The U.S. Census Bureau reported in late March that 11.1 percent of K-12 students in the nation are now homeschooling, a significant jump from 5.4 percent when school closures went into effect in spring of 2020, and from the 3.3 percent of families who homeschooled prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The global COVID-19 pandemic has sparked new interest in homeschooling and the appeal of alternative school arrangements has suddenly exploded,” wrote Casey Eggleston and Jason Fields for the Census Bureau, which gathered data for an “experimental” Household Pulse Survey that measured the “social and economic impacts during the coronavirus pandemic.”
“Using a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. households, the survey shows homeschooling is notably higher than the national benchmarks and offers a glimpse of changes in homeschooling patterns during the pandemic,” the writers noted, explaining that, while 5.4 percent of American homes reported homeschooling when school closures went into effect in spring of 2020, “[b]y fall, 11.1% of households with school-age children reported homeschooling (Sept. 30-Oct. 12).”
The Census Bureau clarified the survey distinguished between households that were “reporting true homeschooling rather than virtual learning through a public or private school.”
The Bureau writers continued that, sparked by the pandemic, more American families are seeking education alternatives for their children:
It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children.
From the much-discussed “pandemic pods,” (small groups of students gathering outside a formal school setting for in-person instruction) to a reported influx of parent inquiries about stand-alone virtual schools, private schools and homeschooling organizations, American parents are increasingly open to options beyond the neighborhood school.
A Harvard professor says homeschooling is a tool for “right-wing Christian conservatives” to instill their ideology in their children. https://t.co/e0bGU2cetU
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) May 19, 2020
The Census Bureau data echoes that of Gallup polling which, at the end of August, found a five-point increase in the percentage of parents who said they would homeschool their children this academic year, from five percent in 2019 to ten percent in 2020.
Gallup also defined homeschooling in its survey as “not enrolled in a formal school, but taught at home” so as to distinguish homeschooling from remote learning programs provided by schools.
In November, Education Week also reported more than doubling of the homeschool population in the United States, with 58 percent of principals and superintendents naming homeschooling as being “a major contributor to enrollment declines caused by COVID-19—more than any other single reason.”
Of particular note in the Census Bureau data is that homeschooling rates are surging among black families, in which the proportion homeschooling increased from 3.3 percent in spring 2020 to 16.1 percent in fall 2020.
In an interview with Breitbart News, Kerry McDonald, a senior education fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), explained, “The black homeschool population doubled between 2008-2012, though it was still less representation among the homeschooling community than the black population in the K-12 school age population at large.”
“With what the Census Bureau data showed is that now there is an over-representation of black homeschoolers compared to black students in the overall K-12 population,” she added. “So, it’s about 16% black students now homeschooling, compared to 15% in the overall K-12 U.S. public school system.”
Education observers say a rise in interest in homeschooling due to the coronavirus could spark a new way to think about educating children. https://t.co/A8tgQ8sDIs
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) March 12, 2020
McDonald, the author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom, said she foresees a “sustained elevation of homeschooling numbers going forward,” primarily because parents’ views of directing their own children’s education have grown more positive.
EdChoice, for example, began tracking school choice options during the pandemic in April 2020, and found, at that time, 52 percent of parents had a more favorable opinion of homeschooling.
“And that number has only increased steadily every month that they’ve done the surveys, to the point where in February this year, it was to 63% favorability,” McDonald said. “I think that’s another indicator that parents are liking what they see.”
“Just wait until communities open up,” she added, noting that when libraries, museums, and science centers are fully open again, homeschooling families will once again be able to take advantage of learning opportunities in their communities.
“Post lockdown I think parents will have an even more positive impression of homeschooling,” McDonald emphasized.
“I think over the past year, parents have certainly felt re-empowered to direct their children’s education in ways that were, you know, unimaginable before school closures and the pandemic response,” she explained.
“Suddenly parents have been put back in charge of their children’s education, even if they’re not officially homeschooling,” she said, and continued:
These parents are getting a much closer look at what their kids are learning in the classroom through Zoom school, or what they’re not learning in the classroom, and they may be disillusioned by some of the curriculum ideology that they may be seeing, or the lack of academic rigor, or the way that the teachers may interact with the children. And I think they’re seeing there are other options.
McDonald said more families homeschooling may be the start of a push for more school choice policies in general.
“Now we have active legislation in over two dozen states to expand school choice,” she noted. “So, I think that’s a huge win, and something that parents are increasingly supporting. RealClearOpinion came out with a survey last November finding that support for school choice had increased ten percent,” with 77 percent of parents in support of school choice.
In addition to parental empowerment, McDonald said homeschooling is likely to remain a popular education choice because many parents now have “more workplace flexibility than they did before the pandemic, and this is likely to continue.”
She noted the reported increase in “teleworking,” with physical office locations closing permanently as more employees work remotely.
“And I think as more parents see that they have more flexibility in their work schedules, they’ll want to be able to grant more flexibility to their children in their learning schedules,” she said. “Parents maybe have a better sense of the rewards of living and learning alongside their children over the past year, and see their children might be flourishing in a non- standardized classroom where they’re really able to customize a curriculum and individualized learning.”
McDonald observed the “abundant resources, including technology or curriculum, and a whole host of different learning tools available to families, many of which are free or low-cost,” for homeschooling families.
“So, parents may realize for the first time they don’t necessarily have to be the ones doing all of the teaching in a homeschooling environment,” she added. “They can just really facilitate their children’s learning and connect them to these other learning resources and curriculum tools.”