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How Many US Students Are Homeschooled?

Earlier this week, Gallup released their annual education satisfaction survey results, which includes a breakdown of where US K-12 students go to school. I’ve been watching for this survey, because it had interesting results in 2020 regarding where students in the US are educated. I have been waiting for this survey to post, because it includes a question about how many students are homeschooled.

2020 Jump in Homeschooling

Last year, this survey reported that 10% of US students were starting the 2020 school year as homeschool students, defined in the survey as “not enrolled in a formal school but taught at home.” This was over double the 4% figure from the 2019 survey.

This year, the numbers look similar to those from two years ago, with 4% again responding that their students are homeschooled and the percentage of families reporting public and private school enrollment looking very similar to 2019. It’s possible that the 2020 numbers represented an unusual moment in time.

I think the phrasing of the question is relatively clear, but it’s hard to know how someone on the phone received it: “Will your oldest child attend public, private, parochial, charter school – either in-person or remotely — or will they home school this year? By home school we mean not enrolled in a formal school, but taught at home.”

I know many families decided to try homeschooling for 2020-21, because the spring 2020 remote options didn’t work for their students. Local online homeschool groups had significant growth, and online curriculum providers had bumper crop enrollment and long waiting lists.

It’s also possible that some families might have responded that they were homeschooling, even if their students were doing remote school while enrolled in a public school. It’s hard to know if this year’s numbers represent a return to public schools, a better understanding of the question, or just a different slice of respondents. In addition, the survey occurred in early August, just as school districts were announcing fall mask policies.

Other Factors that Affect Homeschooling

Homeschooling is regulated on the state level and can reflect both local school quality and the level of homeschooling support networks, both formal and informal. The strength of library systems, homeschool support groups, sports opportunities for homeschoolers, local field trip options, and other factors can affect how many students homeschooled in an area. The survey doesn’t correlate the response to the school setting question to location, age of the oldest child, or other demographic qualities. For example, other reporting in 2020 suggested a significant rise in homeschooling among American Black families.

To further complicate this question, some states have charter schools that support home studies. Also, in recent years more online schools have pivoted to serving homeschoolers or moved from teaching specific content areas to homeschoolers to serving as broad curriculum, accredited online schools.

There is a US Census community survey that asks similar questions to the Gallup survey. It will be interesting to see if that also reports the 2020 homeschooling percentage as an outlier.

You can read the complete Gallup survey question responses and see trends over time here.