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Homeschooling: Growing and Thriving in the 21st Century

  • Amelia Harper The Old Schoolhouse
  • 2010 9 Mar
Homeschooling: Growing and Thriving in the 21st Century

Back in the ancient days when I began homeschooling (more than twenty years ago), homeschoolers were considered something of an oddity. People would point to us in the grocery store and whisper. Some brave souls would come up and ask us how we could "get away" with doing this and weren't we afraid of being arrested. That is because in 1980, homeschooling was technically illegal in thirty states in the U.S.1 When I began homeschooling in 1988, we were one of the first wave of families to begin homeschooling legally in my state. However, in the past twenty years the homeschool climate has changed considerably. Recent data suggests that homeschooling has grown at a steady rate and will continue to mushroom in the years to come.

Many people who are just now beginning to homeschool are not aware that the modern homeschool movement began as something of a cultural phenomenon. In the late 1960s, researchers estimate that the number of homeschoolers in the U.S. was between 10,000 and 15,000.2 These early homeschoolers were often considered the rebels. In Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, a paper published by the Fraser Institute, the authors state, "Although the contemporary image of homeschooling parents depicts a homogeneous, deeply religious, socially conservative sub-group of the population, back in the 1960s and 1970s, most homeschooling parents were members of the counter-cultural left, principally advocates of New Age philosophies, hippies, and homesteaders."3

By the 1980s, the homeschool landscape in the U.S. had begun to change dramatically. By 1985, an estimated 50,0004 children were being educated at home as some Christians who were frustrated by the liberal, humanistic bias in public schools began looking for alternatives in greater numbers. Though the growth of the Christian school movement in the latter half of the twentieth century answered the need for many, others were looking for options that were more affordable, more available, and more conducive to building a strong family core. Books written in the 1980s by authors such as Dr. Raymond Moore (Home Grown Kids and Better Late Than Early) brought awareness of the benefits of homeschooling both educationally and in terms of strengthening religious and family ties.

How things have changed in the past two decades. Now homeschooling (in some form) is legal in all fifty states5 and is becoming more widely accepted as an alternative form of education. During the 1990s, attitudes toward homeschooling began to shift. A Gallup poll taken in 1985 indicated that only 16% of U.S. families considered homeschooling a good idea; by 2001, that figure had escalated to 41%.6 In addition, a 1998 Newsweek poll revealed that 59% of respondents felt that homeschooled students were at least as well educated as their traditionally schooled counterparts.7

Homeschooling began to catch on quickly as the public perception caught up with reality. By 1992, researchers estimated that there were 300,000 homeschooled students8—a six-fold increase in just seven years. In the 1995-1996 school year, the U.S. Department of Education placed the number of homeschooled children at between 700,000 and 750,000.9 By 1999, that figure had risen to more than 850,000, or roughly 1.7% of the school-age population.10 Also, by this time, practicing Christians represented about 75% of American homeschoolers.11

In the twenty-first century, homeschooling has maintained steady growth. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that there were 1.1 million homeschooled students.12 The number of homeschoolers not only increased, but the rate increased as well: 2.2% of U.S. school-aged children were homeschooled in 2003, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.13 Perhaps these figures reflect a growing frustration with the public school system. According to a 2003 U.S. Census Bureau report, 7% of households with children in the public school system said that they were dissatisfied with the schools.14

A recent study released by the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that roughly 400,000 more children have joined the ranks of the homeschooled in the past five years. According to a report released in December 2008, roughly 1.5 million children in the U.S. are now educated at home. This represents about 2.9% of the school-age population, a 36% relative increase in just a five-year period, and a 74% relative increase since 1999. This study also suggests that the figure may be even higher—as many as 1,739,000 homeschooled students.15

Other researchers believe that the actual number exceeds even that estimate. Because homeschooling reporting varies from state to state and some homeschoolers do not register at all, it is difficult to arrive at a wholly accurate figure. In September 2008, Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute estimated the number of U.S. homeschooled students at between 1.8 and 2.5 million.16

But why is homeschooling growing at such a rapid pace? The answer lies in the growing frustration with the type and quality of public school instruction and concerns about classroom environments. According to the recent 2008 NCES Survey, the main three reasons that parents chose this option were "to provide religious or moral instruction" (36%), "concern about the school environment" (21%), and " dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools" (17%). The desire to teach children with special needs (including physical and mental health issues) accounted for another 6% and "interest in a non-traditional approach to education," 7%. The others cited additional reasons.17 However, this survey contained responses only from the parents of 290 homeschooled children.

In 2007, Dr. Heather Allen conducted a more comprehensive survey for The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine on their website. Of the 4,662 respondents to the question of why they homeschooled, 55% cited "religious reasons or convictions" as their primary reason for homeschooling. Concern with "public school conditions or philosophies" again came in second at 19%, and the "desire for individualized instruction" was cited as the third most common reason (15%). The desire to teach special needs children represented the primary motivation of 3% of the population. The remaining 8% cited other reasons.18

Based on the research conducted over the past twenty years, it is clear that homeschooling is indeed growing and thriving. All indications are that it will continue to grow in the years to come as more people begin to see homeschooling as a viable alternative to traditional classroom education. This growth offers several advantages to homeschooling families.

One advantage is that the boom in homeschooling means that homeschool resources and support systems will likely continue to be available in greater numbers to meet the growing demand. As an example, in 2001 The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine started out as a twelve-page eBay homeschooling business newsletter offering advice to homeschoolers. Now, eight years later, it is one of the fastest growing resources in the homeschool market—a quarterly magazine packed with approximately 200 pages of articles and roughly150 ads from companies that cater to the needs of homeschooling families. The magazine also offers its own website, blog site, store, E-Newsletters, E-Books, and Speakers Bureau. And this is just one homeschool resource. We have come a long way from the early days when I began homeschooling with little more than a piece of chalk, a slate, and used Christian and public school textbooks. 

There is also strength in numbers, for the increase in homeschooling families means that we now have a stronger voice as governmental and regulatory issues arise. An example of this occurred in 1994, when opposition by homeschooling families forced Congress to adopt an amendment that excluded homeschooling families from an education bill that could have required homeschools to have certified teachers.19 By some estimates, the number of homeschooled students has nearly tripled since then. Imagine the impact that homeschoolers would have today if a similar issue arose.

The growth in homeschooling also helps change public perception as homeschooling families become an accepted part of the fabric of America. Many museums, amusement parks, and other locations now offer special programs for homeschooled families. Colleges are accepting homeschooled students in far greater numbers.20 People no longer point and stare at my homeschooling family and question the legality of our educational choices. Now, I am more likely to hear statements like this: "I know someone who does that! Can you tell me how to homeschool?"

And I am always glad to help. The more, the merrier.

*This article published March 9, 2010.

Dr. Heather Allen has a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and has more than twenty-two years experience as a human factors engineer. After serving as an aerospace experimental psychologist in the United States Navy, she worked for Sandia National Laboratories for eleven years in the Statistics and Human Factors Department. Heather left the laboratory to homeschool her children and embark on a consulting business. She and her husband, Steve, have homeschooled their children, Edward (16), Joseph (15), Emily (11), Hana (6), and Ezekiel (5) for twelve years. For more information about Heather's family, please visit her website at

Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Winter 2009/10. Used with permission. Visit them at For all your homeschool curriculum needs visit the Schoolhouse Store. Endnotes:

[1]. Hepburn, Claudia, Patrick Basham, and John Merrifield (2007). Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, Second Edition, from "Studies in Education Policy," page 7,, accessed July 2009. 

2. Lines, Patricia M. (2001). "Homeschooling," ERIC Digest 151, September 2001,, accessed July 2009.

3., accessed July 2009.

4. Gutterson, David (1993). Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense. New York: Harvest Books. As quoted in Basham,, accessed July 2009.

5. "Home Schooling," Editorial Projects in Education Research Center (September 21, 2004),, accessed July 2009.

6. Rose, L. C. and A. M. Gallup (2001). The 33rd Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. As quoted in Basham,, accessed July 2009. 

7. Kantrowitz, Barbara and Pat Wingert (1998). "Learning at Home: Does It Pass the Test?" Newsweek. Cover Story (October 5). As quoted in Basham,, accessed July 2009.

8. Gutterson, David (1993). Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense. New York: Harvest Books. As quoted in Basham,, accessed July 2009.

9. Lines, Patricia M. (1999). Home Schoolers: Estimating Numbers and Growth, web edition,, accessed July 2009.

10. "Homeschooling in the United States: 1999." National Center for Education Statistics (2001). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Services,, accessed July 2009.

11. Livini, Ephrat (2000). "Keeping the Faith." ABC News (August 23). As quoted in Basham,, accessed July 2009.

12. National Center for Education Statistics Issue Brief (July 2004). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Services,, accessed July 2009.

13. Ibid.

14. "Facts for Features." U.S. Census press release (June 14, 2007),, accessed July 2009.

15. National Center for Education Statistics Issue Brief (Dec. 2008). U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Services,, accessed July 2009.

16. Ray, Brian (2008). "Research Facts on Homeschooling." National Home Education Research Institute,, accessed July 2009.

17. National Center for Education Statistics Issue Brief (Dec. 2008). U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Services,, accessed July 2009.

18. Allen, Dr. Heather. Previously unpublished results from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine 2007 Reader Survey.

19. Lines, Patricia (2000). "Homeschooling Comes of Age." The Public Interest, No. 140 (Summer), pp. 74-85,, accessed July 2009.

20. Hepburn, Claudia, Patrick Basham, and John Merrifield (2007). Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, Second Edition, from "Studies in Education Policy," page 7,, accessed July 2009.