The Homeschool Surge

by James A. Bacon

Home schooling has been on the rise in Virginia for many years. The number of homeschooled students reached nearly 45,000 in 2019; if homeschoolers were a school division, they would have comprised the seventh largest of Virginia’s 133 school divisions. Demographer Hamilton Lombard at the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia, expects the homeschool trend to continue.

There still are significant barriers to homeschooling, particularly the time commitment required by one or both parents, but other barriers are falling. Even before the COVID-19 epidemic, thousands of parents were making the switch every year, pulling their children out of school and educating them at home. COVID-19 likely will accelerate the trend by increasing acceptance of working at home and introducing many families to virtual learning. Writes Lombard in the StatChat blog:

Prior to the pandemic, Milton Gaither, who studies the history of education at Messiah College, observed that the best way to make sense of the explosive growth in homeschooling is to recognize that it is part of “a larger renegotiation of the accepted boundaries between public and private, personal and institutional.” This can been seen in the growing popularity (even before the pandemic) of other home-based trends, such as working from home, home-based healthcare, and even home birthing.

Certainly, in 2020 most Americans have had to renegotiate the boundaries between their public and private lives as they have adapted to the pandemic. When the pandemic is over, it appears likely that the boundaries between public and private life will not return to past norms. Telecommuting, which was already growing rapidly in Virginia, has been boosted substantially by the pandemic, with many employers planning to continue offering telecommuting as an option in the future.

What long-term effects the pandemic will have on education remain to be seen, but so far, the shift for many to a more technology-reliant and home-based lifestyle has helped create social conditions more conducive to homeschooling. If Milton Gaither is correct, the future growth of telecommuting is likely to occur in synchrony with the growth of homeschooling and other home-based activities.

Parents give many reasons for homeschooling their children. Some want to provide religious or moral instruction the children won’t get in public school. Some have children with cognitive or emotional disabilities that make them unsuitable for classroom learning. One in six, according to a 2016 survey Lombard cites, were dissatisfied with the academic instruction. And a third expressed concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure.

A large percentage of homeschooled students are evangelical Protestants, but Lombard notes that the homeschool movement is demographically diverse. In Floyd County, which has the highest percentage of homeschool students of any Virginia school district (13%), the movement was influenced by the presence of its communes. Also, the number of homeschooled Hispanic children has increased sixfold since 1999.

Lombard expects telecommuting and homeschooling to increase hand-in-hand. “The typically higher rates of homeschooling found in localities that also have high telecommuting rates may be due, in part, to the increased flexibility telecommuting parents have in their work schedules,” he says.

Bacon’s bottom line: Lombard has identified some of the critical drivers behind the homeschool trend. I would point to at least two others.

One is the growing sophistication of the homeschool movement. Once upon a time, the stereotypical image of a homeschool parent was of a stay-at-home-mother who taught the children herself. As the movement has evolved, parents have formed informal you-help-me-and-I’ll-help-you arrangements and even some formally organized cooperatives. A small industry has arisen around supplying instructional materials the homeschool sector. Meanwhile, the rise of virtual instruction allows homeschoolers to access advanced content and material that their parents may lack the background to provide.

A factor driving homeschooling in the future, I predict, will be the increasing alienation of a many parents from school systems where educational elites have imposed social-justice principles. Discipline and classroom disruption has always been an issue in public schools, which are constrained in their ability to expel children with behavioral problems. But the growing insistence upon (a) mainstreaming children with cognitive or emotional problems and (b) dialing back suspensions and other sanctions for disciplinary infractions on the grounds that minorities are disproportionately impacted will prompt many parents offended by disorderly  classrooms to yank their children. Adding to the disciplinary issue is the oncoming wave of political indoctrination under the guise of “equity and inclusion.” Many parents likely will object to their children being lectured about white fragility and white privilege.

Expect more parents than ever to “vote with their feet” by opting out of the standard educational model of all public schools and most private schools. Increasingly, people are understanding that it makes little sense to march children in lockstep through 12 grades, with a standard of 180 days of schooling a year, regardless of a child’s unique learning styles or pace of learning.

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16 responses to “The Homeschool Surge

  1. What’s the YoY growth in school-age children look like? I’m cerain that the ~12% growth in those last 3 years is impressive, but if there were, say, an 8% growth in all K-12 over the same period…

  2. To point out a 3rd effect – homeschooling saves tax dollars!

    Schools receive state funding and matches for enrolled students.


    to add more perspective on Virginia:

    1,265,419 students – public schools
    147,717 students – private schools
    45,000 students – home schools

    The top came from VDOE and the second from Private School Review

    Nationally-normed standardized testing is an interesting topic for homeschooling…. I wonder if Dick knows anything about how his grandkids are tested (or measured for achievement).

    • Plus, ID becomes a science.

    • When they were younger, my daughter had a friend of hers, a former teacher, conduct the annual evaluation required by the state. (That is one method allowed.)

      Now, there are various methods for measuring their achievement, aside from her recognition of their mastery of the material. The on-line courses they take have tests. Annually, they take various standardized tests, such as the SAT, that she uses to satisfy the state requirements.

      • I would think some kind of evidence of accomplishment would be important to colleges especially if some are going to rely less on the SATs.

        • They have been visiting colleges and, so far, I have not heard of any problems related to providing evidence outside of the SATs. They have not gotten into the actual application process, so what lies ahead there remains to be seen. Colleges seem to be accommodating to homeschoolers. The biggest task in the admissions process will probably be compiling a transcript, listing the courses he has taken over the years. My daughter is pretty organized, so I assume that she has been doing that as the years pass. Another source for evidence of achievement are the AP tests, which my grandkids have taken.

          • I’m thinking this is one of the issues the newbies may not yet fully appreciate.

            Looking around – it looks like a ton of such resources for homeschooling these days..

            But a pretty big responsibility if you are going to be in charge of your kid getting the education they need to qualify for a good college.

            I wonder if home school kids have the same opportunity for scholarships?

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            Despite the availability of well-developed on-line courses for home school, it is not something for the faint-hearted or for someone who has not thought it out well. I think the on-line courses would be best for older kids; it would be best for the younger ones to get personal instruction from mom or dad.

            Yes, financial aid is available for homeschoolers. They have to fill out the standard, dreaded federal financial aid form.

  3. Larry ,

    >>To point out a 3rd effect – homeschooling saves tax dollars!
    Schools receive state funding and matches for enrolled students.

    I’m missing something here. If there are fewer enrolled students, aren’t there fewer tax dollars going to the schools? Is your argument, “Goody, now we can use the tax dollars for something other than education”? I usually hear the argument that “fewer enrolled students means less money for the schools” in connection with an argument against school choice. It would seem that the argument has now shifted to the aforementioned, “Oh, goody, we can use the money for something else”

    • I said that Crazy? geeze…. I could swore I didn’t !

      I know you don’t believe this but I actually do support cost-effective spending, balanced-budgets, AAA credit, etc … and I absolutely hate the amount of money I have to pay for taxes especially property taxes – it’s freaking outrageous!

      And truly – if someone can educate their kids to high academic standards cheaper than the public schools – we should encourage that!

      As you may know, I support the use of tax dollars for non-public schools as long as they accept all demographics and especially the disadvantaged, and they disclose their academic results transparently, and they are held accountable for that.

      I do NOT think public schools do such a great job teaching disadvantaged kids but I also don’t think that task will be done easier by others either – it’s a tougher gig.

      In terms of MO money – you’ll find I have some fairly fiscally conservative viewpoints – but on a bigger picture than some who fixate on penny-wise-pound foolish.

      • Larry – you were asked a simple question which you did not answer. You claim that homeschooling saves tax dollars. I don’t see how. There is no “attendance fee” for public schools. They are funded by taxes, especially property taxes. Schools are funded per-capita with a lot of accelerators and decelerators based on the student body. If we take kids out of the public schools then the schools will get less funding. Fair enough. However, that doesn’t change the property tax. Are you suggesting that Virginia’s Democratic majority would lower taxes if more and more kids are homeschooled?

  4. I have pestered the Fauquier School Board for the August enrollment numbers. They have not answered me yet. I suspect enrollment is down. I noticed in Montgomery County MD 3,000 fewer enrollments. Where did these kids go? Homeschool? Private school? Moved away? Just not in school? School leaders need to know this. Sooner the better.

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