A rise in homeschooling

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: school choice.

It’s been more than a decade since the federal government compiled information about families who opt out of the public education system. The latest report came out earlier this month. And it confirms some of the trends homeschoolers have been talking about for a while now.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Maggie McKneely works with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. She’s taken a look at the government’s numbers and joins us now to talk about it.

Good morning, Maggie!

MAGGIE MCKNEELY, GUEST: Good morning, Mary! Thank you for having me on.

REICHARD: So this survey’s findings weren’t a surprise to you and others in the homeschool community. Tell us what the government researchers discovered when they started crunching enrollment numbers.

MCKNEELY: Sure, yeah. So they actually compile these numbers every few years. They did it in 2007, 2012, 2016. So, this really wasn’t a shock to us because we have seen these numbers before. But this was the first time they had done a comprehensive school choice report in almost 10 years. So that’s really what this survey was looking at. It was looking at numbers that we’d already seen them put out, but just in a brand new, specifically school choice survey.

REICHARD: And what would the numbers be, basically?

MCKNEELY: So, in 1999 there were roughly 850,000 homeschooling students and then in 2016 the estimate is 1.7 million. So, almost double what it was.

REICHARD: Homeschooling really gained traction among Christian families 30 or 40 years ago. But this report suggests that faith is not the biggest driver for most homeschoolers today. Tell us about that.

MCKNEELY: No, so, you know, that was really the stereotype when homeschooling first started out, it was just purely Christian families who were doing this. But it’s really not the case anymore. You have so many families looking at what’s going on in the schools, whether it’s the perception of increased violence or the political agenda being pushed in the school systems. So you had a lot of families saying, you know, I just don’t want my kids in that environment; families who—regardless of their political ideology or their religious beliefs—they really just want their kids to thrive and get the best education possible and so many families are looking at the public education system and they don’t see that as the best option for their children. And the number one reason cited was a concern about school environment regarding safety, drugs, and negative peer pressure. And I think one of the top drivers is the uptick in school shootings. And that’s something parents are really concerned about. They don’t want their kids in that environment. And obviously drugs are a huge issue and bullying, and parents, they just don’t want their kids around all that.

REICHARD: Your work for HSLDA involves interacting with lawmakers and government officials on issues related to homeschooling. How will these new numbers change your conversations about policies and legislation?

MCKNEELY: It’s really changing perceptions. Like I said, people used to think that homeschooling was really just for the religious Christian right. But that’s certainly not the case. And as numbers like this come out, it’s really showing people that this is a viable alternative education method for all families. There are so many resources out there—different curriculums, different methods—that homeschooling is really approachable for families regardless of what their situation is. There are so many different ways to homeschool. Yeah, so numbers like this really just show that this is something anybody can do. It doesn’t matter what their beliefs or ideology is.

REICHARD: Maggie McKneeley is the federal relations liaison for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. Thanks for joining us today!

MCKNEELY: Absolutely, thank you for having me.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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