New survey breaks down changing face of homeschooling

The face of homeschooling is changing, according to a new survey published by The Washington Post.

Behind the headline: The Post reports newer homeschoolers have different motivations.

Rather than religion, home-schoolers today are likely to be motivated by fear of school shootings, anxiety over bullying and anger with the perceived encroachment of politics into public schools, the poll finds. Yet even among those who voice such concerns, many do not share the deep-seated opposition to public education that defined homeschoolers of past decades, and the new crop is more likely to mix and match homeschooling with public school, depending on their children’s needs.

These findings echo other post-pandemic surveys of homeschoolers.

Why it matters: This new generation of homeschoolers is different from earlier generations that were more religious and ideologically averse to public schooling. More than two-thirds of parents in this new survey said they previously sent their children to a public or private school, and 37 percent said their children would take some classes or be enrolled in school part time.

These homeschoolers are up for grabs. Public or private schools could, in theory, attract these families if they earned their trust and offered programs designed around their needs. that could include part-time enrollment or opportunities to enroll in individual courses.

Yes, but: Surveys of homeschoolers are notoriously difficult to calibrate. Terms tend to be fuzzy. More than a third (35 percent) of parents surveyed who were not homeschoolers said they did some homeschooling during the pandemic. Survey respondents may have interpreted that question to cover a range of activities, from filling gaps in remote learning provided by schools to offering stopgap childcare.

Similarly, 63 percent of homeschoolers in this survey said their student was home-schooled for all academic classes. But based on the wording of the survey question, this group also included students enrolled in online courses, which are often offered by public or private schools.

These definitional issues can confound even the most carefully designed survey.

Get smart fast: The lines between schooling and homeschooling continue to blur, and a growing number of families will cross boundaries between schooling and homeschooling to customize education for their children.

A related concept is co-production. Parents want to be closely involved in shaping their child’s education, whether that’s having a direct say in what gets taught or keeping their children at home for part of the typical school week.

Rather than accept an all-in-one learning experience from their child’s school, they may choose to assemble courses and learning experiences and support services from different sources. Parents could achieve this through homeschooling, or through collaboration with schools and educators.

The question is: What conditions enable this parent-directed approach to education? How can existing schools, including district or charter schools, support these families?

Below the radar: One enabler of co-production is having at least one stay-at-home parent in the household.

Source: Washington Post-Schar School poll

Moms are often more likely than dads to assume this role. Nearly four-fifths of homeschool families reported the mother was the primary provider of home instruction, a number that remained consistent with the pre-pandemic National Household Education Survey.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)