National School Choice Week

What Homeschoolers Knew Before Everyone Else

Long before the pandemic, millions of students were completing their education at home. I was one of them.

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, school kids across the country have suffered—not much from the disease itself, but from three school years that have been interrupted by pandemic mitigation measures. Though in-person public schools have suffered, home-based educational alternatives have thrived.

The families of nearly 2.6 million kids have turned to homeschooling since the pandemic began. The homeschooler population is almost double what it was before the pandemic, with 11 percent of American households now homeschooling their kids. Charter school enrollment also boomed, and home-based virtual institutions drove much of that growth in many states.

Long before the pandemic, millions of students were completing their education at home. I became one of them in 2005. From kindergarten through 10th grade, I attended a virtual charter school in Pennsylvania. I completed readings, assignments, and exams with the help of my mother at first, and independently later on. After a final two years as a traditionally homeschooled student in Utah, I finished high school having never set foot in a brick-and-mortar school.

This educational journey was far less common in the pre-pandemic years, partly due to strict regulation of alternative schooling and partly due to the perception that these options were inferior to public brick-and-mortar education. But now that an entire nation's worth of students has been forced to experience nontraditional education, families and lawmakers are beginning to see the benefits that have always existed outside the traditional public school system.

The journey to acceptance has been a lengthy one. Homeschooling was once extremely rare, and not even legal in all 50 states until 1993.

After legalizing the practice, states enacted their own regulations for home-based education. By 2015, more than half required education in certain subjects. Twenty-three states had attendance requirements, while 13 required homeschooling parents to have certain qualifications. Kids in 24 states weren't legally permitted to participate in extracurricular activities at their local public schools or attend those schools part time. Others required (and still require) annual achievement tests, portfolio reviews from school system representatives, and detailed attendance records. New York, which has some of the strictest homeschooling laws, dictates that a "home instruction program will be put on probation and the parent must submit a remediation plan" if "a child's annual assessment does not comply" with state regulations.

Even so, at times different states have sought greater involvement in how parents teach their children. An unsuccessful 2004 bill in Montana would've banned parents from homeschooling kids with developmental disabilities. In March 2008, California ruled that parents without teaching credentials couldn't educate their kids at home. Though reversed a few months later, the ruling put the parents of an estimated 166,000 children at risk of prosecution (as their children would have been deemed truants). Virtual home-based programs have been under fire since their launch, too—including in my home state of Pennsylvania, where a state representative in 2019 introduced a bill that would've required all cyber charter schools to cease operations.

But perceptions changed when COVID-19 hit and school districts sent kids home. Parents began to realize that home education is often the right fit for kids with special needs and disabilities, those who have concerns about bullying or systemic racism, or those who take issue with one-size-fits-all instruction. (Not to mention the extreme learning loss caused by pandemic-era schooling.) In June 2021, the Department of Education reported that public school enrollment "fell by its largest margin in at least two decades." Public schools lost 1.4 million students.

Every student, to some degree, experienced home-based education—and the ones who stuck with it didn't always fit the stereotypical mold of homeschooled students. Between April and October 2020, the percentage of black families homeschooling their kids had jumped from 3 percent to 16 percent. The percentage of homeschooling Hispanic families nearly doubled.

Families are voting with their feet, and lawmakers are paying attention. Last April, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that at least 19 state legislatures saw bills that would roll back homeschooling regulations. Nearly half of all states had considered legislation that would launch or broaden education savings account programs, through which parents may withdraw kids from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds to use on alternative programs. Colorado, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey had all seen legislation introduced on tax credits for homeschooling families. Lawmakers in other states have put forth bills that would allow homeschoolers to participate in local public schools' athletic programs and extracurricular activities, take Advanced Placement and college entrance exams at district brick-and-mortar schools, and access scholarship programs at in-state colleges.

These reforms are overdue and could tip the scales for families considering home-based education. Homeschooling made me an entrepreneurial learner and enabled me to pursue educational opportunities outside the four walls of a classroom. I scored well on standardized tests and was accepted to most of the four-year universities I applied to. I graduated college summa cum laude, even though I entered with no high school diploma. Lawmakers should make that path more accessible, not less.

I'm not an anomaly, despite skeptics like Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet claiming that "we have zero evidence that, on average, homeschooled students are doing well." Students educated at home "typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests," according to the National Home Education Research Institute. Over three-quarters of peer-reviewed studies on academic outcomes show that homeschooled students "perform statistically significantly better than those in institutional schools." Recognizing their unique backgrounds, many top U.S. universities actively recruit homeschoolers—including Harvard.

The U.S. became a nation of involuntary home-learners during the pandemic. Predictably, this approach didn't suit everyone—homeschooling never has. But more families than ever before have seen the benefits of alternative, home-based education. Once-controversial instructional methods are finally entering the mainstream.

NEXT: State-Run Pre-K Resulted in Worse Educational, Behavioral Outcomes for Kids

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38 responses to “What Homeschoolers Knew Before Everyone Else

  1. California ruled that parents without teaching credentials couldn't educate their kids at home.

    Cool! Now require procreation credentials to have kids!

    1. That rule is easily circumvented by forming your own private school, which all California homeschoolers do if they aren't playing with a homeschool charter.

    2. That's my problem! I don't have a license! Once I get a license all the eligible babes will be lining up! WhoooO!

      1. 007 - License to Fill

      2. Sooo...What will the subject matter be?...

  2. Wow, Reason.com's leading advocate of Charles Koch's open borders agenda (now that Shikha Dalmia is gone) is the product of home schooling? Maybe the practice isn't as objectionable as I thought.

    #ImmigrationAboveAll

  3. Homeschool number more than doubled in the last couple years. in Texas they quintupled.

  4. All of my grandchildren are home-schooled and they are way, way ahead of other children their age who attend government schools. My son and daughter-in-law coordinate their schedules so that one or the other is at home on school days and my husband I fill in when there is a conflict. It works out well for everyone. All are doing work way above their grade level in math, reading, science, English, and Civics. I could not be more pleased.

  5. Fiona, thank your parents.

    1. lol this.

    2. My thought, exactly. A huge thank you.

      There are so many questions I would love to ask Fiona about the homeschool experience. I hope she writes 'best practices' she observed; other parents need those for their children.

      1. You can e-mail her.

    3. I agree. She's a great and obviously bright, much-needed addition to the pages of Reason.

      And to think that she inspired Nemo Aequalis to plug a stupid book advocating witch-hunting and witch-burning!

      If Fiona is a witch and homeschools make kids into witches, then the world needs more of both!

  6. Homeschooling is great, if parents have a good education and can both teach and entertain at the same time. My best teachers, from grade school to law school, combined education with both humor and theatrics in the classroom.

    A friend of ours decided that work had grown to the point that she could not home school her children. She agonized about putting her kids in public school.

    It's a good thing she did. One kid barely tested at grade level. The other was a full year behind and wound up repeating a grade.

    Admittedly, public schools don't teach practical things like how to change the locks on doors or the best way to shovel a driveway. But, you need to know how to do arithmetic without a calculator and that ending sentences with prepositions is not good form.

    1. I'm going to go out on a limb and say none of your anecdote is true, or this person was homeschooling in name only.

      I know several homeschoolers and every single one knows exactly where their kids line up in comparison with state education. Every curriculum available out there has assessments that allow you to determine if the kids are learning and retaining this info.

      1. Yeah, the anecdote smells like 5-day old fish. I doubt ckfred even has a friend. Anyone who can't keep up with a public school education is either lazy or stupid. You got a couple of kids and you can't match a public school teacher who has 30? GTFOH

      2. My friend learned the secret to making her kids geniuses. Click here to find out this simple and amazing method!

        As for ending sentences with prepositions…
        Was at the grocery store and asked, “Where’s your bathroom at?”
        The manager replied, “It is poor grammar to end a sentence with a preposition.
        I retorted, “Where’s your bathroom at you asshole?”

        1. Dropping trou in the middle of the floor would have been bad form too. 🙂

      3. Why? Statistically, even if homeschooling overall yields better outcomes, there will always be outliers. That is the danger with relying on anecdotes rather than statistics. You don't know if the anecdote conforms with the mean or is an outlier.

        1. When the average for homeschoolers is well above public schools, even the "outliers" tend to be at a higher level.

        2. Being an "outlier" is "dangerous" to a "Radical Individualist?" Who knew?

    2. Homeschooling is great, if parents have a good education and can both teach and entertain at the same time.

      Homeschool is great regardless. Not every kid needs to be on the same track. "full year behind" means nothing at 10.

      The system has brainwashed everyone into thinking that every kid on the same track is normal.

    3. Apparently the whole "do math without a calculator" thing is so 20th century. The new SAT guidelines allow students to use a freaking calculator on the test.

      Weaker and dumber every generation.

    4. Public schools no longer teach you how to do math without a calculator.

    5. Anecdotes can be helpful but, overall, public school students are far below proficient -- just follow the regular updates from the US Dept of Ed NAEP testing. Further, achievement tests are hardly the end all/be all gold standard for living. Yes, basic math is valuable for all.

  7. It seems like homeschooling is now where the internet was circa 1996-exploding into the mainstream. In a decade or sooner, public schools will only exist for kids who have no other options, and that will be a very small number.

  8. I worked with this very left-leaning black woman a few years back who homeschooled all four of her kids because even she didn’t want to subject them to Baltimore City public schools. Yet, white progs treat public schools as sacred and necessary for kids like hers, because of course they know what’s best for them.

    1. White Man's Burden. The lefties live it.

    2. Great point. Homeschooling is exploding with persons of color and Amen to that. Why does anyone want the state-run schools teaching, training, and indoctrinating their children 6 hrs/day, 5 days/week?

  9. I don't see Rev. Arthur yet. Isn't it about time for him to appear and make fun of clingers and their inferior educational choices?

  10. My next-door neighbors sent their 4 kids to the public school, then spent an hour or two every day on home study.

    The school district BEGGED them to enroll their kids in the various scholastic-skills competitions.

    The oldest only attended the last half of her senior year in high school because she wanted to be with her friends -- she had completed all required coursework in her JUNIOR year (the state required students to stay in school for the first semester of their senior year).

  11. I loved reading this. I home educated 4 kids, K-12, for over 20 years. I never knew and I still do not know what my state requires of kids to graduate high school. It did not matter to us.
    I have two IvyLeague grads and one graduating from USNA this May. The youngest is heading to Eastern Europe for his college education.
    Many have seen the light and may never go back to mass education. I hope their kids experience the boost in confidence and self-agency that home education can offer.
    Public education will always be there for the families who want it or for the families who (sadly) have no other choice. I do think it will be vastly altered when this great exodus is done. It was accelerated by Covid and by school shutdowns and union bickering and the non-stop broadcasting of an absurd narrative, but it is really part of the massive shift in how people are making sense of life. The massive shift of sensibility is away from top-down toward peer-to-peer, ground up.
    One of the most powerful moments in a person's life...whether young or old...is when you realize you do not need the gatekeepers. The homeschoolers of the past few decades mostly understood this ...they learned by doing things for themselves. They learned that they did not need the many layers of gatekeepers to acquire a very sound education for their kids. It is hard work but it is truly liberating.

  12. "we have zero evidence that, on average, homeschooled students are doing well."

    This would match the lack of evidence that, on average, public school students are doing well.

    1. Fun!

  13. Fiona, great points. It is hard for the NEA teachers' union and some negative scholars to accept that fact that home-educated kids typically do better academically, socially, and into adulthood. The negatives want to say it's because homeschoolers are wealthy but research shows they've been median income for decades and are, actually, going a littler lower in income. Doing as well or better than public schools without $15,000 of their neighbors' tax dollars, state-licensed teachers, professors at schools of education, and teachers' unions. This might be what bugs them. For up-to-date info on how many are homeschooling and why, see https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling/

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  15. For years, anti-home schoolers preached about how kids in home school weren't learning, "social skills"....in other words; how to deal with bullies, perverts, stupid people, bigots, and racists...I decided that I didn't want my kid to be in an environment that required him to learn those skills. As a student in public school, kids are required to become hardened against the very threats levied upon them by the environment allowed to fester in public schools. Once your kid gets used to that, they are perfectly prepared to live in an adult society filled with the same type of people. As children, they can't move about freely; away from the a-holes, but as adults we can choose our own environment. I don't want my kids to accept an a-hole filled environment in which to live out their lives.

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