Searches for homeschooling have skyrocketed in recent weeks as districts contemplate how to send kids back to school. States like Nebraska and Arizona are seeing tens of thousands of new homeschool applicants for the fall semester. Four of five residents in New York, the early epicenter of the pandemic in America, said they were open to homeschooling. Parents in North Carolina even crashed the state’s homeschooling registration website due to the increased demand.
Before COVID-19, only about 3 percent of American students were homeschooled. Now, traditional schools—whether public, charter or private—appear to be facing a significant exodus of students whose parents are willing to be completely responsible for teaching their children.
How, if at all, do the views of parents who were already homeschooling their kids before the pandemic compare to other parents’ views?
To answer that question and more, we focused the first wave of EdChoice’s eighth annual 2020 Schooling in America survey, conducted in late May and early June, on Americans’ relationship with homeschooling. That relationship changed drastically as a result of COVID-19 spring school closures, with millions of parents tasked with facilitating their children’s education like never before.
Here are some of our key findings.
1. Safety remains the top most important reason parents choose homeschooling.
Safety has traditionally been a top reason why parents choose to homeschool, with our past surveys consistently ranking it a top three reason for choosing or wishing to homeschool. That’s no different in 2020, with half of parents with homeschooling experience saying a safe environment was a high priority for choosing to homeschool. Safety was also the top reason (28%) why parents who prefer homeschooling (regardless of where their children attend school) to other forms of education do so. Black parents (57%) were more likely than Hispanics (41%) to cite the desire to find a safe learning environment as the reason for homeschooling, but safety remained the top factor regardless of racial background.
Of course, “safety” has taken on a different connotation as a result of coronavirus concerns. Axios found in its polling that 71 percent of parents believed sending their children back to the classroom would be a risk to their health, with just one in four Americans believing reopening schools is safe. American Enterprise Institute polling saw a fifth of parents stating they will homeschool or enroll their child in a different school this fall, with 38 percent of those professed “switchers” stating safety and health concerns as the primary motivation.
2. Parents came out of the spring closures viewing homeschooling more favorably, especially if they had not previously had homeschooling experience.
Roughly half (47%) of parents who were not homeschooling last February viewed it more favorably in May and June, compared to a quarter (24%) who viewed homeschooling less favorably. More than half (53%) of Black parents had a more favorable view of homeschooling following the pandemic.
3. If the responses we received play out in reality, there’s a high probability more parents than ever will choose to formally homeschool at least part time this fall.
As for the coming semester, about a quarter (23%) of those without prior homeschooling experience said they were “very likely” to at least homeschool part time during fall, compared to 71 percent of parents who were homeschooling their children immediately before the pandemic. The State Policy Network in its polling similarly saw an 11 percentage point increase in those favoring homeschooling.
4. But some high-priority concerns, such as socialization and work schedule conflicts, are too big to overcome for many families.
Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, as many parents found out during the spring. Those who had yet to try homeschooling in February ranked socialization concerns (16%), work schedule coordination (15%) and time management issues (14%) as the top reasons why they had not tried to homeschool their children before. Hispanic parents, especially, were more likely to be concerned about work schedule conflicts with 46% of Hispanic parents listing this as a top three reason why they hadn’t tried homeschooling.
For a deep dive into parents’ general perceptions of K–12 education and virtual learning during the pandemic-related closures, check out our Schooling in America: COVID-19 & K–12 Education report.