State Policy Network
Everything you need to know about homeschooling

Not all children learn the same way or at the same speed. While many children thrive in a public school environment, not all do, and homeschooling offers many parents the opportunity to help their children succeed. Find out more about the history of homeschooling, why some parents are choosing to homeschool, and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected its popularity.

What is homeschooling?

Homeschooling is when parents or family members educate their children themselves, rather than send them to a traditional public or private school. Many children thrive in this at-home learning environment. Several US presidents were homeschooled, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. Other notable figures include Albert Einstein, Booker T. Washington, and Leonardo da Vinci.

When did homeschooling start?

Families and communities have been practicing homeschooling for centuries. But homeschooling as we know it today started in the 1970s when John Holt, a Massachusetts teacher, wrote a book that started a nationwide debate on the quality of America’s education system. In How Children Fail, Holt argues traditional schooling has a harmful effect on a child’s character and intellect. Holt promoted alternatives to traditional schooling, including home school. He’s often called the “father of homeschooling.”

How many children in the United States are homeschooled?

There are approximately 2.5 million children in the United States who are homeschooled. That’s about three percent of the school-age population. The popularity of homeschooling has been increasing each year since all 50 states legalized the practice in the 1990s. In 1999, only 850,000 children were homeschooled.

Why do parents choose to homeschool their children?

Parents chose to homeschool their children for a number of different reasons. Top among them is a concern about the environment of other schools. Parents of homeschooled children are often worried about bullying, drugs, or peer pressure their child might experience at school. Parents also note a school’s poor academic performance as a significant factor in their decision to homeschool. Others cite wanting to provide their kids with religious instruction.

Jonathan Lopez’s story illustrates why for millions of children, homeschool provides the best environment for success. Jonathan has Asperger’s Syndrome, and his teachers did not understand how to teach a child with special needs. His classmates bullied him. After continuing to struggle in public school, Jonathan’s parents decided to try home school. His mom is a former teacher, and she knew exactly how to teach a student with his unique needs. Jonathan began to excel under the specialized, individual attention his mother provided.

What are the benefits of homeschooling?

Homeschooled children receive a personalized education, where they can learn at their own pace and in a way that works best for them. Parents can choose what their children learn and how they learn it. And this customized form of education is paying off: research shows homeschool students significantly outperform conventionally schooled children academically. Homeschooled children typically score 15 to 30 percentage points higher than public school students on standardized tests. Additionally, many homeschooled students note how homeschooling has brought their family closer together. Spending so much time together can improve a homeschooled student’s relationships with their parents and siblings.  

How much does homeschooling cost?

On average, homeschooled families spend $600 per student, per year, on books, supplies, and other education costs.

Are there programs to help parents pay for homeschool?

Many parents struggle to pay for the costs of homeschooling. Five states have programs—called Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)—that help families overcome this challenge. ESAs are state-supervised funds that parents can use to pay for a wide variety of education options, including home school. The state government deposits a portion of what the state would have spent to send the child to public school into a private account that parents can use for education-related expenses. Parents can use these funds for private school tuition,  homeschooling, online learning, textbooks, and more.

Are more parents choosing homeschooling after the coronavirus?

After the coronavirus upended America’s education system, most American families experienced homeschooling to some extent. That experience may have improved their perception of home school. A RealClear Opinion Research poll found 40 percent of families are more likely to homeschool after the coronavirus lockdowns end. Research from EdChoice finds more than half of black parents (53%) said they have a more favorable opinion of homeschooling as a result of the pandemic. And research from BestColleges found the number of homeschooled students is expected to increase by 10 percent this school year—from 2.50 million to roughly 2.75 million.

Is homeschooling legal in your state?

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but each state has different homeschool laws that regulate how parents can homeschool their children. Some states have very restrictive homeschooling rules, such as subject, reporting, and testing requirements, while others are more relaxed. New York, for example, requires parents to send in a notice of intent to homeschool, quarterly reports, and an annual assessment of their child’s progress. Alaska, on the other hand, has no requirements to notify the state, seek approval, test, or file forms. Most states have laws that are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

Considering homeschool? See which states have the easiest and more restrictive laws.

Additional Reading

Sparked by Pandemic Fallout, Homeschooling Surges Across US
The Associated Press

Inside Homeschool Policy
Coalition for Responsible Home Education

Homeschooling Experiences and Opinions During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Homeschool Laws By State
Homeschool Legal Defense Association 

The Laws Governing Homeschooling

Covid-19 Pandemic Pushes More Parents to Go All-In for Home Schooling
The Wall Street Journal

Video: Pandemic Pioneers—Homeschooling with Leigh Sloan
Alaska Policy Forum

A Case for Education Savings Accounts: Jonathan Lopez’s Story
Beacon Center of Tennessee

National poll finds 4 out of 10 families more likely to homeschool after lockdowns end
Center of the American Experiment

Families look to homeschooling as uncertainty over schools reopening continues
Center of the American Experiment

Myths & Facts: Homeschooling
Commonwealth Foundation

Private School, Homeschool Families Save Taxpayers Nearly $600 Million
Empower Mississippi

Hybrid Homeschools Offer Families Options Amid Coronavirus Uncertainty
Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Homeschooling Allows Children to Move at Their Own Pace
Goldwater Institute

Pandemic produces a strong increase to NC’s massive homeschool population
John Locke Foundation

Homeschools: The Rock Stars of School of Choice in North Carolina
John Locke Foundation

Utah parents, it may be time to consider home schooling
Libertas Institute

Restricting Homeschool Freedom Won’t Make Children Safer
Mackinac Center

How to Homeschool in Mississippi
Mississippi Center for Public Policy

How Many New Homeschoolers Will We Have This Year?
Mississippi Center for Public Policy

Homeschooling in Nevada: The Budgetary Impact
Nevada Policy Research Institute 

Online Learning and Homeschooling Options During the COVID-19 Crisis
Pacific Research Institute

SC Homeschool Accountability Groups Report Surge in Homeschooling
Palmetto Promise Institute

My family will home school this fall. Other families should have options as well.
Rio Grande Foundation

Thinking About Homeschooling in Missouri this Year?
Show-Me Institute

Considering homeschooling? Here’s what parents with experience say
Sutherland Institute

The K-12 Education Opportunity Covid-19 Has Given Us
Texas Public Policy Foundation

Amid coronavirus lock-downs, many families are finding that homeschooling is better for their children
Washington Policy Center

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Categories: News
Policy Issues: K-12 Education
Organization: State Policy Network