Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling: Statistics, Tips & Resources
Posted on April 10 2020
Homeschooling has been historically perceived as a fringe choice dominated by political and religious extremists, but today’s homeschooled children are changing those perceptions. As researchers Albert Cheng and Michael Donnelly point out in the Peabody Journal of Education, the nature of the students being homeschooled, the methods used in homeschooling, and the reasons parents choose to homeschool their children “have become increasingly diverse.”
Questions remain as to the level of state oversight required for homeschooling, the impact of homeschooling on students’ social and civic lives, and the effect of homeschooling on education outcomes. However, recent homeschooling statistics indicate that the practice benefits an increasingly diverse range of students academically, socially, and personally.
This guide presents an in-depth look at the state of homeschooling, tips for parents and children, and homeschooling resources designed to enhance a homeschool student’s chances for success in academia and in life.
Rarely do parents decide to homeschool their children for a single reason. The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) explains that the decision is usually made to achieve a combination of goals:
- To create an individualized learning environment for their children
- To give children a more challenging academic experience than they receive in school
- To adopt an education approach that differs from that taken by the school
- To strengthen family relationships among parents, children, and siblings
- To have a greater influence on their children’s social interactions with peers and adults
- To provide a learning environment that is free from violence, drugs and alcohol, bullying, racism, and the “improper and unhealthy sexuality associated with institutional schools”
- To instruct students in a specific code of values, beliefs, or worldview
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that homeschooling is now the fastest-growing form of education in the country.
- About 2.4 million K-12 students are currently fulfilling their education requirements from home, according to the Journal of School Choice. This represents about 3.4% of all school-age children in the United States.
- NHERI estimates that the number of homeschooled children in the U.S. has increased by 2% to 8% annually for the past several years. Approximately 5.7 million U.S. children and adults have been homeschooled at some point.
- Homeschool families spend an average of $600 annually to educate their children, while U.S. taxpayers save $27 billion annually (an average of $11,732 per public school pupil, plus capital expenditures) by not having to finance homeschool students’ education, according to NHERI.
School Choice in the United States: 2019, an NCES report, indicates that the total number of homeschooled children increased from 850,000 in 1999, or 1.7% of all students, to 1,690,000 in 2016, or 3.3% of all students. Here are the percentages of students who are homeschooled by race or ethnicity:
- 3.8% of white students
- 3.5% of Hispanic students
- 1.9% of African American students
- 1.4% of Asian students
The NCES report also uncovered the following insights:
- Homeschooling is most common for students in grades 9 through 12 (3.8%), followed by those in kindergarten (3.5%), grades 4 and 5 (3.4%), grades 6 through 8 (3.3%), and grades 1 through 3 (2.4%).
- Rural areas have the highest percentage of homeschool students (4.4%), followed by towns (4.3%), cities (3%), and suburbs (2.9%).
- Homeschooling is most prevalent in the South (3.9%), followed by the West (3.7%), the Midwest (2.9%), and the East (1.8%).
- Families with three or more children are more likely to choose homeschooling (4.7%) than families with one child (2.7%) or two children (2.3%).
- Two-parent households are more likely to homeschool their children (3.7%) than single parents (2.3%) and non-parental guardians (2%).
- Homeschooling occurs more often in two-parent households in which only one parent works (7.2%) than when no parent participates in the workforce (4%). It is found less frequently in single-parent households in which the parent works (1.8%) and in two-parent households in which both parents work (1.8%).
- “Near-poor” families (those with an income above the poverty level but below 199% of the poverty level) are more likely to homeschool their children (4.7%) than poor families (3.9%) or non-poor families (2.6%).
Academic Performance of Homeschooled Students
Determining the impact of homeschooling on subsequent academic performance is complicated by the many variables that impact a student’s post-high school education. However, when researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi compared homeschooled students and traditionally educated students in a STEM major, they found that homeschooled students scored higher in two variables: retention from freshman to sophomore year and graduation within six years of enrolling in a STEM major.
The NEHRI’s Research Facts on Homeschooling include the following homeschool statistics:
- Homeschooled students score between 15 and 30 percentile points higher on standardized academic achievement tests than students attending public schools.
- African American students who are homeschooled score between 23 and 42 percentile points higher on standardized academic achievement tests than their counterparts who attend public schools.
- The above-average scores of homeschooled students on academic achievement tests occur regardless of the parents’ level of education or the family’s household income.
- Homeschooled students’ academic achievements do not correlate to the level of state control or regulation of homeschooling.
- Homeschooled students generally have above-average scores on the SAT and ACT college entrance exams.
- Colleges are increasing their active recruitment of homeschooled students.
Homeschool families create their own educational paths, but they are far from isolated. They have at their disposal many sources of information and tools designed to improve learning outcomes for homeschool students. Among the resources available to homeschool families are local library events, community programs, and online courses.
Here’s a sampling of homeschool resources for various grade levels, subjects, and specific education needs.
Homeschooling Methodologies and Philosophies
Parents who are new to homeschooling can feel overwhelmed by the many different approaches and goals of education programs designed for homeschool families. Parents Magazine presents a brief directory of classic education philosophies:
- Charlotte Mason, a 19th-century British education reformer, emphasized literature, studying the natural world, and students repeating what they have learned in their own words, or “narration.”
- The Waldorf philosophy, developed by Rudolph Steiner in the early 20th century, takes a holistic approach that educates the entire student: “head, heart, and hands.”
- The classical approach divides childhood learning into three phases: grammar in the foundational years, logic in the middle school years, and rhetoric in the high school years.
- The leadership education model, also called Thomas Jefferson Education, teaches students how to think rather than what to think by reading classics and discussing them with a mentor.
PBS for Parents has compiled a list of books that help families craft a successful homeschool plan:
- Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum From Preschool to High School by Rebecca Rupp describes a structured plan that focuses on what children should know at every age from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.
Homeschooling Curriculum Types
The nuts and bolts of a homeschool program are the hands-on courses and learning material that the parent and student will combine into a comprehensive curriculum. iFamilyKC provides an extensive list of homeschool resources on a range of subjects, including a comparison of homeschool curriculum approaches:
Tips for Homeschooling
Homeschooling parents need to keep in mind that they are responsible for organizing the academic plan, keeping track of attendance and assignments, choosing the curriculum, and administering assessments. But to a great extent, homeschool students take primary responsibility for their own education. The tips in this section address many common concerns and questions parents have about homeschooling, including the best ways for them to provide their children with positive feedback.
Advice for Parents Who Are New to Homeschooling
iFamilyKC offers encouragement for families as they start their homeschooling experience:
- The first year is a time for settling in and getting acclimated to a new routine, so don’t worry too much if your homeschool plan hits some rough patches in its first few months.
- Try not to feel tempted to follow the traditional classroom model too closely, as you don’t want to miss opportunities to teach about character development and relationship building, for example.
- Avoid getting caught up in the goals of a single day, week, or month. You don’t want to risk losing sight of the long-term goals of preparing for post-high school education and career opportunities.
- Before settling on a single homeschooling methodology or program, consider creating a custom curriculum that borrows from many established approaches but is tailored to fit your family’s unique characteristics.
Survival Mom offers the following tips for beginning homeschoolers:
- Don’t be tempted to rely on standard textbooks, desks, and a set amount of time per subject. Homeschooling is an opportunity to add creativity to the school day, week, and semester.
- Connect with other homeschool families in the area to share field trips and other activities and take advantage of flexible homeschool schedules.
- Stay open to new approaches and curriculum as you gain experience with homeschooling. For example, parents may need to work their way through four different math texts before finding the most effective one for their children.
- Start slowly at the beginning of each school year. Stick to a single subject for the first week of instruction, and then add a subject with each successive week.
- Don’t try to fit six or more separate subjects into a single school day. It’s effective to teach subjects every other day or even once a week.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of reading and math; they are the two skills children rely on to learn all other subjects.
Creating a Homeschool Timeline
It’s easy for parents to underestimate the amount of organization that is required to plan and follow a homeschool schedule that meets the student’s education goals. Scholastic Magazine emphasizes the importance of devising a step-by-step timeline that ensures the success of your family’s homeschool efforts.
- Learn everything you can about the different routines that homeschool students can adopt to determine which approach is best for your family.
- Look into your state’s requirements for homeschooling parents, including whether they need to maintain attendance records, submit quarterly reports, or administer standardized tests. The Home School Legal Defense Association provides an interactive map that lists the regulations for all states and U.S. territories.
- Set aside a location in your home where you will hold classes and conduct other school activities. Be sure it has plenty of empty wall space, an internet-connected computer, storage cabinets, bookshelves, and baskets for holding loose school supplies.
- A primary benefit of homeschooling is that children are able to proceed through their instruction at their own pace. However, it’s vital to set goals that state clearly what the student intends to accomplish over a set period, whether it’s a month, a semester, or a school year.
- Similarly, homeschooling breaks the traditional school schedule, allowing families to plan non-school activities during traditional school hours. Yet each school day needs some structure, whether it’s a “set” schedule with flexibility built into it or a commitment to a set number of study hours per subject each week.
At times, the freedom that comes with homeschooling can overwhelm families who no longer need to coordinate their schedules according to the traditional school year. On her Your Morning Basket blog, homeschool mom Pam Barnhill presents six options for planning a yearly homeschool schedule.
- A traditional schedule mirrors the August-through-May school year that most school districts follow. One advantage of this schedule for homeschool students is that their vacations correspond to those of their friends and cousins who aren’t homeschooled.
- A year-round schedule allows students and parents to take some time off during standard school vacation times but to return to studies for periods of the summer and parts of the traditional winter and spring breaks.
Ensuring a successful homeschool experience requires the right mix of flexibility and rigidity so parents and students are able to take advantage of the educational opportunities available outside the traditional school model while ensuring that their children meet all state education requirements and are prepared to achieve their postsecondary education and career goals.