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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The number of U.S. kids who are homeschooled has nearly doubled during the pandemic.

Why it matters: Some parents have lost faith in traditional schools, others fear exposing their kids to the coronavirus — and the broad exodus could further weaken America's struggling public education system.

By the numbers: Nearly 2.6 million kids have switched from traditional school to homeschooling since the pandemic began, according to a new report from the Bellwether Education Partners, commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation.

  • Now the total number of homeschooled kids sits at about 5 million. According to census data, more than 11% of U.S. households are now homeschooling.
  • And it's not just white families who are moving to homeschooling: 9.7% of white families with kids have pulled out of traditional education, as have 12.1% of Hispanic families, 8.8% of Asian families and 16.1% of Black families.

Families' reasons for turning to homeschooling are varied.

  • For the first time in modern history, parents got a chance to observe their children's education up close, at home.
  • Many are deciding they want more individualized learning options for their kids, whether that's more attention from educators or more personalized lesson plans, says Alex Spurrier, a senior analyst at Bellwether and one of the authors of the report.

Some families are fed up with virtual learning, while others don't feel safe sending kids to school while the pandemic still rages on.

  • Many families of color are choosing to homeschool their children because they're not satisfied with how schools are teaching kids about race and racism against the backdrop of social justice protests and rising Asian hate.
  • "As an African American, I didn't like the way the school was addressing some of the cultural things going on," says Torlecia Bates, a mother of three in Richmond, Virginia, who switched to homeschooling during the pandemic. "Someone asked me when I’ll return my kids to public school and I said, 'When I show up in the textbooks, and I’m represented well and accurately.'"

On top of the families who have pivoted to homeschooling, there are millions more who have moved their kids from public school to private school.

  • In fact, the total number of kids who have switched schools is a whopping 8.7 million, per the Bellwether report.

But, but, but: Not all families have the resources to address the holes in their kids' education themselves. Homeschooling or switching to private school requires time and resources that working parents and lower-income families do not have.

The bottom line: America's education system has long been slow to innovate, and the pandemic exposed its cracks, says Romy Drucker, the K-12 education director at the Walton Family Foundation.

  • "Parents want greater personalization, and this seems like a trend that's here to stay," she says. "Schools will have to earn back the trust of parents."

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Dec 8, 2021 - Health

Ex-FDA chief: COVID jabs could become as common as flu shots

Photo by Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images

Former FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn tells Axios that Americans may eventually require annual COVID vaccination boosters, although acknowledges that right now it's just his "best guess."

Why it matters: COVID jabs could become as routine as flu shots.

FDA approves AstraZeneca COVID drug for people with immune problems

Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for an AstraZeneca COVID-19 antibody drug for people with compromised immune systems.

Why it matters: The drug, Evusheld, is the first antibody therapy authorized in the U.S. to prevent coronavirus symptoms before virus exposure.

Dec 8, 2021 - Health

Nearly all U.S. cases of Omicron are mild, CDC director says

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Pool via Getty Images

Of the more than 40 known cases of the Omicron variant in the U.S., nearly all are mild, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday in an interview with AP.

Why it matters: Concern has ramped up with health experts forecasting a rise in Omicron cases. Over three-quarters of U.S. patients had been vaccinated, and one-third had gotten their booster shots, according to Walensky.