In December, the U.S. Department of Education's National Center
for Education Statistics released new estimates on the number of
American families homeschooling their children. The new report
shows the growing popularity of homeschooling. In view of this
trend, it is important that federal and state policymakers
safeguard families' right to educate their children at home.
Growing Homeschooling Movement
The report shows that approximately 1.5 million children (2.9
percent of school-age children) were being homeschooled in the
spring of 2007, representing a 36 percent relative increase since
2003 and a 74 percent relative increase since 1999. One private
researcher estimates that as many as 2.5 million school-age
children were educated at home during the 2007-2008 school year.
The homeschooling survey also reveals the most common reasons
cited by families as the basis for their decision to educate their
children at home. The most frequently referenced reasons included
the ability to provide moral or religious instruction (36 percent),
concern about the environment at other schools (21 percent), and
dissatisfaction with the academic instruction provided at other
schools (17 percent). The number of parents reporting the ability
to provide moral or religious instruction as a rationale for
homeschooling their children increased by 11 percentage points
(from 72 percent in 2003 to 83 percent in 2007).
Additional reasons parents homeschooled their children included
"other" reasons (14 percent), desire for nontraditional education
(7 percent), special needs (4 percent), and physical or mental
health problems (2 percent). There was a 12 percentage point increase in
the amount of respondents choosing "other" reasons, from 20 percent
in 2003 to 32 percent in 2007. This increase could indicate an
expansion in the types of demographic groups homeschooling their
Benefits of Homeschooling
The available evidence suggests that homeschooling students
perform as well as their non-homeschooled counterparts. In general,
homeschooled students perform as well as--and in some cases
outperform--their non-homeschooled peers.
Homeschooled students succeed academically regardless of family
income or teacher certification of parents. Top-tier colleges
and universities also recognize the academic abilities of
homeschooled students, with Stanford, Yale, and Harvard among the
institutions with the most homeschool-friendly policies.
An additional benefit of homeschooling comes in the form of
savings to taxpayers and school systems. Analysts have estimated
that homeschooled students save American taxpayers and public
schools between $4.4 billion and $9.9 billion annually.
Other estimates are as high as $16 billion.
Trends and Anticipated Growth
Homeschooling may be the fastest growing form of education in
the U.S., rivaled only by charter schools.
The 74 percent increase in homeschooling since 1999 alone suggests
continued future growth. The homeschooling movement has also gained
traction among minority students, which represent approximately 15
percent of homeschooling families.
The continued growth in homeschooling is facilitated by
organizations that assist families with needs ranging from
curriculum and instruction to advancing legislation that ensures
the freedom to educate children in the home. These burgeoning
networks demonstrate that homeschooling is becoming an increasingly
viable option for families.
Homeschooling continues to broaden and grow because of the vast
array of education options and flexibility it provides for
families. This crucial component of education reform creates an
additional alternative for parents and students. It is estimated
that more than 1 million children attend charter schools or benefit
from voucher programs in the United States--a figure on par with
the more than 1.5 million estimated homeschooled students.
Economists have found that the competitive effects of school choice
programs have prompted improvement in public schools.
While more research is needed, the homeschooling movement could be
taking part in the same trend.
Legal rights to homeschooling have been established nationwide,
facilitating the growth of home-based instruction. Presently,
homeschooling is legal in every state. Policymakers should protect
parents' rights to homeschool their children and enact reforms that
remove barriers to homeschooling. In order to provide meaningful
protections to homeschooling families, Members of Congress should
avoid restrictive regulations at all levels of schooling and offer
tax relief to homeschoolers through education tax credits or
deductions. Homeschooling families provide a valuable contribution
to American education, often while incurring a significant
financial burden in addition to their taxes paid toward public
education. Policies should recognize the educational contribution
of homeschooling and ensure that the freedom to homeschool is
permanently protected and fostered.
In view of all the benefits that homeschooling provides to
homeschooled children as well as society as a whole, lawmakers
should enact policies that give more families the opportunity to
participate in homeschooling. Federal and state policymakers should
work to guarantee that families have the freedom to educate their
children at home in the future.
Lindsey M. Burke is a Research
Assistant in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at The Heritage