Approximately 1.8 million U.S. children were home-schooled in 2012, more than double the number that were home-schooled in 1999, when the federal government began gathering data on national home-schooling trends, according to estimates released Tuesday. The estimated number of home-schooled children represents 3.4 percent of the U.S. student population between the ages of 5 and 17.
The increase was fastest between 1999 and 2007, then slowed between 2007 and 2012, according to the estimates from the National Center for Education Statistics.
The figures show that most home-schoolers were white and living above the poverty line in 2012. An estimated 4 in 10 home-schoolers had parents who graduated from college, while about 1 in 10 had parents whose formal education ended before they graduated from high school.
About one-third live in rural areas, while slightly more than one-third live in the suburbs and slightly less than one-third live in cities.
Researchers conducted the home-schooling survey of a nationally representative sample of students via telephone from 1999 to 2007. In 2012, they instead asked questions via mail, introducing some methodological changes that make it more difficult to compare results over time.
It’s particularly difficult to tell whether parents’ reasons for home-schooling have changed. In 2007, for example, 36 percent of parents said that providing “religious or moral instruction” was the most important reason for home-schooling. It was the top-ranked “most important” reason for home-schooling that year.
In 2012, that share appeared to fall: Seventeen percent named religious instruction as most important and 5 percent said moral instruction was most important. But the question was asked differently, with religious and moral instruction as two separate reasons instead of one combined reason, and so it was not immediately clear whether the numbers represented a real change in parents’ motivations.
The share of parents who said their most important reason was concern about the environment at other schools, such as safety, drugs and peer pressure, rose from 21 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2012. But that change was not statistically significant.