Homeschooling Doubles in the United States During Government Pandemic Lockdowns: Evidence That State Policies Cause Homeschool Growth
More empirical evidence shows that homeschooling doubled in the United States during the government pandemic lockdowns. The growth occurred from the 2019-2020 institutional school year to the 2020-2021 year, to perhaps as many as 5 million school-age children. The latest data come from the United States Census Bureau.
Government restrictions and lockdowns forced most children around the world to stop attending institutional schools during at least a portion of the past year. Many called the new learning environment for school children things such as pandemic schooling at home and crisis homeschooling. All the while, many researchers and others wondered what impact government reactions to Covid-19 (or, Coronavirus, influenza-like-illness, reports of unusual numbers of certain age groups dying, et cetera) would have on the size of the homeschool population.
Within this conversation, it should be kept in mind that homeschooling is parent-directed, family- and home-based private education schooling (Ray, 2021a). “Parent-directed means the parents have deliberately chosen to take responsibility for the education of their children, controlling both the education process and the curriculum (course of study). Family-based means the center of educational gravity is the home, with other resources being secondary” (homeschoolingbackgrounder.com, 2020). Homeschooling is not public school or private school at home or public or private virtual or online schooling. Homeschooling is also not some version of the institutional school-directed education of children with them also spending two or three days per week at home.
Ray (2021b) estimated that there were 4.0 to 5.0 million homeschool students in grades K-12 in the United States (or 7% to 9% of school-age children) in January of 2021, while there were about 2.5 million homeschool students in the spring of 2019 (or 3% to 4% of school-age children). His estimates, however were built on a limited number of sources of data, such as the excellent forward-looking work of McDonald (2020) and sources such as those she cited. On March 22, 2021, the United States Census Bureau (2021a) provided another source of data and statistics.
The U.S. Census Bureau compared survey results from the spring of the 2019-20 school year to results in the fall of the 2020-21 school year “… to measure the pandemic’s impact on homeschooling.” They used the Household Pulse Survey to do this.
The Household Pulse Survey is the U.S. Census Bureau’s “… 20-minute online survey studying how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting households across the country from a social and economic perspective. The survey asks questions about how education, employment, food security, health, housing, social security benefits, household spending, consumer spending associated with stimulus payments, intention to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, and transportation have been affected by the ongoing crisis” (US. Census Bureau, 2021b). Participants are engaged by the Census Bureau randomly choosing addresses, not individuals personally.” And the Bureau (2021b) reported the following: “A limited number of addresses from across the country were scientifically selected to represent the entire population.”
Eggleston and Fields, the Census Bureau workers and authors of the article (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021a), stated that this survey is “… the first data source to offer both a national and state-level look at the impact of COVID-19 on homeschooling rates …” They pointed out the following: “A clarification was added to the school enrollment question to make sure households were reporting true homeschooling rather than virtual learning through a public or private school.” The wording change was related to response option 2 (not the main question text) (personal communication between the U.S. Census Bureau and this author). In the original wording, the response option was “Yes, homeschooled.” In the revised wording, the response option reads, “Yes, homeschooled (not enrolled in a public or private school)”
The researchers found that in the first week (April 23-May 5, 2020) of Phase 1 of the Household Pulse Survey, about 5.4% of U.S. households with school-aged children reported homeschooling. By the fall of 2020 (September 30 – October 12), 11.1% of households with school-age children reported homeschooling. So, homeschooling doubled in the United States during the government pandemic lockdowns.
This is a statistically and practically significant change. It represents an increase of 5.6 percentage points and a doubling of U.S. households that were homeschooling at the beginning of the 2020-2021 institutional school year compared to late in the prior year, after various government restrictions and lockdowns forced children out of institutional schools.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau has no comparative data from about February of 2020, before the government pandemic restrictions and lockdowns.
The study also found significant differences by “race and Hispanic origin” and ethnicities. For example, consider the following: “In households where respondents identified as Black or African American …, the proportion homeschooling increased by five times, from 3.3% (April 23-May 5) to 16.1% in the fall (Sept. 30-Oct. 12)” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021a). However, the “… size of the increases for the other Race/Hispanic origin groups were not statistically different from one another.”
Further, the researchers found differences in growth rates by state and metropolitan areas. For example, Massachusetts “… jumped from 1.5% to 12.1% while many other states did not show a significant change.” They speculated that these rates might have varied because of “… local homeschooling variation that predated the pandemic, local rates of coronavirus infections, and local decisions about how school is being conducted during the pandemic.”
“Among the 15 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA), for example, the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH MSA, went from 0.9% in the spring of 2020 to 8.9% by the fall, …” while the rate in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington MSA was not significantly different (4.2% and 5.2%) for the same period.
Limitations and Cautions
As noted above, the U.S. Census Bureau has no comparative data from about February of 2020 which was before the government restrictions and lockdowns related to concerns about Covid-19. The current Pulse Survey reports percentage of households homeschooling, and not the percent of school-age children being homeschooled.
On the other hand, preceding studies by the U.S. Department of Education (2021) found that the rate of homeschooling was about 3.3% of school-age children during the spring of 2016. That is the percent of children, and not the percent of households. In other words, the Census Bureau reported – in this new study – the percent of households homeschooling while the Department of Education has been reporting percent of school-age children. One must be careful to not equate percent of households homeschooling with percent of children being homeschooled.
I have communicated with the U.S. Census Bureau but do not yet have solid information regarding whether one should be confident, or not, that the methods of the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Education can help a person arrive at the same rates of homeschooling of school-age children. That is, it is unclear whether, at any point in time, the two data-collection approaches would yield the same rates of homeschooling of individual children.
It is a methodologically good thing that the Census Bureau changed the response option from “Yes, homeschooled” to “Yes, homeschooled (not enrolled in a public or private school).” This helps to remove students involved in public-school-at-home and private-school-at-home programs from the count of homeschool households or students.
However, changing the response item between the first survey and the second compromises being able to say that the same thing was measured. With this in mind, the first datum point likely over-counted homeschool households and thus the rate of homeschooling. Therefore, the increase in the homeschool rate from late spring of 2020 to fall of 2020 would be even great than the doubling that the Census Bureau found.
Another problem in the Census Bureau’s report’s first paragraph is that it linked to old reports from the U.S. Department of Education, and this offers confusing or incomplete information. They should have referenced United States Department of Education (2021) or the latest study-specific report by the Department of Education.
Finally, in terms of the limitations of the Household Pulse Survey project, one should note that the Census Bureau provided a detailed report entitled, “Source of the Data and Accuracy of the Estimates for the 2020 Household Pulse Survey” for Week 1 of the survey. In it, they explain various limitations of the methods used. For example, they explained the following: “The effect of nonresponse [of potential adult respondents in households] cannot be measured directly, but one indication of its potential effect is the nonresponse rate. Table 7 shows the unit response rates by week.” For example, the response rate for Week 1 of the survey was 3.8%, which means that the non-response rate was 96.2%. This is a noticeably low response rate for social science research and could lead to serious errors or limitations regarding estimates of particular statistics. In the Census Bureau’s for Week 1, they wrote that “… the Census Bureau will conduct a nonresponse bias analysis to assess nonresponse bias in the HPS.”
Summary and Comments
In conclusion, Eggleston and Fields (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021a) wrote the following:
The U.S. Census Bureau’s experimental Household Pulse Survey, the first data source to offer both a national and state-level look at the impact of COVID-19 on homeschooling rates, shows a substantial increase from last spring — when the pandemic took hold — to the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
The new findings from the U.S. Census Bureau support the idea that homeschooling doubled in the United States during the government pandemic lockdowns. Many state-level homeschool organizations were experiencing, first-hand, the significant rise in homeschool numbers. McDonald (2020) accurately reported the huge increase, and Ray (2021) also saw and reported the changes at hand. Now the U.S. Census Bureau has offered further empirical evidence that, indeed, homeschooling numbers exploded during the past year due to government controls and restrictions of institutional schools because of governments’ understanding of real or perceived health threats to children and others.
How many K-12 homeschool students are there now? The Household Pulse Survey does not directly answer this question. The National Home Education Research Institute will further explore the Census Bureau’s new findings to determine whether the homeschool student population size might be estimated.
Future research will likely reveal what portion of those families who began homeschooling during the past year will continue on with it into the future. If a significant portion stay with homeschooling, more noticeable changes lie ahead regarding public favor toward homeschooling and parent-led home-based education’s impact on individual children, families, and society.
Keywords, Categories, Tags: homeschooling, home education, home-based education, Covid-19, pandemic, growth, population size, research, statistics
Homeschoolingbackgrounder.com. (2020). What is homeschooling? Retrieved October 9, 2020 from www.homeschoolingbackgrounder.com
McDonald, Kerry. (2020). Homeschooling more than doubles during the pandemic: State-level data show just how dramatic the surge in homeschooling has been. Retrieved December 29, 2020 from https://fee.org/articles/homeschooling-more-than-doubles-during-the-pandemic/
Ray, Brian D. (2021a). An overview of the worldwide rise and expansion of home education homeschooling (chapter 1). In Rebecca English (Ed.), Global perspectives on home education in the 21st century. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference (an imprint of IGI Global).
Ray, Brian D. (2021b). Research facts on homeschooling. Retrieved March 23, 2021 from https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling/
United States Census Bureau. (2021a). Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey shows significant increase in homeschooling rates in fall 2020 (by Casey Eggleston & Jason Fields. Retrieved March 22, 2021 from https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/03/homeschooling-on-the-rise-during-covid-19-pandemic.html?utm_campaign=20210322msacos1ccstors&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
United States Census Bureau. (2021b). Household Pulse Survey: Measuring Social and Economic Impacts during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Retrieved March 23, 2021 from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey.html
United States Department of Education. (2021).Digest of Education Statistics 2019, 55th Edition, February 2021. Retrieved February 25, 2021 from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2021/2021009.pdf
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