Survey: 850,000 Students Homeschooled

Published October 1, 2001

Parents in the U.S. are educating 850,000 children at home–1.7 percent of school-age children–according to a new study of homeschooling released in early August by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The study shows the average homeschooling family has the same household income as other families but is more likely to be a two-parent family, to have more children, and to have parents with higher levels of education.

Although many homeschooling parents cited several kinds of problems with schools as reasons for doing so, almost one-fifth of homeschooled children also attend a regular public or private school on a part-time basis.

While parents cited a wide range of reasons for homeschooling, the first three of the top 10 motivations involved better education (cited by 48.9 percent of parents), religious reasons (cited by 38.4 percent), and the “poor learning environment” in regular schools (cited by 25.6 percent).

Although other motivations included family reasons (16.8 percent) and wanting to develop character and morality (15.1 percent), a majority of the remaining top 10 reasons for homeschooling involved dissatisfaction with regular schools, such as objections to what the school teaches, the school not challenging the child, and student behavior problems at school.

The new study, “Homeschooling in the United States: 1999” is based on a 1999 household survey conducted as part of The Parent Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program.

Students were considered to be homeschooled if their parents reported them as being schooled at home instead of at a public or a private school, if they attended public or private schools 25 hours a week or less, and if they were not being homeschooled because of a temporary illness. In terms of raw, unweighted numbers, the survey involved 275 homeschooled students out of a total surveyed student population of 17,108.

Key Findings

Among the study’s major findings:

  • An estimated 850,000 students were being homeschooled in the spring of 1999, or 1.7 percent of U.S. students aged 5 to 17.
  • Four out of five homeschoolers (82 percent) were exclusively homeschooled. The remaining one in five (18 percent) were enrolled part-time in public or private schools.
  • The household income of homeschooling families was no different from that of other families with school-age children.
  • Three out of four homeschoolers (75.3 percent) were non-Hispanic whites. Overall, two out of three (64.7 percent) students in the U.S. are non-Hispanic whites.
  • On average, parents in homeschooling families had higher levels of educational attainment than the average parent. Among homeschooling parents, 25.1 percent held bachelor’s degrees and 22.3 percent held graduate degrees, compared to only 16.5 percent and 16.8 percent respectively in the average family.
  • A large majority (80.4 percent) of homeschooled families have two parents, compared to 65.8 percent among all families.
  • On average, homeschooling families have more children, with 61.6 percent having three or more children compared to only 44.0 percent of all families.

Estimate Too Low?

Top Ten Reasons for Homeschooling

Percent of Homeschooled Students Whose Parents Gave Each Reason
Can give child better education at home 48.9%
Religious reasons 38.4%
Poor learning environment at school 25.6%
Family reasons 16.8%
To develop character/morality 15.1%
Object to what school teaches 12.1%
School does not challenge child 11.6%
Other problems with available schools 11.5%
Student behavior problems at school 9.0%
Child has special needs/disability 8.2%
Source: NCES: “Homeschooling in the United States: 1999”

While conceding the new study “does provide useful demographic information that may help researchers and legislators better understand homeschoolers,” the Home School Legal Defense Association believes the new estimate of homeschooler numbers is too low for two main reasons.

First, because many homeschooling parents have had to fight the government for the right to teach their children at home, a number of them may not have responded to the survey because of a reluctance to give the government information that might lead to restricting that right.

Second, many homeschoolers may have identified themselves as private schools because in almost a quarter of the states (12 out of 50), state law considers many home schools to be private schools.

Previous estimates of the number of homeschoolers in the U.S. have been somewhat higher than the new Department of Education figure. In 1997, Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, estimated the number to be around 1.15 million for the 1996-97 school year and predicted the number would grow to at least 1.3 million by 1999-2000. In 1999, U.S. Education Department researcher Patricia M. Lines estimated the number to be around 700,000 during 1995-96, possibly growing to 1 million by 1997-98.

For more information . . .

The August 3, 2001 study form the National Center for Education Statistics, “Homeschooling in the United States: 1999,” is available from the NCES Web site at: