Professor Milton Gaither’s recent post, Homeschooling Enrollment Data Trends got me to thinking about “homeschooling data” again. The fact that he did not claim “explosive homeschool growth” was refreshing. Some states gather data on homeschoolers, some do not. I live in a state that does not, so I’ve been curious about the numbers that some in the media and elsewhere throw out occasionally about homeschooling’s continued explosive growth. Larry and Susan Kaseman addressed this issue concerning one homeschool investigator in a 2003 HEM Taking Charge colulmn , Who Is Pat Lines and Why Is She Writing About Homeschooling? They noted:
Lines presents misleading statistics and information about homeschoolers, although she made her name as an expert on homeschooling statistics. For example, she exaggerates the rate at which homeschooling is growing. In her 2003 monograph, Lines admits that “the number [of homeschoolers] now appears to be growing at a less dramatic pace,” but she still assumes “a 10 percent future annual growth rate.” (p. 7) In fact, since the 1998-1999 school year, the number of homeschoolers has declined in Washington by an average of 1.8% a year; increased in Wisconsin at a rate of only 4.1% a year; and in Florida, just 7.7%. (Notes: Lines cites Florida as a high growth state. From 1990 through 1995, Washington and Wisconsin had higher average growth rates than Florida. The decline in the rate of growth began before virtual charter schools opened.)
in addition to researchers studying our community, homeschoolers have been featured in the national, state and local media on many occasions over the years and many of the writers continue to claim that there is explosive homeschool growth. In my state it has been reported that there are over 60,000 homeschoolers, but they never cited a source, nor could they put their finger on where they got this particular number when contacted. Home educators in Ohio are not kept track of via the Ohio State Department of Education, but by local school districts where we notify of our intent to home educate. in response, OHEC studied the number issue and explosive growth claim and came up with Trends in Homeschool Numbers and this spreadsheet, Homeschoolers: Numbers and Yearly Percent Change. OHEC also heard back from the Ohio Department of Education verifying that they do not collect this data.
It is maddening to be included in a statistic that no one can confirm, so finally I contacted Ohio’s live online reference service, KnowItNow via our county library and after several days, they did come up with a logical answer. They said that many used a formula shared at A-Z homeschooling that is based on the explosive growth that had occurred in the 80’s and 90’s. Not to critique Anne because she has since updated it and added plenty of disclaimers to her article such as:
“I can get the numbers online of homeschool students in only seven states, so I am using their average growth rate, and assuming it applies in other states. This probably isn’t accurate to assume, but is all I have to use.”
It is no secret that I’m not a big fan of homeschool statistics, studies, surveys and data gathering. At best they provide a very flat picture of those they are studying, are only as accurate as the data gatherer, the formula and the information provided, and often end up creating a false image of the larger community.
I’m aware that some in our own community have used similar data gathering to promote how wonderful the choice to homeschool is, often claiming that homeschoolers test better and excel in many ways. I’m not saying I’m not very proud of the individuals who have succeeded in this manner, but again, it does not paint an accurate picture of the community as a whole. As a home educator, there are many different ways that I view success and it is often very different from those of a statistician, or even of a fellow homeschooler. What is accurate? I don’t know that anyone can answer to that question, but I think Mark Hegener, publisher of Home Education Magazine comes close with this statement from the Washington Post a few years back:
Any way you slice the American pie, you’re going to find homeschoolers sticking out of it.