OPINION

Smith: What we can learn from homeschool data

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Genevieve Smith is a research assistant at the Homeschool Research Lab at Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Education Policy.

Delaware stands out as an intriguing state in the context of homeschooling. For example, recent data from the 2023-24 school year reveals that homeschool participation in the state is on the rebound, with enrollment numbers increasing after a postpandemic decline. Another interesting aspect about Delaware is that it is one of few states that collects and reports disaggregated data on homeschool participation. Examining this data, which is made available to the public on its Department of Education website, we can learn a lot from this state about the characteristics of homeschooled students.

From 1999 to 2019, homeschool participation in Delaware fluctuated between just under 2,000 students to slightly over 3,000 students. At the start of the pandemic, Delaware experienced substantial homeschool participation. Reported homeschool participation increased from 3,102 students during the 2019-20 year to 4,950 students in the following school year. By the 2022-23 year, participation dropped to 3,467 students. This compares to nearly 117,000 Delaware students enrolled in K-12 public schools during this time.

Interestingly, Delaware has experienced a rebound in homeschool participation following its postpandemic decline. Like most states, homeschool participation began declining after its initial spike during the 2020-21 year, likely due to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the reopening of schools. Considering data from the 2023-24 year, recently released by the Delaware Department of Education, homeschool enrollment numbers increased to nearly 4,500 students. This compares to just 3,467 students for the previous school year.

According to data from other state departments that have already released numbers for the 2023-24 year, we see participation increases in 8 out of 11 states and a rebound effect in six of these states, including Delaware. This rebound effect in homeschooling was unanticipated by education experts, and it will be interesting to continue watching this trend as more states report.

While it is unclear why homeschooling is rebounding in several states, data from Delaware can help us better understand homeschooling trends. Delaware offers robust data collection and reporting when it comes to homeschooled students, particularly in its disaggregated data. Disaggregated data is data that has been broken into smaller subcategories; for example, homeschool participation data may be disaggregated by students’ location. The state reports homeschool participation data by factors including school district, single versus multifamily enrollment, grade level and, notably, race and ethnicity. In fact, Delaware is the only state that collects and reports data on race and ethnicity for homeschooled students. Because educational disparities across race are persistent, this data is crucial in identifying and addressing potential inequities within the realm of homeschooling.

According to data from the 2023-24 year, there were 4,466 homeschooled students across all districts in the state, but growth varied by locale. The districts with the highest number of homeschooled students during this school year were Christina with 434 students, Indian River with 422 students and Caesar Rodney with 338 students. These are several of the largest school districts in the state, so it is perhaps unsurprising that they would have the highest enrollment numbers of homeschooled students. The districts with the largest increases in nonpublic school enrollment from the previous school year were Laurel with a 42.8% increase, Smyrna with a 32.6% increase and Capital with a 21.4% increase. In fact, only 3 of the 16 school districts in Delaware experienced decreases in nonpublic school enrollment during this time, while the others had increased participation.

Delaware classifies homeschools into two categories — single-family homeschools and multifamily homeschools. The majority of homeschooled students in the state are in single-family homeschools, with 4,084 students in single-family and just 382 in multifamily during the 2023-24 year. This information is particularly important as we try to understand how much homeschool regrowth is due to the popularity of microschools. The state also provides information on homeschool enrollment by grade level, and enrollment numbers are remarkably similar across all grades, ranging from 1,281 (grade 5) to 1,675 (grade 9). Considering race and ethnicity, 66% of all homeschool students were White, 10% were Hispanic, 12% were Black, 1% were Asian, and 11% were of two or more races. According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, these racial demographics are fairly similar to those of the general population of the state of Delaware. That said, the proportions of Black and Hispanic homeschoolers were slightly lower than the general population estimates, but the proportion of mixed-race homeschoolers was nearly four times that of the general population. Though the share of White homeschoolers is relatively large compared to the share of White public school students in the state, this data refutes the stereotype that homeschooled students are disproportionately White in comparison to the racial makeup of the state.

Delaware’s robust data provides us with valuable information about homeschooled students. By examining homeschool participation data across various parameters, Delaware helps foster a deeper understanding of the diverse landscape of homeschooling. Through transparency of the demographic characteristics of homeschooled students, the state’s policymakers, educators and researchers are able to make more informed decisions that address the needs of all students and their families. This data is particularly important now, given the unanticipated rebound in homeschool enrollment across many states during the last school year. Other states should look to Delaware as an exemplar in data collection for homeschooled students.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at civiltalk@iniusa.org.

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