Homeschooling: More Ethnic Minorities, Lower-Income Families, and Parents of Moderately High Formal Education?
by Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.
June 15, 2009, 5:30pm PDT
(updated June 16, 2009)
Sometimes news media reporters do such a poor job of reporting on the homeschool community and research done on it that this author decides he must comment.
Recently, the newspaper USA Today reported the following:
Profound shift in kind of families who are home schooling their children
Updated 5/28/2009 10:53 PM Retrieved June 15, 2009 from http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-05-28-homeschooling_N.htm
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
(On June 2, 3009, USA Today changed the title to “More higher-income families are home schooling their children.”)
Parents who home-school children increasingly are white, wealthy and well-educated — and their numbers have nearly doubled in a decade, a new federal government report says.
What else has nearly doubled? The percentage of girls who are home-schooled. They now outnumber home-schooled girls [sic] by a wide margin.
As of spring 2007, an estimated 1.5 million, or 2.9% of all school-age children in the USA, were home-schooled, up from 1.7% in 1999. …..”
This author has quickly reviewed the US Department of Education (USDE) report (Planty et al., 2009) on which the USA Today journalist purportedly reported, and provides the following brief comments.
It appears that USA Today either did shoddy information gathering, poor interpretation, or wanted to offer a certain slant or bias in the story and in its title.
They use the word “profound” in the title of the article – This is hyperbole, or strong exaggeration, even if the statistics were close to what the author reports. (But the statistics are not accurately presented, as the reader will note below.)
The author writes that homeschoolers are “increasingly white.” First, he is wrong. If one reviews the statistics from the last four years of USDE research (i.e., the last two USDE reports), one will find that 77.0% of homeschool students were white in 2003 while 76.8% were white in 2007 (i.e., a 0.2% decrease in those who are “white”). Second, this authors’ roughly 25 years of experience with and studying the homeschool community shows that the percentage of the homeschool community comprised of minorities is continuing to increase. Third, homeschool leaders across the nation are telling this author the same; that is, an increasing percent of the homeschool community is non-white.
The USA Today writer claims that home-educating families are increasingly “wealthy.” First, on this point, the reporter should define “wealthy”; he did not do so. Second, the USDE report gives only four income categories ($25,000 or less, $25,001-50,000, $50,001-75,000, and $75,001 or more). There is a big difference (wealthy versus not wealthy?), for example, between $75,001 and $120,000 but the data do not provide such specificity of information. Third, yes, the statistics show that a higher percent of homeschool families were in the upper two income categories compared to four years earlier. Fourth, however, inflation alone might account for this change. It does not appear that the report adjusts for inflation (from the 2003 to 2007 findings) on this item. For example, one will find that $45,000 in 2003 was the same as $51,000 in 2007, simply due to inflation (http://www.westegg.com/inflation/). Inflation alone, therefore, could account for the shift of a significant portion of homeschool families to higher income brackets between the two studies by the USDE.
Finally, on this point, Table A-6-1 of the USDE report suggests that the median income of homeschool households was around the $50,001 to $55,000 in 2007. In 2006 in all married-couple families across the US with one or more related children under age 18, the median nationwide income was $74,049 (in 2006 dollars; or roughly $76,122 in 2007 dollars, when the homeschoolers were studied in 2007 in the latest USDE report; Westegg.com; U.S. Census Bureau, 2009, Table 678). In other words, it appears that homeschool families are not wealthy but notably below median income compared to other households with children. That is, according to US government data/statistics from two sources, homeschool families are possibly low-income (and maybe lower) compared to other families with children. If one considers that homeschool families have, on average, more children than other families then one might conclude say that, per person, homeschool families are even less wealthy than other households with children.
USA Today reported that homeschool parents are increasingly “well-educated.” The USDE found that about 45% of the homeschool parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2003, and 50% had such in 2007. Assuming the point estimates of these statistics are correct, then it appears that their formal education level increased somewhat, as the journalist reported. As with all of the USDE’s findings in this report, one should remember that margins of error in measurement may be significant. (This is true of many social science studies.) These USDE findings are extrapolated from data gathered from interviews with parents of only 290 homeschooled students. (That is, they extrapolated from information on 290 students in their study to their estimated 1.5 million homeschool students, plus or minus, nationwide in 2007.)
Finally, USA Today reported the following: “The ratio of home-schooled boys to girls has shifted significantly.” Again, one should remember that these statistics are extrapolated from data on 290 homeschooled students of an estimated 1.5 million in their study. It is possible that the gender ratio of homeschool students changed from 2003 to 2007, but if so this author doubts it was by as much as reported in the USDE report and in the news article. Such reported shifts in a population variable like this are unlikely in only four years.
In conclusion, using the US government’s data and statistics, one would likely conclude that an increasing percentage of the homeschool population is ethnic minorities, the income of homeschool families is below the national median of households with school-age children, and homeschool parents are somewhat above average in terms of their formal educational attainment. This conclusion is notably different from that presented by USA Today.
Planty, Michael, Hussar, William, Snyder, Thomas, Kena, Grace, KewalRamani, Angelina, Kemp, Jana, Bianco, Kevin, & Dinkes, Rachel. (2009, June). The Condition of Education 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Report number NCES 2009-081. Retrieved June 15, 2009 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009081.pdf.
Greg Toppo, Greg. (2009). Profound shift in kind of families who are home schooling their children. Retrieved June 15, 2009 from http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-05-28-homeschooling_N.htm.
United States Census Bureau. (2009). The 2009 Statistical Abstract. Retrieved tables on or about March 31, 2009 from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/.