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Has the homeschooling surge passed?
The recent numbers are going down, not up
I’m a bit biased here, but I think the rise in homeschooling is mostly a COVID story.
First, let me admit my bias.
When our local school district decided to stay fully virtual in the fall of 2020, my wife and I made the hard decision to pull our kids out and homeschool. By that point, we had essentially been managing at home since March, and our kids, particularly the youngest, had not enjoyed what they had seen of virtual school.
So we (mainly my wife!) homeschooled our kids for the entire school year. We bought some workbooks and a few digital subscriptions, and we mapped out a schedule to make sure our kids were following state standards.
It was the right decision for our family at the time, but it was exhausting (mainly for my wife!). So when our school district fully reopened for in-person instruction in the fall of 2021-22, we sent our kids back.
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I open with this story because I think it’s broadly emblematic of what’s going on with the data on homeschooling across the country. As the Washington Post shows in a big new investigation, homeschooling rose dramatically in the 2020-21 school year. We were part of that surge.
The Post wants you to look at this chart and see the full trend line. Homeschooling is up 51% from 2017-18! But partly because of my own story, I look at it another way. I see it as a huge COVID surge, and then the start of a decline.
The Post did some really impressive work to gather data on homeschooling in 6,517 districts across the country. For example, here’s my local public school district (Fairfax, VA):
See the pattern there? Apparently, there were a lot of families like mine. They turned to homeschool when the district schools were closed for in-person instruction. Some kids returned right away (like ours). Some families continued to homeschool, but the number is slowly coming back down.
In fact, this is the main story in the data. The Post buries this stat later on, but it says that out of the 6,517 districts for which it was able to get data, only 697 (11%) have continued to see a rise in homeschooling. The rest (5,870, or 89%) have already passed their peak and homeschooling numbers are declining.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I ended this piece without amplifying Jess Gartner’s point about denominators here. The “surge” in homeschoolers took them from about 3% of K-12 students all the way up to 4.5% of students nationwide. And again, those numbers are now starting to fall.
The Post story has some nice anecdotes about homeschooling communities and families who are making it work, but their own data show that homeschooling is falling, not rising.