Homeschooling Growth Nationwide: Multiple Data Points Indicate a Continued Increase through 2016
PERSPECTIVES – News and Comments1
Brian D. Ray
National Home Education Research Institute, Salem, Oregon
Keywords: homeschooling, home schooling, home education, home-based education, population size, demographics, research, statistics, school choice research, private schools.
Is the homeschool population and movement growing, or not? Is it rising or not? One recent study (McQuiggan, Megra, & Grady, 2017) found that the growth of the homeschool population tapered off for the four years ending in 2016. But what do other current sources of data say?
Movements come and movements go. Policymakers, educators, parents, and the general public have wondered for 30 years whether homeschooling would be a quickly passing fad or trend. It has not been so. Does empirical evidence suggest that the population size is, however, experiencing a flattening or leveling of growth? People want to know: How many homeschoolers are there in United States?
One Recent Study
Researchers for the U.S. Department of Education recently reported on data gathered from the National Household Education Surveys program of 2016. It is another careful and thoughtful attempt by the federal department to understand some things about the homeschool population. The investigators mailed printed questionnaires to most of the 206,000 households that they selected and ended up with a sample of 13,523 school-enrolled and 552 homeschooled children. From data on these students, the investigators estimated the U.S. homeschool population size and its demographic characteristics and reasons that parents gave for homeschooling.
McQuiggan and her fellow researchers estimated that there were 1,689,726 students of ages 5–17 being homeschooled during the spring of 2016. That is, they estimated 1.69 million. They also reported that this number represented 3.3 percent of all school-age children that year.
Some people are comparing the U.S. Department of Education’s 2016 estimate with the same department’s estimate for 2012, which was 1,773,000 homeschooled students (i.e., 1.77 million), that was 3.4 percent of the school-age population (Redford, Battle, & Bielick, 2017). Looking at these two estimates, some are concluding that homeschooling showed no growth, or perhaps a slight decrease (e.g., about 3 percent) from spring 2012 to spring 2016. Many are wondering, Is this an accurate conclusion?
First, if one considers the point estimates of the federal researchers to be accurate and considers only those points, then it appears that the growth was about zero. This would be a reasonably simple conclusion.
Second, one might consider some statistical perspectives. For example, the 95 percent confidence interval for 2012 was 1.54 million to 2.00 million homeschool students. The same confidence interval for 2016 was 1.46 to 1.92. One way to look at this is that the high end of the 2016 confidence interval was 24.7 percent higher than the low end for 2012, which would be about 25 percent growth. Another way to consider the confidence intervals is that the low end for 2016 was 27 percent lower than the high end for 2016, which would have represented a roughly 27 percent decrease. These are sizeable theoretical ranges for growth or decrease.
Third, although most methods remained the same from the 2012 estimate to the 2016 estimate, response rates should be kept in mind. The estimated overall unit response rate for the Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey decreased from 57.6 percent in 2012 to 49.3 percent in 2016.
Other Empirical Evidence
On the other hand, some other data points might be the best way to get a clearer perspective on the findings of this one study and the estimate by the U.S. Department of Education. I gathered and reviewed the government-provided homeschool population data from 15 states, and from one large county in a sixteenth state. Many of the states do not collect these kind of data and, as of the publication of this article, I have not been able to find the information from any other states. Before further discussion of this, it should be noted that statutes provide for various ways of registration or notification in the various states. Not all data are collected based on the same statutes and regulations but it appears that each of the individual states had basically the same regulations in place across the four years at issue. With these things in mind, these 16 states represent about 27 percent of school-age children in the United States.
Thirteen states provided data for the same years that the federal researchers examined, the 2011-12 through 2015-16 school years. The states represent all four regions of the country, the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West.
One of those states experienced a 3.4 percent decline in homeschool student numbers while the other 11 states experienced increases of 10.3 percent to 94.7 percent across the four years (i.e., the range was -3.4 percent to 94.7 percent). The mean change over the four years was a 26.0 percent increase, and the median change was 20.1 percent increase.
Two other states and the largest county in a third state provided data for most of the years during the four years being examined. The two states experienced 1.4 percent to 3.5 percent growth; the one county saw 203 percent growth during spring 2012 to spring 2016.
All of these pieces of empirical evidence should be considered in the context of whether the overall U.S. school-age population changed from spring 2012 to spring 2016. The U.S. Department of Education estimated that there were 49.6 million students in the fall of 2012 and 50.6 million in the fall of 2016. One might infer, then, a change of a 2.0 percent increase in the overall U.S. school-age population across the four years under investigation in this article.
Finally, a person might consider anecdotal evidence regarding whether the homeschool population is still growing or not. I have been studying the homeschool population and movement for over 33 years (see, e.g., Ray, 2017). I often talk with businesses that sell curriculum and services to homeschool families and with homeschool organization leaders. The majority of them tell me that they are confident that the homeschool population grew noticeably from spring 2012 to spring 2016.
While the school-age population in the United States grew by about 2.0 percent from spring 2012 to spring 2016, data from 16 states from all four major regions of the nation showed that homeschooling grew by an average of about 25 percent in those states. If the data from these states are representative of what happened in the other states during those four years, then homeschooling is continuing to grow in both absolute numbers and as a portion of the overall school-age population.
If the state-specific statistics that are presented in this article are an accurate representation of reality, then what might one think of the recent U.S. Department of Education report? First, it must be kept in mind that it is just one study among many studies of the homeschool population and the findings of one study must be considered in the context of the entire research base and data from various sources. Second, it is possible that the methods of the researchers and the responses and non-responses of potential participants resulted in an inaccurate estimate in 2016, in 2012, or in both years. If the same survey is administered during the next five years or so, another data point will be available for analysis and triangulation. At this point, it appears that the estimate from the U.S. Department of Education is an outlier compared to the data from 16 individual states.
My synthesis of available research and empirical evidence is that the homeschool population continued to grow in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the school-age population from spring 2012 to spring 2016. In early 2016, I estimated that were about 2.3 million home-educated students in the United States at that time, and that the homeschool population had been continuing to grow at an estimated 2% to 8% per annum over the previous few years (Ray, 2016). From all indications (e.g., the data in this report and other research), homeschooling numbers are continuing to grow, and future research will tell us more on this topic.
McQuiggan, Meghan; Megra, Mahi; & Grady, Sarah. (2017, September). Parent and family involvement in education: Results from the National Household Education Surveys program of 2016: First look. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. NCES 2017-102. Retrieved September 26, 2017 from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017102.pdf
Ray, Brian D. (2017). A Review of research on Homeschooling and what might educators learn? Pro-Posições, 28(2), http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/1980-6248-2016-0009 Retrieved September 4, 2017 from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0103-73072017000200085&script=sci_arttext
Ray, Brian D. (2016, March 23). Research facts on homeschooling. Retrieved October 6, 2017 from https://www.nheri.org/research/research-facts-on-homeschooling.html
Redford, Jeremy; Battle, Danielle; & Bielick, Stacey. (2017, April). Homeschooling in the United States: 2012 (NCES 2016-096.REV). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC. Retrieved April 17, 2017 from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2016/2016096rev.pdf
- The “Perspectives – News and Comments” section of this journal consists of articles that have not undergone peer review. ¯
 Some references to this study round it to 1.689 million and others to 1.7 million.
 Some references to this study round it to 1.8 million.
  Based on data retrieved October 6, 2017 from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/dt15_101.40.asp
  The 13 states are AR, DE, FL, SD, MN, MT, NE, NC, RI, UT, WA, WI, and WV.
 The three other states are GA, OR, AZ (but only Maricopa County).
 Retrieved October 5, 2017 from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372 and https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_203.20.asp