Copyright © 2022 by Brian D. Ray
The purpose of this study is to estimate the number of homeschool students in the United States during the 2021-2022 academic school year. The estimate is derived by establishing the size of the nationwide school-age population, ascertaining the percentage of all students that were homeschooled, and assuming a level of underrepresentation of homeschooling in the data that represent the portions of all students who were homeschooled. Homeschool registration and enrollment data from 14 states, data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Pulse Survey, and findings from an Education Next nationwide survey were used. The conclusion is that there were an estimated 3.135 million school-age (K-12) homeschool students in the United States during the 2021-2022 school year. This is a decline of about 16 percent from the preceding year but still much higher than two years prior. There were more homeschool students than Catholic school students and slightly fewer homeschool than public charter school students during 2021-2022.
Keywords: homeschooling, home education, population size, numbers, United States
Introduction and Purpose
Parent-directed home-based education (homeschooling) was the norm before 1900 in the United States but had nearly gone extinct by the 1970s (Ray, 2021a). During the 1980s and 1990s, the homeschool population grew very rapidly. Many want to know now, how many kids are homeschooled today?
Lines (1991) estimated that there were some 13,000 homeschool students in the late 1970s in the United States. The United States Department of Education (USDE) (2021a) reported that about 3.3% of school-age children (“5- to 17-year-olds,” p. 58), or 1.690 million, were homeschooled by the spring of 2016, and found that this was not significantly different from their estimate that 3.4% of school-age children were homeschooled four years earlier. However, using different methods, Ray (2021b) estimated that there were over two million K-12 homeschool students during the spring of 2016, and then estimated 2.6 million during March of 2020 (Ray, 2021c).
The United States Census Bureau (USCB) (2021a) reported that the number of households with school-age homeschool children doubled from March of 2020 to March of 2021 but the USCB was careful to explain the many limitations of their sampling and some nuances built into their estimates (Ray, 2021b). Ray estimated that there were 3.721 million K-12 homeschool students during the 2020-2021 school year (see also: McDonald, 2021; Duvall, 2022).
The purpose of this study is to build on Ray’s (2021b) work and arrive at an estimate of the number of K-12 homeschool students in the United States during the 2021-2022 academic school year. That is, how many homeschoolers are there in the U.S.? In sum, the estimate will be derived by establishing the size of the nationwide school-age population, ascertaining the percentage of all students that were homeschooled, and assuming a level of underrepresentation of homeschooling in the data that represent the portions of all students who were homeschooled. Relevant data for the size of the total student population and for portions home educated come from multiple sources.
It is challenging to find consistent data on how many total school-age children (ages 5 to under 18), in all schooling sectors (public school, private school, and homeschool), there are in the United States. The USCB (2022b) reported that there were 54,762,467 on July 1, 2021, and that date is close to the beginning of the school year for which this study is estimating homeschool numbers.
The USDE (2022) reported that in the fall of 2021 there were about 48.1 million students attending public schools in kindergarten to grade 12. USDE also reported that there were about, in the fall of 2019, about 4.7 million students attending private schools (and this estimate includes pre-kindergarten enrollment in schools that offer kindergarten or a higher grade). The USDE’s most recent estimate for homeschooling was that there were 1.69 million homeschool students in the spring of 2016, and all indications are that homeschooling continued to grow after that year. Assuming Ray (2021b) is correct, there were 3.721 homeschool students in the fall of 2021. Overall, then, assuming that private school enrollment grew somewhat (12%) from fall of 2019 to fall of 2021 (Houston, Peterson, & West, 2022), then the USDE numbers would lead to an estimate of about 57.08 million school-age students (not including pre-K) in public schools, private schools, and homeschooling during the 2021-2022 school year.
To arrive at an estimate of the total school-age population during 2021-2022 for the purposes of this analysis, it was assumed that the USCB’s general census data are more accurate than their Pulse Survey data. Thus, 56.386 million (the average of the USCB and the USDE-based numbers) was used as the total number of school-age children during 2021-2022.
The primary sources of data for this analysis are the United States Department of Education (USDE) (2021b, 2022), the United States Census Bureau (USCB) (2021b; 2022a, Week 44 and Week 45 PUF), an Education Next survey (EdNext) (Houston, Peterson, & West, 2022), and data from all state-level departments with relevant publicly available data (see list below).
The USCB began the experimental Pulse Survey in April 2020 and at first the surveys’ findings reported on adults as the unit of analysis and did not ask how many individual students were engaged in the different school sectors (i.e., public school, private school, homeschool). The USCB began, in their Phase 3.2 questionnaire that was first administered during July of 2021, to ask adults how many public school, private school, and homeschool (“… that is not enrolled in public or private school”) students there were in each household during 2020-2021. The corresponding public use data files (e.g., Week 44 and Week 45 PUF for March 30 – April 11, 2022 and April 27 – May 9, 2022) were accessed to analyze the data on these variables.
The USCB’s public use file data provided a person-weight variable and a household-weight variable. In the present study, data were weighted by household before calculating frequencies for public school, private school, and homeschool enrollment.
Various states gather and summarize data on the number of homeschool students in their states. Whether they do so, depends partly on whether the state government has any motivation or incentive to report such data and on the state laws that do or do not address homeschooling. In some states, parents are free to privately homeschool without state controls and in other states the government exerts much control and regulation over private home-based education. Whether a state exerts much or little control over private homeschooling is not necessarily correlated with whether the state government collects and disseminates data or statistics on homeschooling students. For this project, the author was able to secure usable data from 14 states (i.e., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin; see Table 1). Various state laws define school age differently. These states represent all four major regions of the United States. However, the data cannot be fully integrated since various states’ laws define differently what is school age.
The USCB data showed that of all school-age children during late March to early May of 2022, 86.58% were public schooled, 8.20% were private schooled, and 5.22% were homeschooled (Table 1). Houston, Peterson, and West’s (2022) survey found that 6.6% were homeschooled.
On the other hand, the 14-state weighted mean (i.e., weighted by the number of homeschool students per state) indicated that 4.16% of these states’ school-age children were homeschooled (Table 1). It should be noted that compulsory school ages in some states do not include ages 5, 6, and 17; across the states and District of Columbia, roughly 11% of 13 school-age years are not compulsory (United States Department of Education, 2021c). Therefore, the number of school-age (i.e., 5- to 17-year-olds) homeschool children is underrepresented in such states.
Table 1. Homeschooling as a Percent of All Students
|Source||Number of Homeschool Students, 2021-2022||Homeschool as Percent of all students*|
|Education Next survey||Not reported||6.60|
|US Census Bureau||Not reported||5.22|
|14 states, weighted mean||4.16|
Since the actual number of nationwide homeschool students has not been recorded and therefore cannot be calculated, the estimated number of homeschool students can be reached by estimating both the total number of school-age students and the percentage of those students who are homeschooled.
Further, nationwide estimates of percentages and actual student counts by the USDE and USCB have many limitations. At the state level, however, homeschool registration and enrollment numbers are more tangible and consistent and not based on the limited response rates and unknown representativeness of the federal national surveys.
Most of the calculations with data that preceded the presentation of numbers and decimals above were done at 3 or more decimals before rounding to the decimal places shown in this report.
Discussion and Conclusion
Based on this author’s decades of experience conducting research on the homeschool educational sector and other empirical evidence, not all students who are homeschooled are accounted for by state departments of education and homeschool parents are less likely than institutional school parents to respond to government survey questions about the nature of their children’s education and schooling. Further, as noted above, roughly 11% of 13 school-age years are not compulsory in the United States. Therefore, it was assumed that the number of homeschool students is disproportionately underrepresented by 20% in state-level data-collection systems and in survey research such as that done by the USCB and the USDE, collectively.
With the 20% underrepresentation adjustment, the 14-state weighted mean percent of school-age children (4.16%) for March of 2022 would be 4.99% and the USCB homeschool number (5.22%) would be 6.26% of the school-age population for April of 2022. Considering the limitations and challenges of both state and federal government agencies gathering data on homeschool students, it is difficult to know which of these two statistics regarding the homeschool school-age population is closer to reality. The EdNext survey asked parents about all their children kindergarten through 12th grade so it will be assumed that their percent being homeschooled is an accurate representation of all K-12 students in the households. Since the USCB and EdNext surveys were nationwide and included all states and the 14-state sample is not known to be representative of the United States, the statistics from both the USCB and EdNext were given double weight while the 14-state average was left with a single weight to arrive at an overall estimate that homeschool students were 5.56% of the school-age population during the 2021-2022 school year.
Based on the estimates of 5.56% and 56.386 million, there were an estimated 3.135 million school-age (K-12) homeschool students in the United States during the 2021-2022 school year. A reasonable range estimate would be, therefore, 2.822 million to 3.448 million during 2020-21.
There have been widely varying estimates regarding the number of homeschool students in the United States during the past few years (e.g., Duvall, 2022; McDonald, 2021; Ray, 2021b; USCB, 2021a). What is the true parameter, the most accurate number, to answer the question, “how many kids are homeschooled” or “how many homeschoolers are in the US”? Laws, reporting regulations and methods of reporting, and the proclivity of homeschooling parents to answer surveys about their children vary across the nation but the state-level data have a solid level of reliability and history. Many of the states have been collecting data on the number of registered homeschool students for more than a decade. The reliability of the data from the experimental USCB Pulse Survey appears to be stabilizing. And since Ray’s (2021b) estimate, EdNext provided a third source of data to help assess the true homeschool population parameter. This inquiry has been an effort to use a variety of the best sources of up-to-date and available data.
This analysis leads to the following answer: There were an estimated 3.135 million homeschool students (i.e., school-age, ages 5 to under 18, K-12) in the United States during the 2021-2022 school year. For context, this was more than in Catholic schools (1.688 million; National Catholic Educational Association (2022) and probably slightly fewer than in government public charter schools (Houston, Peterson, & West, 2022).
One year ago, Ray (2021b) predicted the following:
The remarkably higher numbers in the homeschool population during the spring of 2021 compared to the spring of 2020 will likely subside (e.g., Nitcher, 2021), but not completely. Many observers expect the number of homeschool students during the 2021-2022 conventional school year to remain significantly higher than during 2019-2020 because more families, both parents and children, experienced the benefits of parent-directed home-based education during the government restrictions on schools during the past two school years. The growth in homeschooling will also continue due to the other stable reasons for homeschooling that have motivated parents over the past 40 years …
So far, the prediction is turning out to be true. Although the homeschool student population in the United States declined from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022, the upward trend of the past 40 years continued.
Duvall, Steven. (2022, April 12). Homeschool surge still going strong, https://hslda.org/post/homeschool-surge-still-going-strong
Houston, David M.; Peterson, Paul E.; & West, Martin R. (2022). Parental anxieties over student learning dissipate as schools relax anti-Covid measures, https://www.educationnext.org/parental-anxieties-over-student-learning-dissipate-as-schools-relax-anti-covid-measures-2022-education-next-survey-public-opinion/
Lines, Patricia M. (1991, October). Estimating the home schooled population (working paper OR 91-537). Washington DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.
McDonald, Kerry. (2021). New census data show homeschooling tripled during the pandemic—and one key group is driving the surge. Retrieved September 6, 2021 from https://fee.org/articles/us-census-homeschooling-triples-diversifies-during-pandemic-response/
National Catholic Educational Association (2022). Data brief: 2021-2022
Nitcher, Emily. (2021, September 3). Number of Nebraska students enrolled in home schooling down from last school year. Retrieved September 7, 2021 from Omaha World-Herald, https://omaha.com/news/local/education/number-of-nebraska-students-enrolled-in-home-schooling-down-from-last-school-year/article_2b9d8174-0a99-11ec-ac9c-97b0da23de51.html
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Ray, Brian D. (2021b). How many homeschool students are there in the United States? Pre-Covid-19 and post-Covid-19: New data, https://www.nheri.org/how-many-homeschool-students-are-there-in-the-united-states-pre-covid-19-and-post-covid-19/
Ray, Brian D. (2021c). Research facts on homeschooling, https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling/
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United States Census Bureau. (2021c). Source of the data and accuracy of the estimates for the Household Pulse Survey – Phase 3.2. Retrieved 9/2/2021 from https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/demo/technical-documentation/hhp/Phase3-2_Source_and_Accuracy_Week%2034.pdf
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United States Department of Education. (2022). Fast facts: Back-to-school statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372#PK12-enrollment
 The term significant typically means statistical significance in this paper.
 Data were also obtained for Colorado and Oregon. However, the Colorado state-collected data do not include large portions of homeschool families who do not need to report to the state and Oregon’s data are comprised of only first-time registrations of individual children.