Study: States Should Provide Parents With More Information About Homeschooling Options

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Practice is growing rapidly; practitioners are becoming more diverse

BOSTON – States should do more to acknowledge the viability of homeschooling as an educational option, and provide direction and information for parents seeking non-traditional schooling, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

“While homeschooling may not be the best choice for most families, the assumption that public school is the best option for all students is equally flawed,” said William Heuer, co-author of “Homeschooling: The Ultimate School Choice.”

In 1980, an estimated 10,000 American families homeschooled.  By 2012, 1.8 million, or 3.4 percent of all K-12 students, were homeschooled.  That number likely topped two million last year, meaning more American students are now homeschooled than enrolled in parochial schools.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reports that 7,500 students are homeschooled in the commonwealth.  But Ann Zeise, noted researcher and writer on homeschooling and education policy issues, pegs the number at more than 28,000.

Religion was long thought to be the driving force behind homeschooling, but by 2012, just 17 percent of homeschoolers cited it as their primary motivator.

For some families, homeschooling is a lifestyle choice and can become an integral part of their culture and identity.

For another group, homeschooling represents a stopgap solution to a school-based problem.  About half of homeschooling parents also sent at least one child to a private, charter, or traditional public school.

Homeschooling is most common in the South and less so in the Northeast.  Otherwise, it’s spread fairly evenly throughout the country.

SAT scores for homeschoolers are above the national average.  On the ACT, they score above the public school average but below that for private schools.

Various late-20th century studies found that between 93 and 98 percent of homeschoolers were white.  But as the practice has grown more popular in recent years, its practitioners have become more diverse.  Today, slightly more than two-thirds are white and 15 percent are Hispanic.

The 8 percent of the homeschooling population that is African-American remains below the 15 percent of African-American students in the general population, but the number doubled between 2007 and 2011.  The number of Jewish homeschoolers is also increasing.

Homeschooling is particularly popular among military families.  For this group, the rate of homeschooling is more than double the national average.

Heuer and co-author William Donovan find that with the rise of virtual schools, blended learning, and online resources blurring lines between school and homeschool, the definition of homeschooling is a moving target.  The National Center for Educational Statistics considers one a homeschooler if their primary place of schooling is at home rather than a public or private school, and they are not enrolled in such school more than 25 hours per week.

By making extensive use of public libraries and online resources, the annual cost of homeschooling can be as little as a few hundred dollars.  But with packaged curricula, testing services, travel, museum memberships, and tutors, it can approach the tuition charged by many private schools.

The largest cost to homeschooling families is typically the loss of one parent’s income.  In the majority of two-parent homeschooling families, just one parent is in the workforce.

Homeschoolers receive no public funds.  Based on their participation numbers, they save American taxpayers an estimated $22 billion annually.

The Trump administration has filed legislation to make homeschoolers eligible for federal funding, but public support is a contentious issue within the homeschooling community.  Some reject the government regulations, restrictions, and requirements that would invariably accompany public funding, while those for whom homeschooling is a second choice or last resort may welcome it.

The DESE website currently includes links to all Massachusetts private and parochial schools, but none to statewide homeschooling organizations.  One way to acknowledge the viability of homeschooling and support parental choice would be to include these links.

Donovan and Heuer also recommend that school superintendents grant homeschoolers access to public school districts’ extracurricular activities.

About the Authors

William Donovan is a former staff writer with the Providence Journal in Rhode Island where he wrote about business and government. He has taught business journalism in the gradu­ate programs at Boston University and Northeastern Universi­ty. He received his undergraduate degree from Boston College and his master’s degree in journalism from American Univer­sity in Washington, D.C.

William Heuer and his wife Loretta homeschooled their two sons from birth through high school. He has been a presenter and panel participant at statewide and national homeschooling conferences and has given numerous media interviews about homeschooling. He is on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Home Learning Association (MHLA), the commonwealth’s oldest statewide homeschooling advocacy organization.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

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