by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
According to survey results released by EdChoice, homeschooling is riding a wave of approval from families and the public. Both homeschool and non-homeschool families were more likely to be in favor of homeschooling now than they were in February. In fact, the survey found that 15% of families say they are very likely to switch to homeschooling amidst worries about the effects of COVID-19 on the operation of public and private schools.
Homeschooling continues to flourish in North Carolina. The growth of homeschooling in the state has been staggering. Over the last ten years, homeschool enrollment has increased by 78%. Last year, 8.4% of North Carolina families enrolled their children in homeschools, making it the largest non-district option in the state. As a share of its school-age population, North Carolina has the largest homeschool population in the nation.
So it’s no wonder that many expected the homeschool enrollment to surge this year. In fact, the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education (DNPE) portal that automates the notice of intent to homeschool process crashed on July 1, and it took the agency nearly a week to restore the site. For some observers, this was indicative of parents who chose to withdraw their children from public and private schools and begin homeschooling.
Yet, the portal did not appear to suffer under the weight of an unmanageable influx of new families trying to file a notice of intent to homeschool. According to data obtained from the DNPE last week, North Carolina currently has 101,406 homeschools listed in the state homeschool directory. That is a 6.9% increase compared to the 94,863 homeschools reported by the agency at the end of the 2019-20 school year. The malfunction reflected the technical limitations of the system combined with a desire of homeschool families to register on the opening days of filing.
Note that this is the number of schools and not the number of homeschool students. Every spring, DNPE staff use a formula to estimate the number of students, and the information required to estimate those figures are not available. Nevertheless, if we assume an average of 1.6 children per homeschool, then the current enrollment is around 162,250, which would be an 8.8% increase from last year. While this would be an impressive increase, it would not be extraordinary by homeschool standards. Homeschool enrollment increased by double digits in three of the four years following the Great Recession. Over the last four years, enrollment increases ranged from a low of 4.6% between 2018 and 2019 to a high of 8.1% between 2016 and 2017.
Of course, we may witness a steady migration of families to homeschooling throughout the 2020-21 school year, particularly if families sour on the delivery and quality of instruction offered by public and private schools. Parents who observe that their children are struggling to adapt to remote learning plans may find homeschooling to be an appealing alternative. Unfortunately, we will not know for sure until DNPE publishes its annual homeschool data reports in July 2021.
Even if significant school-year migration occurs, I do not expect to see spectacular increases in North Carolina’s homeschool enrollment, such as those reported in other states. According to the Times Argus, the Vermont Agency of Education had received 1,634 homeschooling enrollment filings as of July 15, up 702 from the same date last year. Nebraska and Wisconsin have seen double-digit percentage increases in homeschool filings. Homeschool groups in Texas say that they have been inundated with requests for information about homeschooling, and I suspect that their peers in other states have similar experiences. North Carolina is one of the few states that report annual homeschool enrollment estimates, so it is nearly impossible to assess the state-by-state migration of students from public and private schools to homeschools.
North Carolinians may not be able to boast that COVID-19 doubled or tripled the state’s homeschool population. We’ll have to settle for the fact that our homeschool population is already so massive that adding thousands of homeschools doesn’t produce a particularly large percentage increase. As North Carolinians, let’s try to be content with being the premier state for homeschooling.