Several months ago, just prior to the new NCES data that was released, I posted enrollment data from six states that suggested a levelling off of homeschool growth.
Then, only a few weeks later, NCES came out with data that suggested continued dramatic growth in homeschooling!
Now, finally, I’ve got all of the available state data in one place, accompanied by convenient graphs that make trends very easy to observe, followed by references for where it all came from. The final product was too complicated to post in the normal manner, so my handy workstudy student Philip Martin helped me put it together into a PDF.
Here it is: Home School Data
Before I draw inferences from this data, let me reiterate some of the limitations of state data:
1. Data collection protocols vary widely from state to state and even within a state in given years depending on who is collecting it. Some districts are very conscientious in their efforts to get an accurate count of homeschoolers. Many are not, largely because there is no financial incentive for local and state government to keep records on homeschooling. As researcher Eric Isenberg put it in an article I review here, “Haphazard data collection occurs because the burden of reporting homeschooling generally falls on the families rather than school districts. Districts gain no reimbursement from homeschooled children in their district and generally have little incentive to collect accurate information.”
2. Several states have more than one way of homeschooling legally, and they don’t always count every one of these alternative strategies. For example, in states where homeschoolers can register as private schools, they might be counted in the private school tally, not the homeschool one. Or they might not. Or it might change from year to year depending on who’s doing the counting.
3. Finally, everyone acknowledges that even the best state data doesn’t get an accurate count because there are an unknown number of underground homeschooling families who, for whatever reason, choose not to inform the government of their actions.
With all that said it is not surprising that researchers to date have put very little stress on this state data. It does not give us anything close to an accurate tally of the number of people homeschooling in a given state, though in some states it may come close. I’m interested in it for one reason only.
The reason is that I’m still puzzled over whether or not homeschooling is presently growing at a rapid rate. My subjective sense based on anecdote, impression, and trends here in Pennsylvania is that homeschooling is not growing as fast now as it did in the 1980s and 1990s. But the 2007 NCES data, as I mentioned, showed significant growth since 2003. Given that these state numbers are not accurate, I still wonder where the trend lines are pointing.
The answer is easy to find if you look at the graphs. Philip and I determined that 17 States had enough data to make meaningful graphs. 8 trend up (AR, FL, NE, NH, NC, UT, VA, WVA). 6 have held pretty flat for the past few years (CO, ME, MD, MN, MT, WA). 3 trend down (CT, PA, WI).
One obvious inference: the states reporting increases are all, possibly excepting FL (a key swing state), so-called “red” states, or Republican strongholds, while the states holding flat or reporting decreases are all, excepting Colorado and Montana, “blue,” or Democrat strongholds. Perhaps that is just a coincidence, or perhaps homeschooling is growing faster among Republicans than among Democrats. With the great majority of homeschoolers being conservative Protestants (often called the Republican “base”) this inference seems plausible.
It also squares with another NCES 2007 find–that more parents report religious motivations for homeschooling (83% in 2007 vs. 72% in 2003). In my own writing on recent trends in homeschooling I have stressed the widening appeal of homeschooling to groups of people outside of the traditional homeschool demographic. The 2007 NCES data caused me to re-think that stress, and in its small way this survey of state data confirms in me the need to re-think.
Here’s my hypthesis now, and it is just speculative. The large cohort of liberal and secular homeschoolers of the 1970s inspired by John Holt have now largely passed from the scene. While it is the case that some celebrities, child athletes, jet-setters, kids with peanut allergies, ethnic minorities, and other Americans not readily associated with conservative Christianity are turning to homeschooling, they are not doing so fast enough to replace the older “hippie” type. (I don’t mean to suggest that minorities, kids with peanut allergies, etc. can’t also be conservative Christians. I’m just talking about motives for homeschooling and the stereotypical homeschool demographic.)
Meanwhile, Conservative Christians continue to turn to homeschooling in large numbers. So while I think I’m right to say that there are now more kinds of people choosing homeschooling than ever before, nevertheless the movement as a whole looks more conservative and more Christian than it ever has. Homeschooling may be growing more diverse and more homogeneous at the same time.
Again, that may be totally wrong, but it’s the best sense I can make of what the recent data seems to be showing. Any and all comments on this welcome!