Number Crunching

Okay, so I’ve found some statistics about homeschooling. According to the National Center for Education Statistics,

White students constituted the majority of homeschooled students (77 percent). . . . Students in two-parent households made up 89 percent of the homeschooled population, and those in two-parent households with one parent in the labor force made up 54 percent of the homeschooled population. . . . In 2007, students in households earning between $25,001 and $75,000 per year had higher rates of homeschooling than their peers from families earning $25,000 or less a year.

Parents give many different reasons for homeschooling their children. In 2007, the most common reason parents gave as the most important was a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (36 percent of students)

In other words, homeschoolers are a relatively privileged group, although their families are not especially affluent. (Note, however, that in more than half of homeschooling families one parent is not working for money, which presumably means that those families–like mine–would be in the top 20% of US household incomes if the homeschooling parent–who in my experience is almost always the mother–were also working.)

I know that there are single parent homeschoolers, black families who homeschool, athiests who homeschool. But overall, it looks like homeschoolers come from the group that one would imagine would be best served by the public education system, no?

So, why are those parents not putting their kids in school? Possibly because the public system is not, actually, serving them well, though that 36% “desire to provide religious or moral instruction” really gives me pause. According to the same source, “parents of about 7 percent of homeschooled students cited the desire to provide their child with a nontraditional approach to education as the most important reason for homeschooling” and 17% cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction.” So that’s 30% that are homeschooling for academic reasons specifically–a significant chunk, but not the majority. Although if we add in the 6% who homeschool because of “illness or special needs,” that means that parents who feel that schools are not or cannot serve their kids academically homeschool in numbers equivalent to those who do so for religious reasons.

This kind of explains why homeschoolers are so critical of public education. It also, to a lesser extent, explains why they (we) aren’t great at articulating any kind of coherent theoretical rationale for homeschooling: being “dissatisfied with academic instruction” in one’s local public school doesn’t mean that one thinks that the basic principles on which public academics are based are inherently flawed, just that they aren’t being well implemented for whatever reason. Ditto those who are homeschooling because of illness or special needs; while surely many of those parents would like public schools to be better at serving their kids, the fact (or perception) that a school isn’t doesn’t constitute a fundamental challenge to public education as much as a criticism of it for being insufficiently universal.

So really, only 7% of homeschooling parents (in 2007) are teaching their kids at home primarily out of a fundamental disagreement with the methods of public instruction. That’s a fairly small subgroup, and although anecdotally it seems to me that most homeschool parents do, in fact, think that public education methods are flawed, presumably at least some of those objections come from a sort of personal, sour-grapesish point of view that (however justified) isn’t really systematic. Furthermore, you have to assume that even that 7% aren’t all well-thought-out or reasoned in their objections to public educational methods–although one would assume, at least, that they are more likely to have thought through questions like “what is education for” and “what methods can best achieve x set of goals” than most.

Still, though. 7% of 1.5 million is . . . 105,000* parents (maybe twice as many, given that most homeschooled kids come from two-parent families). Moreover, the more detailed breakdown (available as a .pdf at that same site) shows that 20% of homeschooling parents have graduate degrees, for chrissake. They gotta be out there somewhere.

*I used a calculator, but I also asked PK to figure it out in his head. Which he did, in about a minute.

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