by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Reprinted from the August 2018 issue of Carolina Journal.
One of the cardinal rules of public policy writing for a general audience is that the author should not overload the essay with statistics and data. But the latest homeschool data released by the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education afford a rare exception to that rule. To understand the growth and reach of the homeschool movement in North Carolina, an overview of the data is an essential starting point.
An estimated 135,749 students enrolled in 86,753 home schools last year, a 6.2 percent increase over the previous school year. Since 2010, North Carolina’s homeschool enrollment has surged 66.5 percent. If the aggregate homeschool population were a school district, it would be the third-largest district in the state, trailing only Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County schools.
County-level estimates are even more impressive. Last year, 42 of the state’s 100 counties had more than 1,000 homeschool students. Nine years ago, only 22 counties reached that enrollment level. The median number of homeschool students per county was 768.5 last year. Nine years ago, it was 457 students.
Unsurprisingly, Wake and Mecklenburg counties have the largest homeschool populations in the state. An estimated 12,616 children enrolled in homeschools in Wake County during the past school year. Mecklenburg County was second, with 9,827 students.
In terms of percentage growth, however, Wake and Mecklenburg counties were roughly mid pack. No county had a larger percentage increase in homeschool enrollment than Carteret. Between 2010 and 2018, Carteret had a 152 percent increase in homeschool students. A dozen counties doubled homeschool enrollment over the past nine school years. Moreover, no county had a net decrease in homeschool students. Northampton County’s 9 percent increase was the lowest in the state.
Two regions in North Carolina stand out. Coastal counties in the Southeast have enjoyed jaw dropping homeschool enrollment growth since 2010. As mentioned above, Carteret earned the top spot. Onslow (plus 141 percent), Pender (plus 125 percent), Brunswick (plus 97 percent), and Pamlico (plus 87 percent) are close behind. In terms of percentage growth, the most populous county in the region, New Hanover, was near the bottom of the list, but with a still-impressive 42 percent increase.
Likewise, the Sandhills region has had astounding growth in its homeschool population. Harnett County led the pack, with a 144 percent increase since 2010. During that period, Hoke (plus 117 percent), Moore (plus 116 percent), Montgomery (plus 106 percent), and Richmond (plus 101 percent) were among the fastest-growing homeschool counties in the state. Lee, Cumberland, and Scotland counties also posted robust growth.
I suspect this growth reflects the growing diversity in the homeschool movement. What was considered a refuge for evangelicals concerned about the secularization of the American public school has blossomed into a movement that welcomes families from across the ideological, political, and religious spectrum who choose to homeschool for any number of reasons.
This transformation is reflected in a report recently published by the National Center for Education Statistics. According to its nationally representative survey of families, 34 percent of parents identified “concern about the environment of other schools” as the primary reason for choosing to homeschool. Twenty-two percent prioritized moral instruction, nontraditional learning, and providing an alternative educational environment for a special-needs, disabled, or ill child. Seventeen percent were most concerned with academic rigor. Only 16 percent identified religious instruction as their top reason. Finally, 11 percent responded that personal and logistical factors, such as family time, finances, travel, and distance, were their primary motivation.
The continued growth of homeschooling in North Carolina will depend on the movement’s capacity to maintain broad appeal. Doing so will guarantee years of enrollment increases even more spectacular than those outlined above.