Nosedive in public school enrollment reflects homeschool boom3 min read
Student enrollment in public schools has nosedived as parent disgust with school COVID-19 policies, student learning losses, and controversial education policies have gone through the roof. In the wake of this enrollment implosion, homeschooling has boomed across the country.
At the beginning of the current school year, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that 1.5 million students had left public schools since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
If students are not enrolling in public schools, where are they going? The numbers show that many former public school students are now being homeschooled.
The U.S. Census Bureau found that the percentage of homeschooling households more than doubled in 2020 from 5% in spring to 11% in the fall.
In Virginia in 2019-20, around 38,000 children were being homeschooled. A year later, in 2020-21, state data showed that the number had risen to nearly 60,000.
According to a recent University of Michigan study, from 2020 to 2021, the enrollment at public schools in Michigan fell by nearly 46,000 students, which represented a more than a 3% drop. Among kindergartners, there was a decrease of more than 11%.
The study found that homeschooling rates jumped substantially in the fall of 2020, with homeschooling accounting “for a majority of Michigan’s students who did not return to the public system.” Importantly, the study noted, “national trends in homeschooling follow a similar pattern.”
The increase in homeschoolers does not come from just a narrow segment of the American population. A University of Washington Bothell analysis found, “The diversity of homeschoolers in the U.S. mirrors the diversity of all students nationally,” including all racial, religious, political, and income groups.
For instance, the Census Bureau found that among African-American households, the increase in homeschooling was much steeper than in the country as a whole, rising from 3% to 16%, a five-fold jump.
This increase in African-American homeschooling is not surprising given recent research by McKinsey & Company that found “Students in majority Black schools ended the [2020-21 school] year with six months of unfinished learning.”
Demetria Zinga, one of the country’s top African-American homeschool YouTubers, says, “I believe homeschooling is growing and exploding amongst African Americans, and there will be more and more homeschoolers.”
She believes that this growth will be facilitated by “more resources available, in general, but also with regard to the African-American community, in particular, especially online that make it easier for people to homeschool.”
Homeschool mom Magda Gomez, an immigrant from Mexico, has become an activist for homeschooling in the Hispanic community.
She observes: “We Hispanics as a culture are usually very protective and loving towards our children. However, I explain that love is not enough to raise our children. We have to educate ourselves in different areas [of education], especially since we are not in our [native] country but are immigrants.”
“It is my dream,” she says, “to see more Hispanic families doing homeschool.” Her dream is coming true with homeschooling doubling among Hispanic households, from 6% to 12%.
In addition to the racial diversity of homeschoolers, in 2021, the school-choice organization EdChoice found: “Many parents of children with autism, ADHD, and other neuro-developmental disorders report that public schools cannot effectively address their child’s specialized learning needs.”
As opposed to the rigid structure that schools often impose on special-needs children, homeschooling allows parents to address their children’s particular needs.
Pediatric nurse and homeschool mom Jackie Nunes unenrolled her special-needs daughter from public school, saying, “There just wasn’t enough of the things that matter—time, attention, patience, persistence, passion, support.”
Viewing the growth of homeschooling, Virginia homeschool leader Yvonne Bunn says, “I think it will permanently change the landscape of education. I don’t think it will ever go back to the way it was before.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed all the flaws in the one-size-fits-all public schools, which is why the homeschooling boom is shaking up American education.
• Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the new book The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities.