Homeschooling offers an alternative to enrolling children in public or private schools. Homeschooling increased in the United States from about 850,000 students (1.7 percent) in 1999 to nearly 1.8 million students (3.4 percent) in 2012, according to the most recent figures from the most reliable source, the National Center for Educational Statistics in its publication, Homeschooling in the United States: 2012.
Homeschooling is likely to continue to increase for several reasons. First, because more parents are college-educated, more parents view themselves as capable, effective teachers. Second, more resources are available to assist with homeschooling, and many of these resources are easily accessible on the internet. Local homeschooling organizations also provide additional resources and social support.
Parents list many reasons for choosing homeschooling. Homeschooling offers the opportunity for religion-based education and offers the opportunity for more child-centered (as opposed to group- or class-centered) approaches that consider the distinct needs, interests, aspirations and capabilities of individual children. Some parents start homeschooling in kindergarten or even before. For most parents, however, the decision to homeschool was only made after their children’s initial experiences with public or private schools did not work out. For example, 75 percent of all homeschooled high school students in 2012 had previously been enrolled in school in earlier grades.
States have responded differently to the growth of homeschooling. Some have instituted regulations. Others have moved to protect parents’ rights to home-school. Some have done both.
Homeschooling has increased unevenly across the United States. This LSU AgCenter study explores how Louisiana compares to other states in terms of homeschooling rates, homeschooling organizations and homeschooling regulations.
Estimating Numbers of Homeschooled Students in Louisiana
All states, including Louisiana, keep counts of student enrollment in public and private schools. But most states, including Louisiana, do not collect data on homeschooled students. Only 12 states have kept homeschooled student counts since 2011, and these data were used to estimate homeschooling rates and counts in Louisiana from 2011 to 2015.
The percentages of homeschoolers in each of the 12 states that maintained data from 2011 to 2015 are shown in Figure 1. The percentages range from 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent for most states. The three outliers are North Carolina – with an exceptionally high rate, increasing from about 5 percent to nearly 6.5 percent – and Connecticut and Pennsylvania, both with low homeschooling rates.
The unadjusted average (bright red line) showed a slight increase over this five-year period from about 2.3 percent to 2.7 percent. Homeschooling rates increased from 2011 to 2015 in eight states but stayed the same or declined in Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
Louisiana estimates (black line) determined in the AgCenter study are statistically adjusted (both increased and decreased) based on the following six factors associated with homeschooling:
Using these adjustments, researchers estimate that Louisiana’s homeschooling rate increased from 2.5 percent in 2011 to 4.1 percent in 2015. This technique should provide better estimates than simply using the unadjusted average. Still, two factors reduce the precision of these estimates: (1) the small number of states for which data are available and (2) the fact that North Carolina, an outlier, shares some key characteristics with Louisiana. The AgCenter researchers suggest it is more likely that Louisiana’s homeschooling rates are slightly lower, somewhere between this estimate and the unadjusted average. If correct, Louisiana’s homeschooling population ranged from 18,500 to 20,000 in 2011 and increased to between 21,000 and 33,000 students in 2015.
Homeschooling Support Organizations
With expansion of homeschooling, communities have emerged to support homeschooling families. Broadly speaking, these communities consist of all individuals, groups and organizations that provide information and support. Parents can get support from other homeschooling parents and from community organizations such as businesses, museums, libraries, zoos and 4-H.
In addition, formal organizations have emerged at the local, state, regional and national levels over the past 30 years to provide specific instructional and legal support for homeschooling families. AgCenter researchers conducted extensive searches of online databases of all support organizations available to homeschooling families in each state. They used a standardized measure, the number of all organizations per 10,000 estimated homeschooled students in 2015, to compare Louisiana’s support organization prevalence to that of other states (Figure 2).
Louisiana’s homeschooling organization prevalence (in gold) is 15 organizations per 10,000 students. This is the equivalent of one homeschooling organization for 682 estimated homeschooled students. Louisiana’s home-schooling organization prevalence is slightly below the average of 20, and seven states have 40 or more organizations per 10,000 homeschoolers. Wyoming has the highest prevalence of support organizations (60 per 10,000), and New York has the lowest (five per 10,000). In comparison to states with similar numbers of homeschooled students, Louisiana’s support organization prevalence is higher than that of Oregon (12), Wisconsin (10) and Colorado (13), but lower than that of Alabama (35), Kentucky (21) and South Carolina (21).
Homeschooling expansion has led to both regulations and parent protections at the state level. AgCenter researchers compiled data on state homeschooling regulations in 2015 from online sources. These include state regulations specifically regarding homeschooling as well as state laws protecting parents’ rights to homeschool. From a long list of regulations and protections, researchers developed a shorter list of 11 regulations and six protections that potentially pose challenges to homeschooling parents. Examples of regulations include:
Parental protections served to expand the range of options for parents:
Parental protections were reverse-coded (coded 1 for states that lacked protections), so that states with higher overall counts of regulations and lack of protections were considered the most regulatory and visa versa. The researchers then ranked the states from the most to the least regulated. See the Figure 3 map of state homeschooling regulations and protections in 2015. With 12 out of 17 regulations and (lack of) protections, Louisiana is among the majority of states with a moderate regulatory level. Three states – Georgia, Iowa and Minnesota – were considered high-regulation states. By contrast, Oklahoma and Texas were considered to have minimal homeschool regulations because they combine few or no homeschooling regulations with strong parental protections.
Louisiana is generally following national trends in homeschooling rates and counts, support organization prevalence and state regulatory environment, but additional changes over time should be expected as long as homeschooling continues to increase in popularity.
More research is needed to further explore the causes and implications of homeschooling expansion in Louisiana and across the nation. One area that needs additional research involves homeschool-school relationships. Many students classified as homeschoolers (sometimes referred to as flexischoolers or part-time homeschoolers) go to a local school for some courses or topics. Other home-schoolers take advantage of school-based extracurricular activities, including language, arts and sports programs.
A second area that needs more attention involves options for children with disabilities. On the one hand, children with disabilities can potentially benefit most from more child-centered, homeschooling approaches in which their parent-teachers take their specific circumstances into consideration. On the other hand, many technological resources and expertise for teaching children with disabilities flow through public schools.
A third area that should be studied more is the emergence of online public schools (also called e-schools or virtual schools). In many cases these schools are developed and offered through local public school systems and serve as a hybrid system in which children are technically enrolled in a public school but actually stay home and receive most or all of their instruction online.
Mark J. Schafer is an associate professor in the Department of Agriculture Economics and Agribusiness, and Isaiah F.A. Cohen is a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Sociology.
Figure 1. Percent home schooled: 2011 - 2015. The fine lines are the other states.
Figure 2. Each short bar represents a state. Short bars are stacked when more than one are in the same category. For example, the short gold bar represents Louisiana. It has 15 organizations per 10,000 homeschooled students along with two other states. States with more organizations provide more support for homeschooling families.
Figure 3: State Regulations and (Lack of) Parent Protections 2015