The U.S. Department of Education has released its periodic review of schooling in America, and it offers a revealing look at the growth of homeschooling. The picture of contemporary homeschooling offers some real surprises and raises some new questions.
“The Condition of Education 2009” is produced by the National Center for Education Statistics, and it contains a wealth of statistical data. Approximately 50 million children are enrolled in the public schools for grades K-12. In 2007 5.9 million children were enrolled in private schools and the percentage of those enrolled in “Conservative Christian schools” increased from 13 to 15 percent of that total.
Homeschooling was the choice of families for 2.9 percent of all school-age children in the United States in 2007, involving 1.5 million students. By comparison, in 1999 only 850,000 children were homeschooled. By 2003, that number was up to 1.1 million. This report indicates significant jumps in homeschooling as compared to other educational options. In fact, the report reveals that the actual number of American children whose parents choose homeschooling for at least part of their education exceeds 3 million. According to the report, 1.5 million children are exclusively homeschooled while another 1.5 million are homeschooled for at least part of the school week.
At this point, the picture grows even more interesting. When parents were asked why they chose to homeschool their children, 36 percent cited a desire to provide children specifically religious or moral instruction. After that, 21 percent of parents pointed to concerns about the environment of schools, 17 percent cited dissatisfaction with educational quality in the schools, and 14 percent cited “other reasons.” Among those “other reasons” was a concern for more family time together.
Higher numbers of parents with college educations and greater family incomes are now homeschooling. This trend points to the fact that homeschooling is increasingly the option of first choice for many parents. This pattern is also revealed in increasing numbers of college students, primarily young women, who indicate that they desire a college education so that they will be better equipped in years ahead to be homeschooling parents.
One area of concern is also revealed in the study. In 1999, 49 percent of homeschooled children were boys and 51 percent were girls. Now, boys account for only 42 percent of homeschooled students. This represents a significant shift that raises a host of questions. Why the drop in the percentage of boys?
One reason often cited is a desire on the part of boys to play team sports. This becomes especially acute during the high school years, when schools emerge as the main arena for organized team sports. But there are surely other factors in play here. Mothers often cite greater difficulty in teaching boys as they move into middle school and high school levels. For this reason alone, most fathers should be far more engaged in the homeschool experience. Homeschooling will suffer a significant loss if a gender imbalance among students continues or increases.
An interesting aspect of this report is the fact that so many parents cite a desire for more time with their children as a motivation for homeschooling. The average child is awake for just over 100 hours a week. During the school year, traditional schooling requires students to be at the school for about 35 of those 100 waking hours. Add to that the additional hours involved in transportation to and from the school and then homework assignments, and the total investment of time can easily claim half of the child’s waking hours — and these are usually the prime waking hours as well.
Homeschooling is now a major force in American education, and Christian parents have been in the vanguard of this movement. For many Christian parents, homeschooling represents the fulfillment of the biblical mandate for parents to teach their children. These parents deserve our respect, our support, our advocacy, and our prayers. This movement is a sign of hope on our educational horizon, and a phenomenon that can no longer be dismissed as a fringe movement.
As president of a seminary and college, I can attest to the fact that questions about the educational aptitude of homeschooled students are now settled. These students can hold their own as compared to students from all other educational backgrounds. One other fact speaks loudly to me concerning their education. Most of the homeschooled students I meet at the college and graduate levels indicate an eager determination to homeschool their own children when that time comes.
Education cannot be reduced to statistics, but the trends revealed in this new report from the Department of Education deserve close attention. In our day, education represents a clash of worldviews. Increasingly toxic approaches to education (or what is called education) drive many schools and many school systems. In that light, the fact that so many Christian parents are taking education into their own hands is a sign of hope. As this new report makes clear, we should expect homeschooling to be a growth industry in years ahead.