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Homeschool Numbers Grow

by Janice Lloyd

The Californian

Posted January 7, 2009

The ranks of America's home-schooled children has continued a steady climb over the past five years, and new research suggests broader reasons for the appeal.

The number of home-schooled kids hit 1.5 million in 2007, up 74 percent from when the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics started keeping track in 1999, and up 36 percent since 2003. The percentage of the school-age population that was home-schooled increased from 2.2 percent in 2003 to 2.9 percent in 2007. "There's no reason to believe it would not keep going up," says Gail Mulligan, a statistician at NCES.

Traditionally, the biggest motivations for parents to school their kids at home have been moral or religious reasons, and that remains the top pick when parents are asked to name one factor affecting their choice.

But the 2003 survey gave parents six reasons to pick for their interest. The 2007 survey added a seventh: an interest in a "non-traditional approach," a reference to parents, dubbed "unschoolers," who regard standard curriculum methods and standardized testing as counterproductive to a quality education.

"We wanted to identify the parents who are part of the "unschooling movement' and added the item for that reason," Mulligan says. The "unschooling" group is viewed by educators as a subset of home-schoolers, who generally follow standard curriculum and grading systems. "Unschoolers" create their own systems.

The category of "other reasons" rose to 32 percent in 2007 from 20 percent in 2003, and included family time, finances, travel and distance. This suggests that the demographics are expanding beyond conservative Christian groups, says Robert Kunzman, an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Education. Anecdotal evidence indicates that many parents just want their children to learn at their own pace, he says.

The 2007 estimates are based on data from the Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the National Household Education Surveys.

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Updated June 23, 2009


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