The number of home-schooled kids hit 1.5 million in 2007, up 74% from when the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics started keeping track in 1999, and up 36% since 2003. The percentage of the school-age population that was home-schooled increased from 2.2% in 2003 to 2.9% in 2007. “There’s no reason to believe it would not keep going up,” says Gail Mulligan, a statistician at the center.
Traditionally, the biggest motivations for parents to teach their children at home have been moral or religious reasons, and that remains a top pick when parents are asked to explain their choice.
The 2003 survey gave parents six reasons to pick as their motivation. (They could choose more than one.) The 2007 survey added a seventh: an interest in a “non-traditional approach,” a reference to parents dubbed “unschoolers,” who regard standard curriculum methods and standardized testing as counterproductive to a quality education.
“We wanted to identify the parents who are part of the ‘unschooling’ movement,” Mulligan says. The “unschooling” group is viewed by educators as a subset of home-schoolers, who generally follow standard curriculum and grading systems. “Unschoolers” create their own systems.
The category of “other reasons” rose to 32% in 2007 from 20% in 2003 and included family time and finances. That suggests the demographics are expanding beyond conservative Christian groups, says Robert Kunzman, an associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Education. Anecdotal evidence indicates many parents want their kids to learn at their own pace, he says.
Fewer home-schoolers were enrolled part time in traditional schools to study subjects their parents lack knowledge to teach. Eighteen percent were enrolled part time in 1999 and 2003, compared with 16% in 2007. Kunzman says this might be because of the availability of online instruction.
The 2007 estimates are based on data from the Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the National Household Education Surveys. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, says the estimates are low because home-schooling parents “are significantly less likely to answer government-sponsored surveys.”