A growing number
of American families are choosing to homeschool their
children. The U.S. Department of Education's National Center
for Education Statistics reports that approximately 1.1 million
children (2.2 percent of school-age children) were being
educated at home as of 2003-29 percent more than the 850,000
students who were being homeschooled in 1998. Another estimate
projects that 2 million or more children may be homeschooling.
common reasons for choosing to homeschool their children, such as
concern about the environment at other schools, dissatisfaction
with the academic instruction at other schools, and a
preference for providing religious and moral instruction not
provided in traditional schools.
nature of the homeschooling population limits researchers' ability
to draw conclusions about the specific effect of homeschooling
on various outcome measures such as academic achievement.
However, evaluations of homeschooled students have reported that
homeschool students perform well in that academic environment.
Moreover, a survey of adults who were homeschooled suggests that
home schooling leads to positive life outcomes, such as higher
college attendance and enrollment.
number of students being educated at home is also influencing the
American Education system and saving taxpayers between $4.4
billion and $9.9 billion in instructional costs each year.
The percentage of
homeschooled students will likely continue to grow. Technological
and societal trends may make homeschooling a viable option for a
growing number of American families. Federal and state policymakers
and the private sector have an opportunity to safeguard
homeschooling and improve the opportunities for families to give
their children the best possible Education at home.
the United States
an alternative form of education in which children are
instructed at home rather than at a traditional public or private
school. Children who are homeschooled are instructed by
parents, guardians, or other tutors.
home education has been a primary method for parents to educate
their children. Many of America's Founders were educated at
home, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Over
time, the rise of compulsory Education laws in the United States
eroded the prevalence of home instruction. However, since the 1970s and
1980s, homeschooling has gradually again become a popular method of
During this time,
homeschooling advocates have pressed for the legal right to forgo
compulsory school attendance and educate their children at home,
but not without opposition. For example, the National Education
Association has advocated placing restrictions on homeschooling. At
its 2007 annual meeting, it approved a resolution calling for
tighter regulation of homeschooling: "When home schooling
occurs…[i]nstruction should be by persons who are
licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency,
and a curriculum approved by the state department of Education
should be used." However, such efforts to restrict or
tightly regulate homeschooling have largely failed. Today,
homeschooling is legal in every state.
The Home School
legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a nonprofit organization that
advocates for homeschooling, rates the degree to which states
regulate homeschooling. According to the HSLDA, 10 states require
no notice from homeschoolers; 15 states have "low regulation"
(requiring only parental notification); 20 states have "moderate
regulations"; and six states have "high regulation." (See Map
of legal homeschooling rights across the country has facilitated
strong growth in the number of children being educated at home. The
decentralized nature of the homeschoolers makes estimating the
homeschool population difficult. According to the Department
of Education, approximately 1.1 million students (2.2 percent of
the school-age population) were being educated at home in 2003,
compared to an estimated 850,000 students in 1999. This estimate is
extrapolated from a national survey of school-age students. Of the
estimated 1.1 million students, 200,000 were also enrolled in
Department of Education's estimate may be too low. The National
Home Education Research Institute estimates that between 1.9
million and 2.4 million children were educated at home during the
2005-2006 school year. Despite these differences, both the
Department of Education and the National Home Education Research
Institute concluded that the homeschooling population is increasing
each year. The institute estimates that the number of children
being homeschooled grows 7 percent to 12 percent per year.
The Department of
Education survey provides background on homeschooling families.
White students were more likely to be homeschooled than
African-American or Hispanic students. Children in two-parent
families with only one parent in the workforce were also more
likely to be homeschooled. Children from families
with annual household incomes below $75,000 were more likely to be
homeschooled than children with families who earned more than
that amount each year. Participation was also higher among families
with at least one parent who had earned a college degree.
The Department of
Education survey also sheds light on families' reasons for
homeschooling. Parents cited a number of common reasons for
choosing to homeschool: "concern about the environment of other
schools" (85 percent); "dissatisfaction with academic instruction
at other schools" (68 percent); and a preference "to provide
religious and moral instruction" (72 percent).
Achievement and Other Outcomes
nature of the homeschooling population makes it difficult to draw
definitive conclusions about academic achievement and other
outcomes. No controlled experiments have been conducted comparing
the performance of homeschooled students with the performance
of their peers in traditional schools. Without a controlled
experiment, drawing definite conclusions about the effectiveness of
homeschooling as a method of instruction compared to traditional
schooling is impossible. However, a number of researchers have
evaluated the performance of homeschoolers on various measures and
have reported that homeschooled students seem to be doing well
in their learning environment.
Achievement. The academic literature on the relationship
between homeschooling and academic achievement outcomes is limited,
but the largest evaluation of homeschooled students' academic
achievement found that they were doing well in their learning
environments. In 1998, Dr. Lawrence Rudner of the University of
Maryland administered academic achievement tests to 20,760
homeschooled students. He reported that "the achievement tests of
this group of home school students are exceptionally high- the
median scores were typically in the 70th to 80th percentile." He
also found that 25 percent of the homeschooled students tested are
enrolled one or more grade levels above their age-level peers in
traditional public or private schools. Rudner cautions that the
results of his evaluation do not demonstrate that homeschooling is
superior to public or private Education, but he does state
that the findings suggest that "home school students do quite well
in that environment."
Preparedness. In 2004, Dr. Paul Jones and Dr. Gene Gloeckner
published an evaluation of first-year college performance of
homeschoolers and traditional public school students in The
Journal of College Admissions. They summarized the
available academic literature and reported that the
evidence showed that homeschoolers performed as well as
traditional public school students on college preparatory exams and
in first-year college grade point averages. The researchers
conducted their own experiment and found no statistical difference
between homeschool graduates and traditional high school graduates
on nine measures of college preparedness. "The academic
performance analyses," concluded the authors, "indicate that home
school graduates are as ready for college as traditional high
school graduates and that they perform as well on national college
assessment tests as traditional high school graduates."
Outcomes. Evidence also suggests that homeschoolers experience
positive life outcomes compared to the general population. In 2003,
Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute
surveyed 7,300 adults (ages 18 through 24) who were homeschooled.
Among the respondents, 74 percent had taken college-level
courses, compared to 46 percent of the general population. They
also reported being involved in their communities and engaged
in civic affairs at higher rates than the average population.
They were also more likely to report being "happy" than was the
general population. Although this survey is not a scientific
measure, the results support the idea that home schooling
likely leads to similar or positive life outcomes compared to
the general population.
Characteristics As a Factor. One likely cause of the general
success of homeschoolers is positive family backgrounds. Academic
researchers have concluded that family background
characteristics are a primary factor in shaping students'
academic achievement. Homeschooling families are more likely to
have at least one parent who earned a college degree compared to
the general population. Homeschooled students are also more likely
to live in two-parent households. These family background
characteristics are an important factor in the general positive
outcomes of homeschooled students.
The Fiscal Impact
number of students being educated at home affects the public
Education system in a number of ways. Homeschooling saves taxpayers
resources that would otherwise have been spent educating
homeschooled children if they had enrolled in public school.
is financed through complex funding formulas and revenue streams
that come from federal, state, and local taxpayers.
When a child does not enroll in a public school, resources that
otherwise would have been devoted to that child can be saved or
reallocated to other uses. Determining the extent of savings from
each homeschooled child is difficult. Generally, states fund
schools through a formula system on a per student basis, but the
federal government and local government bodies do not provide
funding on a per student basis.
estimate of the savings from each homeschooled student would be the
national average per pupil expenditure on instruction, which
was $4,934 for the 2002-2003 school year according to National
Center for Education Statistics estimates. This estimate of
the average variable cost of educating an additional student
excludes many of the general overhead costs that may remain when a
child chooses not to attend public school.
Department of Education's conservative estimate of 898,000
students who were educated entirely at home
in 2003, the National Home Education Research Institute's estimate
of 2 million homeschool students, and the national average per
pupil expenditure on instruction, homeschooling likely saves
American taxpayers and public schools at least $4.4 billion to $9.9
billion in instruction costs each year.
Moreover, this is
a conservative estimate. Homeschoolers may save taxpayers
significantly more than that because of additional savings from
overhead. If 2 million students chose to enroll in American public
schools tomorrow, states and communities would need to
allocate significant funding for construction of new school
facilities to accommodate all of them.
Reasons for Likely
suggest that the number of students being homeschooled will
continue to grow.
Innovations and Networks. The continued growth of the number of
home schooling families has led to a proliferation of resources
and networks that facilitate homeschooling. Twenty-five years
ago, a family that wanted to homeschool would likely have had
limited curriculum and instructional options. Today, the
options are nearly boundless. A Google search on "home schooling"
produces more than 13 million hits. This demonstrates the wide
range of instruction options and homeschooling networks that
parents can access when they choose to homeschool their
Parents can find
and purchase curriculum materials through online exchanges and
other networks. Hundreds of Web sites, blogs, and books
are devoted to supporting parents who homeschool. In some
cases, parents can access free or low-cost instructional products
to teach their children. Other options include online learning
services such as K12.com, which offers professionally
developed courses online for relatively low monthly fees.
Across the United States, a growing number of for-profit tutoring
providers are in operation, such as Kumon and Sylvan Learning
Centers, which offer parents opportunities to provide
supplementary instruction to their children.
Parents can also
join a growing number of home schooling networks across the
United States and around the world. Most states have some form of
support network for homeschooling. These networks facilitate
collaborative instruction and provide opportunities for
socialization for homeschooled students. For example, students can
participate in speech and debate tournaments tailored to
homeschooled students through the National Christian Forensics
and Communications Association. Homeschoolers can also
participate in various athletic networks. In addition, homeschoolers
are eligible under NCAA eligibility rules to participate in college
Education Partnerships. Across the country, many states have
policies that facilitate home instruction by allowing homeschoolers
to participate in some public school activities. At least 20 states
have policies established by statute or legal ruling that allow
homeschooled students to participate in some public school
activities, such as extracurricular activities and
schools offer homeschooled students the opportunity to attend
part-time. The Education Commission of the States reports that
individual schools are often allowed to determine whether or not to
allow homeschooled students to participate part-time, noting that
allowing students to attend can lead to additional funding and
requirements that homeschooled students participate in
In addition, a
growing number of states now offer some form of distance and online
learning opportunities. According to the Department of Education,
36 percent of public school districts in 2002-2003 had students
enrolled in distance Education courses. In all, 9 percent of public
schools nationwide offered distance Education courses. Schools in
rural communities were more likely to offer distance Education: 15
percent as of 2002-2003.
of distance learning options could allow more students to
participate in some form of learning from home.
Credits. Some states also offer Education tax credits or
deductions for qualifying education-related expenses. Education tax
credits and deductions reduce a taxpayer's tax liability or the
amount of income that is subject to tax. For example, Iowa,
Illinois, and Minnesota offer various tax credits and deductions
for education-related expenses, including private school tuition
and payments for instructional materials. As Education tax
credits proliferate across the country, home schooling could
become a more affordable option for many Americans.
Trends. Other technological and societal trends could also
contribute to continued growth in homeschooling. In the future,
more families may be able to find creative ways to balance
work and home responsibilities, potentially increasing the
likelihood that they can homeschool their children.
trend is telecommuting. A growing number of American workers are
taking advantage of opportunities to work from home. According to
the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 4.5 million Americans
worked from home in 2003. Between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of
workers who worked from home increased by 23 percent-twice the
growth rate of the overall workforce. As more Americans take
advantage of flexible working opportunities, including
telecommuting, homeschooling may become a more practical option for
Systemic Education Reform
an important component of the student-centered educational reforms
that are changing the landscape of American education. In 2008,
millions of American families benefit from greater opportunities to
control how their children are educated through student-centered
reforms. For example, more than 150,000 children are attending
private schools using publicly funded scholarships through private
school choice programs. Moreover, an estimated 1.2 million students
attend charter schools instead of traditional public schools.
number of students taking advantage of school choice options has
created competition for the traditional public school system. The
threat of losing students to charter schools or private school
choice programs pressures public schools to reform to attract more
students. Harvard University economist Caroline Hoxby evaluated the
competitive effects of school choice programs in Arizona,
Milwaukee, and Michigan and found that competition has caused
public schools to improve performance.
growing trend toward homeschooling is creating similar
competition for the traditional public school system is an
interesting question for further academic research. The
estimated 1 million to 2 million homeschoolers is similar to the
estimated 1 million or more children attending charter schools or
participating in school voucher programs. This suggests that
trends toward homeschooling could be having a competitive
effect on the public school system. If the trend toward increased
homeschooling continues, academic researchers may have an
opportunity to evaluate how homeschooling is affecting the
traditional public school system.
What Federal and
State Policymakers Should Do
research is limited, the available evidence suggests that
homeschooling provides a positive learning environment for the
estimated 1.1 million American children who are being educated at
home. Homeschooling families are making a valuable contribution to
American Education without relying on taxpayer assistance,
saving taxpayers as much as $4.4 billion to $9.9 billion annually
by forgoing taxpayer-funded public education. Many families make
significant financial sacrifices to homeschool their children after
paying federal, state, and local taxes that support public
should take steps to protect all parents' right to teach their
children at home and implement reforms to facilitate
Members of Congress should:
establishing regulations that would restrict or hinder
families' right to homeschool in elementary, secondary, and
- Reform the
Coverdell Education savings account program to include
homeschooling costs under allowable uses for tax-free Education
expenditures. Under current law, homeschooling costs are
allowed under regulations for Coverdell education savings
accounts only in states that define homeschooling as private
State policymakers should:
establishing regulations to restrict homeschooling.
reforms to provide equal access to public school extracurricular
homeschoolers some tax relief through Education tax credits or
deductions for specific homeschooling costs.
- Offer state
tax incentives for contributions made to children's Coverdell
Education savings accounts to enable more families to save
for their children's Education expenses, including
A growing number
of American families are choosing to homeschool their children. The
Department of Education's National Center for Education
Statistics reports that approximately 1.1 million children were
being educated at home as of 2003. Other estimates place the number
of homeschooled students at more than 2 million. Homeschooling
families save American taxpayers at least $4.4 billion to $9.9
billion annually by forgoing taxpayer-funded public education.
While research evidence is limited, evaluations of student outcomes
suggest that homeschooling is a successful educational method
for participating students.
Federal and state
policymakers should protect all families' right to educate their
children at home and implement policies to enable more families to
homeschool their children in the future.
Dan Lips is Education Analyst
and Evan Feinberg is a former Research Assistant in the Domestic
Policy Studies Department at The Heritage Foundation.