Record: Jeremy Redford, Danielle Battle, Stacey Bielick, and Sarah Grady, Homeschooling in the United States: 2012, (NCES 2016-096) (U.S. Department of Education: Washington, D.C., 2016) [Available Here]

Introduction: Every four or five years, the National Household Education Survey developed by the National Center for Education Statistics includes questions about homeschooling. This survey provides us with the best information available about homeschooling because it is consists of a representative, randomized sample of the entire American population. In 2013, we summarized some preliminary findings from this 2012 data-set; however, we now have the complete findings at our disposal. As I summarize this article, I will be making frequent reference to the previous survey from 2007, which we summarized here.

Methodology: The 2011 survey was completed by the parents of 17,563 children. Within this sample were 397 homeschooled students. Students were counted as homeschoolers if 1. they were partially schooled at home, and 2. if any part-time enrollments in public or private schools did not exceed 25 hours a week. Furthermore, students who were homeschooled primarily because of a temporary illness were excluded from analysis, which means that the analytic sample for the article dropped to 347 homeschooled students.

Readers should use caution when examining homeschool rates over time because of a change in the design of the NHES this time around. Previously, the NHES was a telephone survey, but this year, due to the declining use of telephones, the data was collected through the mail.


  1. Enrollment Estimates
    1. The number of homeschooled students increased from an estimated 850,000 students in 1999 to 1,773,000 students in 2012. When the margin of error is considered, the estimate for homeschooled students ranges from 1,543,000 to 2,003,000.
    2. Overall, that means that the rate of homeschooling among the general, school-aged population has increased from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 3.4 percent in 2012.
    3. The increase in homeschooling between 2007 and 2012 was not statistically significant.
  2. Characteristics of Homeschooled Students
    1. Most homeschooled students were White (83 percent). Approximately 5% of homeschooled students are estimated to be Black, and 7% are estimated to be Hispanic. This would represent a 6% decrease in diversity since 2007. Since a dramatic change like this would be surprising, it is possibly due to either the change in the survey’s format (from phone to mail) or their mathematical adjustment of the 2011 results. We will have to wait for the next survey to see whether this was a fluke or the beginning of a trend.
    2. 89% of homeschoolers are estimated to be non-poor, with the remaining 11% estimated to be poor. “Poor” was defined by the 2011 Census thresholds with weighting for family size. So, a family of 4 would be poor if they made less than or equal to $20,000, while a family of 8 would need to make less than $40,000.
    3. Most homeschoolers live in rural areas (40%). This is followed by homeschoolers in suburban areas (28%), cities (21%), and towns (10%).
    4. There were no significant differences in homeschooling enrollment based on the gender of the student. This is a return to normal after the 2007 survey showed the homeschooling population to be slightly more female.
    5. Homeschooled students spanned all grade equivalents, but the rate of homeschooling grows as students age. For example, only 18% of K-2 students were homeschooled as compared to 29% of 6-8th graders and 32% 9-12th graders.
    6. 44% of homeschooling parents had received at least a Bachelor’s degree. 32% had some college; 23% only had a high school diploma, and 2% did not complete high school.
    7. 43% of homeschooled students had two parents, but only one of their parents worked. 35% of homeschooled students had two parents in the labor force. For students who were homeschooled full-time, 60% had a full stay-at-home parent.
    8. 76% of homeschooled students had two parents, 19% had one parent, and approximately 4% had non-parental guardians. This is a return to the average of 80% two-parent households in the 1999 and 2003 surveys. In 2007, the number jumped to 89% two-parent households.
    9. 49% of the households had three or more children under age 18. 28% had two children under 18, and 24% had only one child under 18.
  3. The Learning Environments of Homeschooled Students
    1. When asked about the most important reason for homeschooling their children, respondents said “A concern about the environment of other schools, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure” (25%), “Other” (21%), “A dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at other schools” (19%), and “A desire to provide religious instruction” (17%). This is a huge difference from the 2007 survey, in which a single “religious or moral” category was claimed as the most important motivator by 36% of respondents.
    2. When allowed to pick multiple reasons that were important to them, the most common motivations for homeschooling were “A concern about the environment of other schools, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure” (91%), A desire to provide moral instruction (77%), A dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at other schools (74%), “A desire to provide religious instruction” (64%), and “A desire to provide a nontraditional approach to child’s education” (44%).
    3. The most common sources of curriculum were websites (77%), publishers who produce homeschool-specific materials (77%), the public library (70%), and retailers such as bookstores (69%). The least common were materials from the public school district (17%) and materials from private schools (38%). Respondents were allowed to select multiple responses.
    4. 25% of homeschooling parents reported taking a course in the past year about homeschooling. The other 75% did not take any course in how to homeschool in the past year.
    5. Overall, 25% of homeschooled students took courses online. Online courses are more common as students age: only 11% of elementary school students took online courses as compared to 35% of middle schoolers and 34% of high schoolers. The sources of these online classes were extremely varied. About 25% of the students took online classes offered by public schools; 22% took online classes offered by charter schools; 21% took online courses offered by private schools, 12% by a college, 11% by the state, and a full 41% took online courses that come from “Other” providers
    6. 88% of homeschooled high school students were taught basic algebra during all of the years that they had been homeschooled. This was followed by geometry (54%), advanced algebra (35%), probability (14%), and calculus (10%).
    7. As for science, 69% of students were taught biology and earth science during all of the years that they had been homeschooled. Below that, 47% were taught science inquiry or experiments, 34% were taught chemistry or physics, and 32% were taught computer science.

Analysis: Before I get to the limitations of this study, I’d like to repeat that the NHES is one of the most reliable sources of information that we have about homeschooling in the United States. Why? The NHES uses a random sample of the entire US population. Since the few quantitative studies on homeschooling that exist are usually plagued by biased convenience samples and small sample sizes, a sample of 347 homeschoolers is very meaningful. However, in spite of that, this sample has a number of flaws that should be kept in mind when interpreting the results.

First of all, the sample sizes are still small enough that a anomaly of only a few respondents can make a significant impact on the results. Furthermore, the findings are dependent on the respondents’ understandings of the questions. Some of the questions included in the survey are worded in such a way that parents could misinterpret them. For example, the NHES found that their question that was meant to identify homeschooling children was confusing to some parents, which caused them to adjust their results. This was the most obvious example, but other questions, such as the ones about math and science (which are new this year), also offer opportunities for misinterpretation. For instance, is it accurate to say that only 69% of homeschooled high-schoolers were taught biology or earth science? It seems like a low number, but anyone using these results must remember that the question includes all 9-12th graders. So, if a 9th grader is dedicating the year to studying earth science, their parent would have marked that the student was not taught, biology, chemistry, or physics, even if the student had every intention of including these subjects in their further high-school curriculum. I also question how parents who promoted a holistic spiraling of math and science subjects would have responded to these questions. To put it simply, the NHES gives good information, but in order to avoid responder burn-out, it doesn’t ask questions that are detailed enough to eliminate ambiguity and misinterpretation.

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