These days, it seems that almost everyone knows someone who homeschools their children or is interested in starting to homeschool. Historically, homeschoolers have been perceived as an isolated and undersocialized subset of students; often categorized as religiously or ideologically extreme; and as recently as the 1970’s homeschooling was even banned and illegal in some states. What has changed?
Data regarding homeschool is difficult to come by. Many states have different rules and regulations to which homeschoolers must abide by, and there are often little to no reporting requirements on either a state or federal level. Some organizations, such as NHERI (National Homeschool Education Research Institute), have spent decades piecing together available information and forming data based on their research to give the best picture possible of how homeschooling has changed over the years and where it may lead to in the future.
The most dramatic change in homeschooling demographics occurred in the early part of 2000. Many analysts believe that the first large shift to homeschooling happened shortly after the Columbine High School shooting, which occurred in December of 1999. While data does not necessarily support this theory it does imply that parents, who may have already begun to feel the fear and stress of increased violence in public schools, turned in mass to withdrawing their students from public schools.
Some studies show that the level of violence within schools decreased during those years after the Columbine incident; however, most evidence points the other direction. Having been mainly considered an “inner-city problem,” schools nationwide (and even into affluent suburban schools) began experiencing increased violent behavior from students; although mass shootings and shootings, in general, we’re in a downward trend incidents of violent physical assaults and aggressive bullying (including emotional and mental attacks through the onset of cyberbullying) were in a distinctive upward trend. Students were not the only victims of this trend- during the early to mid-years of the 2000s nearly 10% of teachers also reported being violently assaulted by a student. In 2006 the U.S. Department of Education, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice, issued a report called “Indicators of School Crime and Safety.” In this study it was revealed that in 1999 71% of public schools surveyed reported violent incidents; and, in the following five-year period (1999-2004), school reporting had grown to 81%.
Between the years 2003-2012, it was estimated by available statistics that the number of homeschool students increased by 61.8%. Previously, the majority of people who homeschooled reported that their main reason was to keep religious philosophies in the teachings that their students received. By 2012, that percentage dropped to just under 30% and overwhelmingly 75-80% of families who began homeschooling cited their main reason as dissatisfaction with the overall environment of public schools; primarily socially and secondarily inadequate academics.
More recent information gathered from 2012-2016 shows that statistically families turning to homeschooling has essentially begun to level out with a growth rate of 2% nationwide. However, digging deeper into the information shows that overall homeschooling has continued to climb regionally and with more demographic diversity. The twelve states that willingly reported showed that the number of homeschool students increased by nearly 25% during the four years the states were surveyed.
Homeschooling continues to grow and as demographics change and the population of students age out of the education system, the primary reasons that families choose to homeschool have also changed. While the main reason remains overall the environment of public schools, families are seeing the benefits of homeschooling and are choosing based on issues such as flexibility in the pedagogy of teaching, spending more time focusing on family and community, and the ability to work with the learning styles of their students (this reason was particularly cited among families with special needs students).
The general success of homeschool students has also been a driving force. Preliminary data shows that homeschool students typically score 15-30% higher on standardized academic achievement tests- including SAT or ACT testing. Students scored consistently higher regardless of the parents’ financial situation or own level of education. Homeschool students are no longer being turned away from colleges and universities- many admissions actively seek out homeschool students as being more self-directed and self-motivated, have higher self-esteem, are socially well-adjusted and often participants in community and volunteer activities.
What is the future of homeschooling? While the data that increased violence in public school environments is still considered more empirical, it still strongly suggests that it is a driving force behind the continued growth of homeschooling. As of 2019 multiple sources, such as trustED k-12, state the rate of school violence and bullying, in particular, has not been slowed by awareness campaigns or educator training; in fact, reports of all forms of violence in public schools has nearly doubled since 2017 alone. With the continued rise of violence and other factors such as low funding for academic and special needs programs and the positive vision of successful homeschool students the number of families who turn to homeschooling will continue to rise.