More parents than ever before are choosing to homeschool their children, driving a movement that’s grown by 62 percent in the last decade. The National Catholic Register reports that recent data from the U.S. Department of Education shows explosive growth in homeschooling among American families, particularly in the last 10 years, when the number of students between the ages of 5 and 17 went from 1.09 million in 2003 to 1.77 million in 2012.
Homeschooled students now represent about 3.4 percent of the school-age population, a percentage that’s increased significantly for a variety of reasons.
“The first one would be to have them get an individualized education that meets the needs of each student; the second was that we were drawn to a classical curriculum; and the third would be flexibility in time with family,” Fredericksburg, Va. homeschool mother Christina Banks told the news site of her reasons for educating her children at home.
“It has become demystified, and it’s become more acceptable, socially and culturally, for people to home school,” Mike Donnelly, a homeschooling father and attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Foundation, told the Register.
The Education Department’s 2012 “National Household Education Survey” shows the reasons behind parents’ decision to homeschool their children has shifted in recent years from mostly religious reasons to concerns about the public school environment and lacking academics.
“Ninety-one percent of parents cited concerns about the environment of public schools, 77 percent cited moral instruction, and 74 percent expressed concerns about the academic instruction,” the Register reports. “A lower number, of 64 percent, listed wanting to give their children religious instruction as a reason, followed by 44 percent saying they wanted their child to have a nontraditional form of education.”
As for the most important reason: “the survey showed 25% of parents said they were concerned about the environment of other schools; 22% said “other reasons” (including family time, finances, travel and distance), and 19% said they were dissatisfied with the academic instruction at other schools,” according to the news site.
Donnelly highlighted the fact that in 2007, 36 percent of parents cited religious or moral instruction as their primary driver, and the combined percentage dropped to a mere 21 percent in the 2012 survey.
There’s been other changes in the homeschool movement, as well.
“The National Home Education Research Institute reports that this educational choice is becoming increasingly popular with minorities as 15 percent of home-schooling families are now non-white/non-Hispanic,” Watchdog.org reports.
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Experts believe the growth and changing demographic of homeschoolers is likely due in part to changes in state laws.
In North Carolina, for instance, the total number of homeschool students has more than doubled over the last 12 years, including a 34 percent increase in the last four years. In the last year alone, homeschooling increased 9 percent in North Carolina, according to the Carolina Journal.
Homeschoolers in the Tar Heel State now outnumber private school students and, if figured together as a single school district, represent the third largest school system in the state, behind Charlotte-Mecklenberg and Wake counties.
The rapid growth in North Carolina is undoubtedly due in part to loosened regulations on homeschool families, according to the Journal.
“For years, North Carolina’s homeschool law allowed only parents and guardians to provide instruction. Two years ago, homeschool families led a successful effort to change North Carolina’s definition of homeschooling,” according to the site.
“The revised law ensured that homeschool families have the option of utilizing alternative forms of instruction for a portion of their child’s education, including participating in co-ops, hiring tutors and specialists, and taking online courses.”
Previously, parents intimidated by the prospect of teaching their children higher level math or science were forced to send their children to public or private schools, but now have other options.
“Arguably, this is one reason why homeschool enrollment increases among 16- and 17-year-olds outpaced every other age group since 2013 (with the exception of 6- and 7-year-olds),” the Journal reports.
Those changes in state laws, of course, are precipitated by an increasing influence of homeschool families on lawmakers. Ohioans for Educational Freedom is one example of a political action committee dedicated to homeschooling that has helped several candidates gain seats on the state board of education.
One of those candidates is Sarah Fowler, a former egg farmer who was homeschooled her entire life by her parents in northeast Ohio. Fowler first won a seat on the board in a three way race in 2012, when she beat out two establishment candidates by a wide margin.
Fowler won re-election to the board for a full four-year term in 2014 in a four way race, again by a significant margin.
Her success is likely due to her simple but effective message, one that a growing number of Americans seem to be embracing: “I believe parents have the God-given right and responsibility to direct the education of their children.”