Homeschools are increasing, but not as much as some people think.
Homeschools have to be defined, before they can be counted.
The traditional definition of homeschooling has changed in the last decade. There are now many options for students completing school FROM home rather than school AT home. It may sound like a play on words, but there is a difference.
Independent homeschools that are essentially a mini private school have been around for a long time. Also for several decades, many public schools around the U.S. have offered independent educational plans (IEP’s) where public school students work from home. Over the last decade, multiple distance learning options from private and charter schools have mushroomed through the use of mostly online curricula. Many homeschool families that initially used nearby umbrella schools are now using distance learning opportunities that specialize in distance learning as their primary enrollment.
This raises some statistical questions. Are IEP students counted as homeschoolers? Are distance learning students homeschoolers? Are private school distance learning students statistically double-counted at the school and locally as homeschoolers? Are online charter school students counted as charter school students or homeschoolers?
With so many variables, anyone can say anything and use statistics to show it. However, school from home statistics are technically different than independent homeschooling with the school at home.
There are other statistical problems on top of that.
Independent homeschools in the U.S. have increased substantially since 1970, but the growth rate has slowed down in recent years. Older bigger growth rates cannot be used to project current homeschools. For example, many statistics show an annual growth rate of 12% from 1999-2007. If a person takes a reported number of homeschoolers in 2007, then uses the older larger growth rate to project current numbers, it will create a much larger number than reality. It is also important not to use multi-year growth rates instead of an annual growth rate for calculation. For example, a growth rate could be reported, but not clarified if it is multi-year or annual. A four year growth rate could be 4.76%, but the annual growth rate is only going to be around 1.2%. A multi-year or annual growth rate must be clarified in order to know how to calculate.
There are several reasons why accurate homeschool numbers are hard to know. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) has historically only calculated its major homeschool summary every four years, then they take over a year to publish results. This leaves people guessing or projecting based on a wide range of methods in the mean time. Even then, some feel NCES does not count all actual homeschools due to their survey method or families trying to stay off the educational grid. I also feel that until online charter school and private school distance education is better classified that numbers will be gray and might be under-reported. State data collection is also difficult because each state can differ in structure. Some states such as Oklahoma do not have any structure to collect data for homeschools.
Due to these state and NCES barriers, some have tried to calculate homeschool numbers by taking school-aged children on censuses, then use an estimated percentage that are homeschoolers to project a total. However, the estimated homeschool percentage of school-aged children varies greatly depending on the source. I have seen anywhere from 2.9%-4%. That difference could throw off the total by over 25%.
Probably the most reliable method is to evaluate individual states that have clearly defined annual registration requirements. The national total will still be an estimate, but much larger numbers will be used to sample than NCES uses in its survey. Once again, until several states differentiate and count independent homeschooling, IEP’s from home, private school distance learning, and charter school distance learning, the total will always be gray.
I predict it is very likely in the near future to see growth in blended approaches where campus-based schools allow several days or partial days to be completed from home, yet still have some campus-based academic features and offer extracurricular activities such as sports.
A recent article headlines “Report: Homeschooling Growing Seven Times Faster Than Public School Enrollment”.
Unless data collection methods and analysis are provided, caution should be used in evaluating information. Often reports are built on the assumption that others’ work or projections are accurate. Sometimes statistics can be taken out of context. For example, an anomaly can be focused on instead of pointing out the trend.
From 2006-2010, according to NCES’ June 2012 Digest of Educational Statistics, there has been very little change in the total U.S. school-aged child population (ages 5-17). The 14-17 year old population has even had a slight annual decrease from 2007 through their latest reporting year of 2011. Public schools as a nation cannot have any growth rate at all if there is no growth in school-aged child numbers. So to say homeschooling is increasing seven times the rate of public schools in the article title is grandstanding a bit. In order to have public school growth when birth rate is dropping, it has to be regional growth or a gain over private schools due to recession factors and/or a gain over homeschools. There will likely be an increase in younger age enrollments for 2012 because of the record number of births in 2007. However, according to the CDC’s August 2012 National Vital Statistics Report the birth rate has dropped annually since 2007. It would seem to me the number of school-aged children will not grow from 2013 to at least 2016 because of the decrease in births. NCES does mention in their digest they project record enrollment numbers each year from 2011 through 2020. I am not sure how this will happen with less babies being born.
Also, the 75% growth mentioned in the article was a six year growth rate from 1999-00 through 2006-07 when it went from 850k to 1.5m. That would be around a 12% annual growth rate. One can look at multiple state government sites that report more recent data to see the annual growth rate has probably slowed down to about one-fourth of past annual growth rates these last five years.
Brian Ray (who is quoted in the article) estimated on the cheaofca.org site there were 1.9-2.4 million homeschoolers in 2006, when NCES showed 1.5m. If Ray’s lower estimate of 1.9m for 2005-06 increased at a 1% growth rate, there would be 2 million in 2010. In Jan 2011, Ray published on his own site at nheri.org there were 2 million homeschoolers in 2010, which would show a 1% growth rate using his lower 2006 estimate. However, if we go with Ray’s middle or high estimate for 2005-06, then he would be saying in 2010 there was a decline in homeschoolers since 2005-06.
The article stated homeschoolers makeup 4% of school-aged children, but it could actually be just over 3% according to NCES and individual states. They rounded up. The rounding is a huge difference when estimating numbers of home-based students versus percentage of school-aged children. 4% instead of 3.1% inflates the number of homeschoolers about a half million, which is almost 25% the number of homeschoolers. NCES reported the percentage was only 2.9% in 2007.
Obviously as data sources become available, older estimates have to be adjusted. I am more inclined to believe the numbers are somewhere between NCES and Ray’s for 2006 and has increased somewhere around a 2% national growth rate. I will try to provide my data collection and analysis on a separate page. Once again, statistics are very gray until homeschoolers are better defined.
In my opinion, there was a surge in independent homeschool growth from 1972-2006. From 2007 to present, homeschooling has almost plateaued with slight growth; and there is a possibility that independent homeschooling even declined due to distance learning growth. There is likely to be another surge in this decade primarily because of the growth in online schools with their benefits. Ray in the above mentioned article also predicts a surge.
There is a large increase in distance learning providers. This increasing number of schools currently have to compete for a still slow growth rate of new homeschoolers. They are also competing for the existing independent homeschoolers converting to distance learning. I am only guessing, but there might be a higher short term enrollment factor in distance learning students compared to traditional homeschoolers that stay with it longer. This could mislead estimating growth rates in some statistical instances.