The changing faces of home-schooled students

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FIGURE 1: The changing demographics of homeschooling in the United states.
SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics

Home schooling is a tradition that predates the founding of the United States, and since the 1990s has rapidly been growing. Students in home education settings account for 3 percent of the student population. A new report by Aaron Hirsh of the Center on Reinventing Public Education highlights the changing landscapes of home schooling in America.

Home education, “once seen as the exclusive domain of right-wing Christian families — is changing,” Hirsch writes. Today, 132,00 black families home school their children; they constitute about 8 percent of the home education population. More than 400,000 Hispanic families home educate, making them about 26 percent of the total population.

By contrast, the estimated number of white students in home education declined by more than 200,000 between 2012 and 2016.

Enrollment data, which is self-reported, comes from surveys from the National Center for Education Statistics . The dip in white home education enrollment and the rapid rise in Hispanic enrollment could be due to a number of factors not explored in the brief. According to the National Household Education Surveys Program, surveys prior to 2012 were administered by telephone, while the 2012 and 2016 report was conducted by mail. The change may be due to the survey now reaching more Hispanic households by mail than was previously possible by phone.

The brief also notes there is some evidence that LGBTQ households are beginning to take advantage of home education options as well.

As the demographic makeup of the home education population changes, so do the methods and settings. Today home educators collaborate in “home school co-ops,” sharing ideas, books, curriculum and meeting together for enrichment activities.

Microschools, though technically not home schools, borrow heavily from the co-op model using small class settings with a heavy focus on family engagement and enrichment activities.

Home education laws vary from state to state as well. Some states are laissez-faire while others are stricter. Home-schooled students in Iowa may dual enroll in public school courses and even participate in public school enrichment programs.

New York, by comparison, prohibits home school students from dual enrolling in public school courses and denies these students the option to participate in sports or other afterschool activities. However, New York does allow homeschooled students with disabilities access to special services at their local public school.

Florida has allowed home school students to participate in public school sports since 1996. Now known as the Tim Tebow Law, named after the Heisman Trophy-winning University of Florida quarterback who was home-schooled, 30 states now allow home educated students to participate in sports.

Education Savings Accounts (ESA), scholarship programs that offer flexible spending options for parents to educate their children, also have recently come into play for home-schoolers. Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee all have ESA programs that allow eligible home-schooled students to qualify for funds. 

Florida’s ESA program, known as the Gardiner Scholarship, served 11,458 students with special needs in 2018-19. The average scholarship was worth $10,000, and could be spent on school tuition, fees, textbooks, curriculum, therapies, education software and more. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog and administers the Gardiner Scholarship, does not currently collect statistics on students who use the funds exclusively for home education purposes.

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