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Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New data show numbers of home schoolers up again; IU Web site offers information, help

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 23, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- While most analysts thought the numbers would plateau, the figures released today (Dec. 23) by the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education, show another rise in the number of home-schooled students in the U.S. In addressing this continuing trend in education, IU professor Robert Kunzman, the author of a forthcoming book on home schooling, has developed a new Web site to provide a centralized resource for journalists, educators and the general public to consider the new data in context.

The data released today indicate that an estimated 1.5 million students were home schooled in the U.S. in the spring of 2007, an increase from the estimated 1.1 million students home schooled in the spring of 2003. Today's numbers represent a 74 percent increase since 1999, when an estimated 850,000 students were home schooled.

The report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009030.pdf.

But since parents of many home schoolers are reluctant to participate in government surveys such as this one -- more than half (58 percent) of the families contacted declined to participate in the previous Department of Education report -- some education experts believe the total number of students schooled at home today is actually closer to two million.

"I think this report is raising some fundamental questions about what it means to be educated and the variety of ways in which that can and should happen," said Kunzman, associate professor for curriculum and instruction in the IU School of Education.

"It may include sitting down at the computer, it may include going to a home school cooperative, it may include learning something that doesn't look like formal schooling, but you'd be hard pressed to argue that it isn't education in a significant sense," he said. "So I think that the rise of school choice more generally, and the home school sector in partucular, are questioning all sorts of delivery."

To better explore these issues, Kunzman has established a new Web site, "Homeschooling Research and Scholarship," at http://www.indiana.edu/~homeeduc, to provide easier access to home-school information.

Kunzman said that in his research on home schooling, he had found numerous Web sites provided by home-school organizations and advocacy groups, but he found few places where interested parties could go for a less partisan perspective. His Web site is intended to provide an overview of home schooling for those who are new to the subject or those who are researching various aspects for any number of reasons.

He also developed the Web site because of what he says is a consistent misrepresentation of existing studies about home schooling. "Two or three studies get routinely cited and misrepresented, and then get repeated in news stories in ways that give a misleading portrait of home schooling," he said.

Particularly, he said, a study conducted 10 years ago about the performance of home-schooled students has been presented by advocacy groups and media reports as demonstrating that the "typical" home-schooled student performs academically better than public school students.

"What we find with home schooling is that there is no typical home schooler. It's as varied as a public school student profile would be," said Kunzman. "This relatively small group of home-school volunteers was in large part tested by their own parents, without the same type of standardized procedures that would be done in a public school setting. And they're comparing against the entire public school population, so it's really not a valid comparison."

The fact that many families don't report that their children are schooled at home is also a big problem in making definitive statements about this group of students. "Representations about the average home schooler performing at this or that level are simply incorrect, because we don't even know who all the home schoolers are," Kunzman said.

Over the last five years, Kunzman has intensively studied the home-school movement, particularly conservative Christian home schooling. His book, Write these Laws on your Children, to be published by Beacon press this summer, documents findings from the year and a half he spent following six families and their home-schooling experiences.

Kunzman said the Christian conservative families educating their children at home create another dimension to the growing trend. "It adds another layer of complexity when intense religious convictions enter the mix, and we consider what it means for parents to have potentially sole oversight or control of their child's education, versus a vision of education that incorporates the interests of children themselves and broader society as well."

Kunzman can be reached at rkunzman@indiana.edu or (812) 856-8122.

Media Outlets: the following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Website at http://education.indiana.edu. Look for this news release under "News" on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.

Kunzman says the website will offer much more context for homeschooling in the U.S.:

"... I think it's an easily accessible way to see what's out there and get a sense as to what there is beyond the two or three studies that routinely get cited. That, to me perhaps, is the most important contribution of the Web site. These two or three studies get routinely cited, get routinely misinterpreted or misrepresented, and very often get repeated in news stories in ways that give a misleading portrait of home schooling. What we find with home schooling is that there is no typical home schooler. It's as varied as a public school student profile would be. Representations about the average home schooler performing at this or that level are simply incorrect because we don't even know who all the home schoolers are. So there are no comprehensive data about performance and things like that."

Despite the higher numbers in homeschoolers cited by the Department of Education, Kunzman says researchers tend to believe that the actual numbers are higher:

"I actually am inclined to believe the higher estimate, in part because the home schoolers, the many home schoolers that I've come in contact with as part of my research over the last five years are very reluctant to be counted, certainly not by the government, and so this past NCS study actually had a 58 percent refusal rate, and I'm quite certain that many of those were the kinds of people that I talk with that don't want the government to know anything about them. So I think that the number is probably quite a bit higher, and I think that the new numbers coming out, while the best hard data we have, are probably also still underestimating the total."

The growth in virtual schooling has helped fuel homeschooling growth, Kunzman says:

"One of the things that's also happening is the growth of distance education and cyber schooling is starting to bleed into or merge with homeschooling, because there are so many more opportunities now to take courses online both through public school entities, but also through private, charters, what have you, not even the same district, not even the same state. So I think that the boom in virtual education is also fueling the continued rise in home schooling."

Kunzman says the numbers of homeschoolers may be an indication that it's time to reconsider definitions:

"And I think that one of the things that it's doing is it's raising some fundamental questions about what we mean by public education and what counts as schooling versus being educated at home in a variety of ways. It may include sitting down at the computer, it may include going to a home school cooperative, it may include learning something that doesn't look like formal schooling, and then yet you'd be hard pressed to argue that it isn't education in a significant sense. So I think that the rise of school choice more generally and the home school sector in particular are questioning all sorts of delivery models for what we mean by education in the 21st Century."