NCES HOMESCHOOLING DATA: First Look from 2016

Record: Meghan McQuiggan, Mahi Megra, and Sara Grady, Parent and Family Involvement in Education: Results from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2016, (NCES 2017-2012) (U.S. Department of Education: Washington, D.C., 2017) [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 the best information available about homeschooling because it consists of a representative, randomized sample of the entire American population. While the present article is only a “first look” at the 2016 data, it provides updated information for some of the most important questions in homeschooling research that were previously investigated in the 2012 report, which we summarized here.

Methodology: The 2016 survey was completed by the parents of 14,075 children from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Within this sample were 552 homeschooled students. Readers should utilize caution when comparing NHES data over time because of some changes in the study’s design. Previously the NHES was a phone study, but in 2012, due to the declining use of telephones, the data was instead collected through the postal system. In 2016 they also tested a web survey with a small number of respondents.

Findings: Because this is only a “first look” for the 2016 survey, we do not have all of the study’s findings. We will likely have to wait a few years for a full report. However, there are many interesting facts to note despite the report’s brevity. 

  1. Enrollment Estimates
    1. The number of homeschooled students remained stagnant from 2012 to 2016 at approximately 1.7 million. When the margin of error is considered, the estimate for homeschooled students ranges from 1,571,278 to 1,808,174. When viewed against the state enrollment information that we have been collecting from 2012 to 2016, this stagnation and possible decline are surprising, since most of the states that publish homeschool data have reported a slow but steady increase in enrollment.
    2. Overall, the estimated rate of homeschooling among the general, school-aged population decreased from 3.4 percent in 2012 to 3.3 percent in 2016.  This is the first reported decline since NCES began collecting this data in 1999.
  2. Characteristics of Homeschooled Students
    1. Most homeschooled students are still non-Hispanic White (59 percent), but their share is significantly lower than the 83 percent reported in 2012. While only 7% of homeschoolers were estimated to identify as Hispanic in 2012, the 2016 report identifies a shocking 26% of Hispanic homeschoolers! Non-Hispanic Blacks (8 percent) and Asians (3 percent) are also homeschooling at a higher rate than previously identified. 
    2. The rate of homeschooling among students from rural areas (4.4 percent) was higher than the rate of homeschooling for students in cities (3 percent) and suburban areas (2.9 percent). 
    3. Like the 2007 survey, the results from 2016 show the homeschooling population to to be slightly more female (52% female vs. 48% male). 
    4. As in 2012, the rate of homeschooling was found to grow as students age. For example, only 2.9% of all K-2 students were homeschooled as compared to 3.8% of all 9-12th graders. 
    5. 45% of homeschooling parents have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and 25% have a vocational degree or some college. Beyond that, 16% of homeschooling parents only have a high school diploma, and 15% of homeschooling parents did not graduate high school. While the rate of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees is similar to 2012, the rate of homeschooling parents without a high school diploma skyrocketed from 2% in 2012 to 15% in 2016. 
    6. This year there was a new question about the language spoken in the household. Approximately 15% of homeschooled children live in a family where one or both of their parents do not speak English.
    7. Finally, there was also a spike in the percentage of homeschooled children who were classified as poor. In 2012 only 11% of homeschooled children were classified as poor, but in 2016, that percentage was 21%.
  3. The Motivations of Homeschooling Parents 
    1. When asked about the most important reason for homeschooling their children, the top three responses were a concern about the environment of other schools (34%), a dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools (17%), and a desire to provide religious instruction (16%). While the primary motivation of 37% of homeschoolers in 2007 was to provide religious instruction, the 2016 results mirror those from 2012 with the greater focus on the school environment and dissatisfaction with academic instruction.
    2. When allowed to choose multiple reasons that were “important” in their decision to homeschool, parents pointed to a concern about the environment of other schools (80%), a desire to provide moral instruction (67%), a dissatisfaction with academic instruction (61%), and a desire to provide religious instruction (51%). Approximately 12% of respondents were motivated to homeschool because of their child’s special educational needs or a physical/mental health problem. Once again the results align closely with those from the 2012 survey.

Analysis: The 2016 NCES findings are dramatic. While NHES is one of the most reliable sources of information about homeschooling in the United States because of its random sampling, it is not without flaws. The sample sizes are still small enough that an anomaly of only a few respondents can make a significant impact on the results.  What to make of this round’s results? We have at least three choices:

First, it is possible that there has indeed been a dramatic rise in Hispanic and other minority homeschooling, and that NCES’ mail method has been able to capture these families in ways that the usual homeschooling research methodologies (typically snowball sampling beginning with networks familiar to the researcher) do not.  Though the mostly white, well-educated researchers studying homeschooling don’t have access to them, it is very possible that a large and growing number of Latinx families are turning to homeschooling in the wake of the anti-immigrant rhetoric and aggressive prosecution of the undocumented that characterize the Trump era.

Alternately, it is possible that the 2016 survey’s results are an anomaly, an accident of a sample that happened to include a larger number of Latinx homeschooling families than another similarly random sample would capture.  We saw something like this back in 2003, when NCES found that 9.4% of homeschoolers were African American, a finding that received much comment in the press and among researchers.  But when the 2007 data was released, the percentage of black homeschoolers was back to 4%, near historic averages.

Alternately, it’s possible that there is something in the new sampling methodology (using conventional mail) that is skewing the data toward poorer, more minority families.  Could it be that wealthier, whiter families are less likely to read their mail, since postal mail has largely become a vehicle for mass-market advertisement? Could richer families just throw the NCES mail away along with the rest of the junk mail they receive every day, while poorer families, who are not targeted by as much advertisement, take the time to actually open the envelope?

As usual, we will have to wait for future results to see if what has been captured here is a trend or an anomaly. At present we can say, tentatively, that according to the best available data it seems that the overall number of homeschooling families hasn’t changed much since 2012, and that the demographic profile of those families is increasingly looking like the overall U.S. population and less like the stereotypical white, conservative Christian homeschooler of the past.

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