choosing this option,” Smith said.
“Motives for opting out vary, but many black families cite racism and a lack of opportunity for black students in the traditional classroom,” Hirsh writes.
There hasn’t been much research on why some types of families are choosing to homeschool, according to Hirsch.
“Almost no scholarly research has been conducted on the motivations and practices of Hispanic families who choose to homeschool,” Hirsh writes.
Parents could be prompted by the failure of the default option, Smith says.
“One reason is dissatisfaction with the performance of their zoned public school,” Smith said.
Today’s homeschooling families are not limited to teaching at the dining room table. In many communities, parents have several choices of independent micro-schools or interfamily cooperatives where their children can attend classes taught by parents or others with expertise in their subject of instruction.
In addition to specialized cooperative class opportunities, many communities offer homeschoolers extracurricular activities such as varsity sports teams, robotics clubs, and mock trial and debate teams.
High school homeschooled students also take college-level classes offered by local universities and community colleges, earning dual enrollment credits for both high school and college. A multitude of courses are also available online for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
‘Force for Change’
Traditional education cannot meet the needs of all students, says Luther, Oklahoma Mayor Jenni White, cofounder and director of education for Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment.
“Classroom teaching will, unfortunately, always have the limitation of being unable to provide an equitable education to every child in the classroom because children are individuals who intellectually and emotionally differ from one another,” White said. “This is the exact reason homeschooling is such a force for change in education.”
One-on-one teaching is the most effective form of education, White says.
“When you make the opportunity to meet a child at their level with whatever curricula or method—online, in person, visiting museums, experimentation—you’re able to utilize, that child truly learns the lessons that might completely escape him with a teacher who has limited classroom time,” White said.
Meets Individual Needs
The wide range of options available to parents to customize education to their child’s specific needs has proven a great service to the individual student, particularly those with special needs, White says.
“Our youngest son was doing very poorly in his first-grade class and unable to keep up with math, specifically,” White said. “He would come home with poor grades, and his teacher would badger both him and me about his poor performance, which only added to the stress of the situation for both of us.”
When the White family chose to homeschool, they discovered their son had a form of dyslexia which made mathematics especially challenging, White says.
“Once we identified the problem, we were able to find assistance and rectify it,” White said. “I’m still uncertain if this discovery would ever have occurred had he stayed enrolled in public school.”
Of the six states that have Education Savings Accounts, three allow families to use ESA funds for homeschooling students with disabilities: Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Only Nevada allows ESA funds to be used for homeschooling without restrictions. Arizona families may use ESA funds for homeschooling of students who meet certain eligibility requirements.
Allows Customized Education
Homeschooling is innovative and less restricted than traditional schools, White says.
“Homeschooling allows parents to customize a child’s education to their unique needs and interests, which largely isn’t possible in a traditional setting,” Smith says. “It also opens up a robust menu of learning opportunities that might otherwise be restricted or unavailable, such as regular field trips, customized projects, and quality curriculum.”
Vivian E. Jones ([email protected]) writes from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Aaron Hirsh, “The Changing Landscape of Homeschooling in the United States,” Center for Reinventing Public Education, July 22, 2019: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/report-the-changing-landscape-of-homeschooling-in-the-united-states