Medical Tuesday Blog

Homeschooling has doubled during the pandemic

Jan 4

Written by: Del Meyer
01/04/2021 4:04 AM 

Parents who had been considering homeschooling lacked the catalyst to give it a try—until now.


Many families took one look at their school district’s remote or hybrid learning offerings this fall and said, “No, thank you.” That’s the message gleaned from national and state-specific data on the surging number of homeschooled students this academic year.

Prior to the pandemic and related school closures last spring, there were just under 2 million homeschoolers in the United States, representing about 3.4 percent of the total K-12 school-age population. According to recent polling by Education Week, that percentage has more than doubled to 9 percent this fall, or nearly 5 million homeschoolers. This estimate mirrors related polling from Gallup in August suggesting that 10 percent of U.S. students would be homeschooled this year.

State-level data show just how dramatic the surge in homeschooling has been, particularly in areas where many district schools continue to be closed for full-time, in-person learning. In Massachusetts, for example, the Boston Globe reported on Nov. 24 that 7,188 students statewide transferred from public schools into homeschooling this year, compared to only 802 homeschooling transfers in 2019.

In North Carolina, homeschooling filings nearly tripled, with more than 10,000 parent forms submitted over the summer, compared to about 3,500 in 2019. In fact, so many parents in North Carolina completed their online intent to homeschool forms during the first week of July (when the system began accepting filings for this year), that it crashed the state’s nonpublic education website. . .

Public School Enrollment Plummets

Driven in large part by new homeschoolers, public schools across the country are experiencing                                      plummeting enrollment. For instance, in Arizona, public school enrollment is down 5 percent compared to 2019, and in Massachusetts, it’s down 4 percent.

In addition to the homeschooling surge, some families have opted out of their district school for private and parochial schools that have been better able to meet parent demand for in-person learning during the pandemic. A new analysis of private school enrollment finds that 70 percent of private schools surveyed experienced either increased or constant enrollment compared to 2019. Of those indicating that their enrollment remained the same, it was due to already being at capacity. . .

According to a recent RealClear Opinion Research poll, support for school choice policies that encourage funding to follow students instead of schools has jumped 10 percent since April to 77 percent. . .

Sustained Surge in Homeschooling 

Some of the now nearly 5 million homeschoolers and their parents may discover that they weren’t so fond of standard schooling after all and appreciate the freedom, creativity, and flexibility that homeschooling offers.

Parents I have interviewed told me they had considered homeschooling for a long time but had lacked the catalyst to give it a try until now. Seeing their children flourish outside of a conventional classroom could lead many of these parents to continue homeschooling post-pandemic. As an article in The Atlantic stated: “COVID-19 is a catalyst for families who were already skeptical of the traditional school system—and are now thinking about leaving it for good.” . . .

This fall, millions of new homeschooling parents have realized that their children can learn without school. When the world reopens to them, they will find that homeschooling is even better than they imagined.

Kerry McDonald is a senior education fellow at FEE and author of “Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom” (Chicago Review Press, 2019). She is also an adjunct scholar at The Cato Institute and a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry has a B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. in education policy from Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and four children. You can sign up for her weekly newsletter on parenting and education here.

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