Data Snapshot: Who Are the Nation’s Homeschoolers?

Senior Editor

A recently released batch of federal data offers a portrait of the nation’s homeschool population, including the backgrounds of students and their families’ reasons for choosing that option.

The information provides potentially useful intel for companies that are working in the homeschool market or thinking of jumping into it. The data are included in the “First Look” report on Parent and Family Involvement in Education, a collection of survey results published by the National Center for Education Statistics, in which parents were asked a series of questions about their children’s education.

One of the most interesting findings is that the percentage of U.S. students who are homeschooled appears to have leveled off in recent years.

In 1999, 1.7 percent of the nation’s students were homeschooled, and that number rose fairly steadily over time, to reach 3.4 percent in 2012. Yet in 2016, the portion of homeschoolers basically flatlined, at 3.3 percent. (Kudos to Sarah Grady, a statistician and project officer with NCES for laying this out in admirably digestible form in a recent blog post.)

The total number of U.S. homeschool students stood at 1,689,726 last year, according to the report.

The demands of homeschool families have been evolving in recent years, as my colleague Michelle Davis recently reported in a story in EdWeek Market Brief. The rapid growth of digital programs and curricula have given families greater freedom to buy all-in-one curricula or choose from a menu of online options.

The universe of companies serving homeschoolers today includes curriculum companies like Calvert Education and Sonlight—a Christian-focused academic program—as well as huge online providers like K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, owned by Pearson.

What would explain the flattening out of the homeschool population after years of growth? Indiana University Professor Christopher Lubienski offered my colleague Arianna Prothero a couple possible reasons. One might be that the Christian homeschool movement has traded an interest in rapid expansion for a focus on retrenching and supporting the rights of current homeschoolers. An overall slowing of the economy during the period in question might also be a factor, as could the potential for the homeschool population’s growth reaching a ceiling, Lubienski speculated.

The NCES report also offers data on what kinds of communities—cities, suburbs, towns, or rural areas—homeschool students are based in. Suburban students make up the biggest slice of the homeschool population:

Male students slightly outnumber females, the data show. The largest portion of homeschool students, nearly 60 percent, are white; followed by 26 percent, Hispanic; 8 percent, black, non-Hispanic; 4 percent other non-Hispanic; and 3 percent Asian or Pacific Islander.

The data also speak to the equivalent grade levels of homeschool students. The largest portion, 31 percent, are high school age; 24 percent are the equivalent of grades 6-8; 23 percent are grades K-2, and 22 percent are grades 3-5.

Twenty-one percent of homeschool students are from impoverished backgrounds, and 79 percent are considered non-poor, according to NCES. The measurement is based on whether students are above or below the poverty threshold.

[Update (Nov. 22): A couple readers have asked how the homeschool data compare with estimates from the overall school U.S. student population. So I took some comparisons from NCES’ Digest of Education Statistics, and there are similarities in many data categories.

In terms of location, the numbers are pretty similar: Out of a total U.S. public school population of roughly 50 million students, 40 percent of those students are based in suburban areas, and 30 percent are based in cities — roughly the same portion of homeschoolers found in each of those communities.

Eleven percent of overall public school students are based in towns, compared to 10 percent of homeschoolers. A slightly lower portion of public school students go to school in rural areas, 18 percent, compared to 22 percent of homeschoolers.

Overall, the U.S. public school population has a smaller portion of white students (50 percent) and a larger portion of black students, (15.6 percent) than the homeschool community. The Hispanic population, at 24 percent, is fairly similar.

In terms of poverty level, the federal data I’ve found uses a different measure: the percentage of students eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches. Twenty-four percent of U.S. public school students attend “high-poverty” schools, where more than 75 percent of the students qualify for the program. About 20 percent attend low-poverty schools. The rest, roughly 55 percent, attend schools where between 25-75 percent of the students qualify for the lunch program.]

The survey also asked parents about why they choose to homeschool their children:

The biggest factors leading parents to the homeschool option were concerns about the environment at other schools, while a desire to provide more instruction, and a dissatisfaction with traditional schools’ academic performance, also ranked high among families.


See also:

19 thoughts on “Data Snapshot: Who Are the Nation’s Homeschoolers?

  1. The more likely reason for the flattening out of the homeschooled population is the proliferation of the online and blended learning options in public, charter, and private schools. Many of those students are pursuing an independent course of study but for the record are considered enrolled in a bona fide school.

  2. There were studies about the reasons why some families opted for homeschooling their children. Religious reasons were predominant in the eighties and nineties. As violence by students and non students increased in the early part of the new millennium plus the spread of drugs and sexual abuse, families of even non religious affiliation decided to homeschool their children. Other factors played a role in homeschooling like the curriculum content, the school achievement, the financial aspect, the racial condition, etc. Now that technology and laws facilitated distance learning, students are registered with the public school system and are taken out of the homeschooling statistics although they continue to stay home (or with a group of homeschoolers outside the campus). These are some points to consider when studying the homeschooling business. Others may add more input into this arena of education.

  3. I also suspect the leveling off of what most homeschoolers consider to be homeschooling is due to the many online, public/private ‘school at home’ programs available. Online school is not homeschooling. School at home and homeschooling are very different.

  4. There are many factors that have contributed to the rise of homeschooling. The availability of many online learning options has certainly taken the pressure off of families to provide one-to-one instruction. I do, however, believe that students, especially younger children who are home schooled, miss out on essential peer to peer socialization activities.

    1. Homeschooled children are not in closets! They get peer interaction through dance lessons, town sports, church school, classes with other homeschoolers, library activities in the community, etc. My kids homeschooled, then went to public school. When they got to public school, their social lives became much quieter. After all day with 30 kids in a classroom, they didn’t want to be with others after school. They had “had enough and needed quieter time to think” – is what they told me!

  5. The grade distribution seems off. My experience homeschooling in several states for almost 15 years suggests that high school age homeschool students are less common than K-8 students. Some families homeschool with a specific intent to send their kids to a brick and mortar school for high school. Others simply find the curriculum options for high school to be too hard to manage at home or too expensive. Others want access to high school activities like sports teams, science labs, or robotics teams that are difficult or expensive to support within homeschooling. On the flattening of growth in homeschooling, look at the growth in public charters that support a home study model.

  6. I have to wonder how accurate this is given a lot of homeschooling families don’t have to register the ages of their children, nor do they believe data should be collected concerning their kids.

  7. As a former teacher I am dubious about homeschooling. The homeschooled kids it have known were lacking in social skills and their parents were not qualified educators. Too many homeschooled kids are simply the products of very conservative religious indoctrination. In general, homeschooling in inferior to average public school education. — Edd Doerr

    1. Edd – You’re entitled to your opinion, but make sure it’s based on fact rather than personal agenda. MANY homeschooled kids do very well after having transferred to public schools. They tend to be well-adjusted socially, very focused on classroom teaching, are diligent in completing their work, and they tend to have above-average grades. To glibly state they lack in social skills & their education is steeped in “very conservative religious indoctrination” is simply untrue & ignorant. If that’s your own personal anecdotal data, fine, but realize it is contrary to the data & comes across as elitist, arrogant, and ill-informed.

    2. I agree with Zeke, I think that’s your unjustified opinion. I’ve seen home-schooled kids who have far better social skills than those who attend regular schools. Your generalizations smack of personal bias…people have reasons for their choices, and they have the right to make those choices. I’ve met some very mobile families who chose home-schooling because that’s what works best for them. And to conclude that parents of home-schooled kids ‘were not qualified educators’ and ‘homeschooling is inferior to average public school education’ is truly ignorant. I also know someone with no religious inclination who home-schools, so, I was wondering how you justified your statement that ‘too many home-schooled kids are products of very conservative religious indoctrination’ is. I think you will do well to get some data before drawing conclusions.

  8. I also believe that it is very hard to verify those figures provided and in fact believe that the number is higher. We provide our learning materials to homeschoolers as well as those students in the classroom, and know that a large percentage of homeschoolers are very hesitant top disclose information about their home education activities and their reasons for choosing this option. And I qualify these comments by saying we place the highest priority on the level of support we provide and speak to these families and parents every day. Further to that, and having been involved with this section of the education market since the late 1990’s focusing heavily on Visual Learning, we have seen a significant increase over the last 4 years in the number of families that live with Dyslexia and who are taking their children out of school to educate at home, because many schools are unable to provide the Visual Learning that provides the ideal solution for students with Dyslexia. It is also worth commenting that because so many Dyslexics are incredibly bright, many of those parents understandably do not classify their kids as being “Special Needs”. The official stats recognise that 1 in every 7 students in K-12 lives with some form of dyslexia, so to see such a small number home educating for Special Needs reasons, is I believe also quite misleading and might well misrepresent those figures given.

  9. For a closer look with a more nuanced set of questions, you may want to look at the white paper by GHF: Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, US Public Education Policy: Missing Voices and the Executive Summary, with graphs & tables.

  10. Just so you know: Federal data on homeschoolers is inaccurate by definition. Thankfully, homeschoolers are not tracked by the federal government and the homeschool laws in quite a few states are blessedly non-invasive so it’s likely that tens or hundreds of thousands of homeschooled kids are not counted in government numbers. Additionally, please correct your article to remove reference to public-school-at-home (i.e., Connections Academy) as if it is homeschooling. Those who use public-school-at-home programs are NOT homeschooling. It doesn’t matter that their kids are home – and if public-school-at-home is some parents’ choice, that’s fine. The issue is a legal one, as public-school-at-home kids are governed under wholly different state laws than are actual homeschoolers. We need people to stop blurring those lines.

  11. In states like Texas, there is no way to track how many homeschool families there are. This is due to the fact that you do not register there. In a study being done, you missed thousands, if not hundreds if thousands, of families in your count. Your numbers are WAY off. Please remove any public school at home programs, for they are not homeschooling. Add in the extreme number of secular homeschoolers, and your mention of religious programs become offensive. I would love to see your sources of how you got these numbers, for they are way off. Especially the high school to elementary age stats.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *