NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

A Fresh Look at Homeschooling in the U.S.

By Sarah Grady

From 1999 to 2012, the percentage of students who were homeschooled doubled, from an estimated 1.7 percent to 3.4 percent. But that increase appears to have leveled off, according to newly released data. In 2016, about 1.7 million students (ages 5-17) were estimated to be homeschoolers, which translates to about 3.3 percent of all K-12 students. This rate is not statistically different from the percentage in 2012.


* Statistically adjusted
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Parent Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), 1999; Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the NHES, 2003, 2007, 2012, and 2016.


These data come from the recently released First Look report on the Parent and Family Involvement in Education (PFI) survey from the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES). In this survey, parents were asked a number of questions about their child’s education. Using these data, NCES is able to identify students who are schooled at home instead of school for some or all classes.[1]

So, why did parents say they homeschooled their kids? The most important reason for homeschooling in 2016 was “concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure,” reported by 34 percent of parents of homeschooled students. (This was also the most commonly reported reason selected by parents in 2012.)  Other reasons cited as most important by families of homeschooled students in 2016 were dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools (17 percent of homeschooled students’ parents) and a desire to provide religious instruction (16 percent).

The PFI survey is uniquely suited to collect data about homeschooled students because it collects data from households rather than schools or other institutions. It includes a suite of surveys designed to capture data related to learning at all ages and is ideal for trend analyses because of the repeated measures over time. The NHES:2016 First Look report for the PFI data also provides key estimates related to school communication with parents, homework, parents’ involvement in their students’ education, and homeschooling. The data will be available to researchers in the coming months. Check the NHES website for updates.

 

[1]Students who are homeschooled primarily because of a temporary illness and students who attend school for more than 25 hours per week are not counted in NCES’s estimate of homeschooling.  

Measuring the Homeschool Population

By Sarah Grady

How many children are educated at home instead of school? Although many of our data collections focus on what happens in public or private schools, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tries to capture as many facets of education as possible, including the number of homeschooled youth and the characteristics of this population of learners. NCES was one of the first organizations to attempt to estimate the number of homeschoolers in the United States using a rigorous sample survey of households. The Current Population Survey included homeschooling questions in 1994, which helped NCES refine its approach toward measuring homeschooling.[i] As part of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), NCES published homeschooling estimates starting in 1999. The homeschooling rate has grown from 1.7 percent of the school-aged student population in 1999 to 3.4 percent in 2012.[ii]

NCES recently released a Statistical Analysis Report called Homeschooling in the United States: 2012. Findings from the report, detailed in a recent blog, show that there is a diverse group of students who are homeschooled. Although NCES makes every attempt to report data on homeschooled students, this diversity can make it difficult to accurately measure all facets of the homeschool population.

One of the primary challenges in collecting relevant data on homeschool students is that no complete list of homeschoolers exists, so it can be difficult to locate these individuals. When lists of homeschoolers can be located, problems exist with the level of coverage that they provide. For example, lists of members of local and national homeschooling organizations do not include homeschooling families unaffiliated with the organizations. Customer lists from homeschool curriculum vendors exclude families who access curricula from other sources such as the Internet, public libraries, and general purpose bookstores. For these reasons, collecting data about homeschooling requires a nationally representative household survey, which begins by finding households in which at least one student is homeschooled.

Once located, families can vary in their interpretation of what homeschooling is. NCES asks households if anyone in the household is “currently in homeschool instead of attending a public or private school for some or all classes.” About 18 percent of homeschoolers are in a brick-and-mortar school part-time, and families may vary in the extent to which they consider children in school part-time to be homeschoolers. Additionally, with the growth of virtual education and cyber schools, some parents are choosing to have the child schooled at home but not to personally provide instruction. Whether or not parents of students in cyber schools define their child as homeschooled likely varies from family to family.

NHES data collection begins with a random sample of addresses distributed across the entire U.S. However, most addresses will not contain any homeschooled students. Because of the low incidence of homeschooling relative to the U.S. population, a large number of households must be screened to find homeschooling students.  This leaves us with a small number of completed surveys from homeschooling families relative to studies of students in brick-and-mortar schools. For example, in 2012, the NHES program contacted 159,994 addresses and ended with 397 completed homeschooling surveys.

Smaller analytic samples can often result in less precise estimates. Therefore, NCES can estimate only the size of the total homeschool population and some key characteristics of homeschoolers with confidence, but we are not able to accurately report data for very small subgroups. For example, NCES can report the distribution of homeschoolers by race and ethnicity,[iii] but more specific breakouts of the characteristics of homeschooled students within these racial/ethnic groups often cannot be reported due to the small sample sizes and large standard errors. For a more comprehensive explanation of this issue, please see our blog post on standard errors.  The reason why this matters is that local-level research on homeschooling families suggests that homeschooling communities across the country may be very diverse.[iv] For example, Black, urban homeschooling families in these studies are often very different from White, rural homeschooling families. Low incidence and high heterogeneity lead to estimates with lower precision.

Despite these constraints, the data from NHES continue to be the most comprehensive that we have on homeschoolers. NCES continues to collect data on this important population. The 2016 NHES recently completed collection on homeschooling students, and those data will be released in fall 2017.

[i] Henke, R., Kaufman, P. (2000). Issues Related to Estimating the Home-school Population in the United States with National Household Survey Data (NCES 2000-311). National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences. U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

[ii] Redford, J., Battle, D., and Bielick, S. (2016). Homeschooling in the United States: 2012 (NCES 2016-096). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

[iv] Hanna, L.G. (2012). Homeschooling Education: Longitudinal Study of Methods, Materials, and Curricula. Education and Urban Society 44(5): 609–631.

A Look at Private Schools and Homeschooling

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, Institute of Education Sciences

Much of the data you will find on the NCES website is related to public schools. It makes sense because a majority of students do attend public schools and those schools are required to gather and report a lot of information. Still, NCES does collect a significant amount of information about non-public elementary and secondary schools and a more limited amount of information about homeschooling.

Two recently released NCES reports provide information about other types of educational programs that serve millions of students—private schools and homeschooling. 

Private Schools

Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States provides a first look at data from the 2013-14 Private School Universe Survey, which is conducted every two years to gather information about the schools that approximately 10 percent of elementary and secondary students attend. This report, released on Nov 1, provides a tremendous amount of information, such as the number, type, and religious affiliation of private schools, as well as data about enrollment and programs offered.

The report shows that there were 33,619 private schools in 2013-14, serving 4.6 million students. The majority of these schools—about 69 percent—had a religious affiliation and 68 percent were located either in cities or suburbs, rather than towns or rural areas.


Source: Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States: Results From the 2013-14 Private School Universe Survey: National Center for Education Statistics, November 2016


The new report also provides a look at the percent of seniors who graduate and the subsequent postsecondary enrollment of students in private schools and breaks that information down by a number of categories. In 2012-13, slightly more than a quarter (26 percent) of private schools had students in 12th grade, and the graduation rate at those schools was 97 percent. The graduation rate was highest (99 percent) in schools with 750 or more students and lowest (83 percent) in schools with fewer than 50 students.  

Of 2012-13 private school graduates, 65 percent attended a four-year college by fall 2013, but there was wide variance in that rate by school type and location. For instance, 85 percent of graduates who attended Catholic schools enrolled in college by fall 2013, while the percentage was lower for students who attended other religious private schools (63 percent) and nonsectarian schools (56 percent). The four-year college enrollment rate was higher in schools that were located in the city (69 percent) and suburbs (66 percent) and lower in schools in towns (61 percent) and rural areas (58 percent).

Homeschooling

Homeschooling in the United States: 2012 estimates the number and percentage of homeschooled students in the U.S. in 2012 and compares that with estimates from previous years (1999, 2003, and 2007). It also provides demographic characteristics of homeschoolers and information about the reasons parents chose to homeschool their children and where they get curricular materials. The data come from responses to the Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey that is part of the National Household Education Survey Program.

The report shows that, in 2012, there were approximately 1.8 million students who were homeschooled, representing about 3.4 percent of all students, ages 5-17, enrolled in elementary or secondary grades. Since 1999, the percentage of students who are homeschooled has doubled, with significant increases seen between 1999 and 2003 and 2003 and 2007. 


* - Statistically adjusted

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Parent Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), 1999; Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the NHES, 2003, 2007, and 2012


When asked why they chose to homeschool their children, 25 percent parents said the most important reason was concern about the environment at other schools, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure. Other parents said the most important reasons were dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at other schools (19 percent) and a desire to provide religious instruction (17 percent). About 21 percent of parents said there were other reasons, such as family time, finances, travel, and distance.

The report also provides information about how parents accessed the curriculum and books they used for homeschooling. Non-retail website and homeschooling catalogs, providers, or specialists were the most reported sources at 77 percent each, followed by the public library (70 percent), and retail bookstores or other stores (69 percent). Other significant sources were education materials were publishers not affiliated with homeschooling (53 percent), homeschooling organization (45 percent), and church, synagogue, or other religious organization (38 percent).