Updated Nov 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

What's behind the increase in homeschooling

Illustration of a welcome mat with the word "school" written on the front

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Homeschooling in the U.S. shot up during the pandemic — and it appears to be here to stay.

The big picture: Homeschooling is now the fastest-growing form of education in the U.S., per a Washington Post analysis.

  • The report, which covers more than 60% of the American school-age population, found that an increase in homeschooled students born from pandemic restrictions continued through the 2022-23 school year.

Yes, but homeschooling in general represents a single-digit percentage of students nationally, David S. Knight, an assistant professor of education finance and policy at the University of Washington, told Axios.

By the numbers: There are currently an estimated 1.9 million to 2.7 million homeschooled students in the U.S., per the Post's report.

Zoom in: There are a wide variety of reasons why families are choosing to try homeschooling and stick with it, from political and religious reasons to avoiding unsafe situations.

  • "The initial set of folks who came to homeschooling during the pandemic largely did so because 'Zoom school' was a complete and total failure for them and their families," Jen Garrison Stuber, advocacy chair for the Washington Homeschool Organization, told Axios.
  • The following year, when schools resumed in-person classes, some of the parents who only came to homeschooling out of desperation, no longer had a fear of making that transition or of interacting with their children's education, she explained.
  • The benefits of homeschooling include being able to "meet your child at his or her level for each individual subject," Stuber explained.

State of play: Homeschooling rates have increased across race groups and ethnicities.

  • There are Black families who say they turned to homeschooling in order to keep their kids away from the school-to-prison pipeline, Stuber said.
  • Families of color and those with religious affiliations seeking to avoid bullying and racism.
  • There are also families who pull their trans kids out of school to avoid an unhealthy situation where they feel threatened, Stuber said.

The other side: Homeschooling can prevent children from learning about and being exposed to other kids from different backgrounds, Knight pointed out.

  • While public schools are held accountable for meeting student outcome standards and have requirements to teach social studies curriculum and civic engagement, "none of that is true for homeschooling," he added.
  • There are also other challenges that present themselves "when it comes to this fracturing of educational experiences and common experiences," Stephen Aguilar, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, told Axios.
  • Among them are the absence of mandated reports when a student isn't in a traditional classroom, the lack of measures of a student's progress and the introduction to certain concepts, Aguilar said.

Meanwhile, there are families who have kids with developmental disabilities choosing homeschooling because schools aren't always able to provide their children with the services that best suit their needs.

  • "They're finding that they're making these huge gains over the summer and then they go back to school and they lose them," Stuber said.

Of note: Parents also cite the increase in school shootings as a reason to keep their kids home.

The bottom line: "Being able to tailor the education to the individual child is one of the things that is extremely personally persuasive for people to come to homeschooling and then decide to stay," Stuber told Axios.

Details: The Washington Post analysis examines data from 32 states and Washington D.C. States that aren't in the analysis do not record enough, or any, data on how many kids are homeschooled.

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