U.S. Census Report Showing Massive Increase in Homeschooling is Premature

For Immediate Release: Group run by homeschool alumni urges caution in predicting changes in homeschooling

09/27/2021—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) urges caution in predicting changes in homeschooling based on data from recent U.S. Census reports. “As an organization founded and run by homeschool alumni since 2013, CRHE has diligently monitored data on homeschooling trends in the U.S.,” says Dr. Jeremy C. Young, CRHE’s acting executive director. “We want Americans to know the context behind the data so that they can understand how homeschooling numbers are actually changing.”

As the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic caused rapid changes in education in spring 2020, the U.S. Census responded by instituting the Household Pulse Survey, an online survey sent to a random selection of addresses continuously since April 2020. According to a March 2021 Census report, the percentage of US households with school-age children who reported homeschooling nearly doubled between April and September 2020, reaching a high of 11%. “CRHE commends the Census for responding so rapidly to collect such important data,” said Young. “Increased data collection on homeschooling benefits everyone. However, there is considerable reason to be skeptical about the magnitude of the homeschooling increase predicted by these studies.”

There is no one single definition of homeschooling, as CRHE argued in our peer-reviewed study “Who counts as homeschooled? The case of Alaska’s correspondence schools” published in 2020 in the journal Other Education. The dizzying array of educational options available to parents — including online and virtual public or private school programs, public and private school correspondence programs, part-time school enrollment, and states where homeschools are legally considered private schools — leads to a high degree of error in self-reported statistics on homeschooling.

Studies such as the National Household Education Survey, conducted every four years by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), ask parents to verify in multiple ways that a child is homeschooled, leading to a reliable national estimate of homeschooled students. But “if you just ask parents point-blank whether their children are homeschooled, as the Census did, you’ll get widely varying results depending on how you phrase the question,” said Dr. Chelsea McCracken, CRHE’s research director. “There’s a good chance the Census numbers include parents who intend to enroll their children in remote learning and other school-based programs, as well as parents who say they intend to homeschool just because they’re frustrated with all the options.”

So what are the real numbers? According to NCES, the percentage of students who are homeschooled rose from 1.7% in 1999 to 3.4% in 2011-2012 and then declined slightly through 2019. Enrollment data from South Dakota and California suggest that homeschooling increased by around 20-30% during the pandemic, far less than the Census data indicates.

“While it’s reasonable to expect a modest increase in homeschooling due to safety concerns about school attendance during the pandemic, we should be careful in jumping to conclusions about how the education system will change as a result,” said McCracken. “Though some parents have, as a result of the pandemic, realized that home-based learning works well for their families, other parents are desperate to send their children back to school. Twenty years of data shows that homeschooling only appeals to a small percentage of the population, and the experiences of homeschool alumni indicate that homeschooling works best only under certain conditions.”

Homeschooled children ​​lack guaranteed access to programs intended to promote child welfare, including food and nutrition programs, age-appropriate sex education, monitoring for child abuse and neglect, and professional college and career counseling. Additionally, current homeschooling laws have few measures in place to ensure that homeschooled children receive the care and education they deserve. Earlier this year, CRHE published a Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children, a vision for homeschooling that details how children’s academic, physical, mental, and social wellbeing can best be supported by their parents and communities. The Bill of Rights is the most recent addition to CRHE’s comprehensive collection of guides and resources for home educators.

“At CRHE, we advocate for homeschooled children’s right to a quality education in a safe, loving home,” said Young. “As awareness of and interest in homeschooling continues to change, the need for responsible oversight to protect these children’s rights is more urgent than ever. While homeschooling can be an excellent educational option, we need more protections to ensure the best possible outcomes for homeschooled children.”

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.

Contact: media@responsiblehomeschooling.org

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