Every four years the National Center for Education Statistics’ enormous National Household Education Survey includes questions about homeschooling. The results of the latest round of homeschooling questions (from the 2011 survey) were released in August of 2013. This massive survey (n=17,563) provides us with the best data by far on homeschooling, consisting as it does of a representative sample of the entire population of the United States. You can read the preliminary results in tables 7 and 8 of the latest survey here.
Five years ago I summarized what previous rounds of the NCES survey had uncovered about homeschooling. Here I will update that summary, incorporating the newer data.
It is important to note at the outset that comparisons between this round of data with previous years is not entirely legitimate because the survey technique has been changed. The survey has historically been conducted by telephone landline, but given declining use of telephones this round was conducted by mail. Nevertheless, here are the findings:
In terms of overall numbers, homeschooling continues to grow, from an estimated 1.1 million in 2003 to 1.5 million in 2007 and now to 1.77 million in 2011, which is 3.4% of the overall school-age population.
Whereas the 2007 data had shown a shift toward more homeschoolers being girls, this time only 51% of homeschooled children surveyed were girls, a return to historic patterns.
Perhaps the most dramatic number in the data is the percentage of homeschoolers who are white. In previous years the survey has found that around 77% of homeschooled children are white. This time the number was only 68%, with dramatic rises both among African Americans (from 4% in 2007 to 8% in 2011), Hispanics (5.3% in 2003, 9.8% in 2007, 15% in 2011), and less dramatic but still significant growth among other minority groups as well.
As for parental motivation, this new data for the first time disaggregated desire for religious instruction and desire for moral instruction. In 2007 a single “religious or moral” category was claimed as a motivator by 83% of respondents, with 36% listing it as their most important reason for homeschooling. This time 64% claim a religious motive and 77% a moral motive. Religion is the most important variable for only 16%. Moral is most important for 5%. This is a huge drop off from previous years’ data and is probably the second most surprising finding from the 2011 data.
It is important to keep in mind that even with such a huge sample, the number of homeschoolers who responded to this survey is relatively small (around 600), which means that an anomaly of only a few respondents can skew the data. That’s probably what happened in 2007 to give a higher percentage of girls than boys and a lower percentage of African Americans than usual. Could it have happened in 2011 with whites and with religious motivation? If future years see a return to earlier numbers then this one will look like an anomaly. But if we continue to see fewer white homeschoolers and less religious motivation in future reports, we might with justification hazard that homeschooler demographics are increasingly reflecting the growing diversity of the broader society in the United States.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College