Schooled Reporting on education

Has interest in homeschooling waned?

Education | Researchers dispute government data showing no growth in the number of homeschooled students
by Leigh Jones
Posted 10/11/17, 03:45 pm

A U.S. government survey released last week showed interest in homeschooling appears to have leveled off in the last five years. Education analysts pointed to the results as evidence that the homeschooling “fad” had reached its peak after three decades, but homeschooling experts disputed that conclusion—and the data it’s based on.

Before he reviewed the numbers, Brian Ray with the National Home Education Research Institute expressed doubt about their accuracy. But when he drilled down to state-level data, he knew for sure the federal researchers missed something.

“I don’t think I can say there’s an obvious problem,” Ray said of the government data. “But what they found defies what’s on the ground in state-specific data.”

Ray collected data from 15 states that had numbers for the same five-year timeframe covered by the federal surveys. While one state saw a 3.4 percent decline in the number of homeschool students, 11 saw significant increases, ranging from 10.3 percent to 94.7 percent. One county logged a 203 percent increase in homeschoolers between 2012 and 2016. Taken together, the overall increase averaged out to 26 percent.

The state-level homeschool numbers bear out what Ray has heard anecdotally from homeschool organizations and vendors, both of whom say interest in educating children at home has continued to grow.

Although Ray didn’t do a detailed analysis of the federal survey methodology, he suggested several areas that could have compromised the homeschooling information. The survey covers multiple aspects of education, not just homeschooling, and parents who opt out of traditional schools might not have had much interest in participating. Add to that reticence among homeschoolers to draw the attention of government officials, and Ray suspects homeschoolers were underrepresented in the federal survey.

Before the federal government released its survey results, Ray issued his own estimates of homeschool growth. In early 2016, he put the number of homeschool students at about 2.3 million—4.5 percent of the overall school-age population—with an estimated annual growth rate of 2 to 8 percent.

Associated Press/Photo by David J. Phillip Associated Press/Photo by David J. Phillip Richard Spencer

Spencer strikes again

Administrators at the University of Florida announced last week they have finalized an agreement with white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak on campus Oct. 19. The school canceled Spencer’s Sept. 12 appearance after violence at a similar event in Charlottesville, Va., left one person dead. Spencer and his supporters threatened to sue, and the university eventually backed down.

Spencer’s National Policy Institute will pay about $10,000 to rent a university facility and cover some of the security costs. School administrators say they expect to pay about $500,000 to ensure safety at the event. University President Kent Fuchs urged students to “shun” Spencer’s speech, saying he only wants “to provoke a reaction.” Fuchs also urged students to speak out against “hate and racism.”

Two other universities are holding out against Spencer but could follow Florida’s lead by the end of the week. An attorney for Georgia State University student Cameron Padgett, one of Spencer’s associates, said he would file suit against Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati if they didn’t agree by Friday to let Spencer speak on campus. An Ohio State spokesman said administrators were still trying to determine whether they could accommodate Spencer “without substantial risk to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and guests.”

Padgett successfully pursued legal challenges in the past, most notably against Auburn University. A federal judge ruled against Auburn, which opted to let Spencer speak rather than pursue the case further. —L.J.

Kicking the gender question can

The U.S. Department of Education won’t change the wording of the gender question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) after all. Transgender activists protested the plan, announced earlier this year, to ask applicants, “Were you born male or female?” instead of, “Are you male or female?” They claimed it would create confusion and potentially “out” transgender students.

Education Department officials initiated the change to help make it easier to check Selective Service registration, required for all men who receive federal student aid. After the uproar, Education officials decided to punt the potential problem to the Selective Service System, advising applicants to check with it to make sure they’re not labeled draft dodgers. While it’s no longer the Education Department’s problem, it’s still a problem. Should women who identify as men be required to register? And should men who identify as women get a pass? —L.J.

More than semantics

School board members in San Antonio tried to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one with their decision to rename a school christened for a prominent Civil War figure. On Monday, North East Independent School District trustees voted to rename Robert E. Lee High School to Legacy of Educational Excellence High School, or LEE High School for short. One board member who voted against the name change compared it to putting “lipstick on a pig.” Supporters described it as an attempt to satisfy those who wanted to rename the school and those who wanted to keep the old name. Surely they’re not surprised it didn’t work. —L.J.

The Mizzou Effect and backing our bias

This week’s interesting read comes from Slate and must be taken with a grain of salt, or two. The article attempts to deconstruct the so-called “Mizzou Effect”—the idea that campus protests lead to a drop in enrollment. After the writer takes some time to bash conservative media, he dives into the enrollment realities at several schools, including the University of Missouri and the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. The writer has an obvious bias against the Mizzou Effect, even though a Mizzou economist says it’s a real trend hurting the university. But the numbers he uncovers are fascinating and paint a fairly comprehensive picture of what’s going on at each school. Spoiler alert: It’s complicated and a good reminder that we should be especially wary of data that appears to back our own biases. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • Soapbxn's picture
    Posted: Wed, 10/11/2017 09:34 pm

    I believe that homeschooling has been very good for the public school system.  The more autonomy families have to make their own educational decisions for their children, the more responsive the government system.   Our community has a very well established homeschool presence,  with a myriad of  both private and public options to choose from all across our state.  Our state, Alaska, allows for completely independent home education as well, which I believe has made our public school classroom better, as if parents are unhappy, they can pull out their kids and choose another option.  All of our educational choices in our state essentially grew out of this freedom, put in place by state statute.   Hence, I could see how there could be flucuations in home education numbers, as there are fluctations in the receptiveness, responsiveness and quality of the public school system,  parent satisfaction with the public school would likley keep them there.   

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Tue, 10/17/2017 04:38 am

    Like so many numbers we see now- Do the numbers reflect a change in real numbers or an increase in the govenments felt need to adjust the numbers?  As mentioned, in states where there is educational freedom the govenment schools may tend to be run better because of competition thus lessening the need for home schooling.   

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 10/21/2017 05:40 pm

    I did not see a category for households where at least one guardian stays at home.  This may have been a useful category, because if homeschooling numbers have declined, then the cause may be the unavailability of home teachers, not less interest.