Homeschooling has grown more popular during the pandemic. Will students stay home even after schools reopen?

Impact of COVID-19 Homeschooling on Students, Schools


  • School shutdowns caused a surge in homeschooling that could outlast the pandemic.
  • Homeschoolers have grown more diverse, with more students of color staying home.
  • Homeschooling offers strong education outcomes, though experiences differ widely.

Homeschooling is on the rise due to COVID-19. With roughly half of public schools still closed, many K-12 students are struggling to make academic progress with their district's remote curriculum. Unimpressed with online public education, some families are turning to private and charter programs, forming pandemic pods, and experimenting with homeschooling.

In a mid-October survey, 58% of principals and superintendents said that homeschooling is a major contributor to falling enrollment — more than any other single reason. Over the summer, states that track homeschoolers, including Nebraska, North Carolina, and Texas, saw giant spikes in families filing notices of intent to homeschool.

The number of homeschooled students is expected to increase by 10% this school year — from 2.50 million to roughly 2.75 million.

Typically, just over 3% of school-aged children in the U.S. are homeschooled each year. The National Home Educators Research Institute's Brian Ray expects the number of homeschooled students to swell by 10% this school year — from 2.50 million to roughly 2.75 million.

It's possible that this homeschooling trend will reverse as soon as schools reopen. On the other hand, parents' dissatisfaction with the public education system and a newfound preference for working from home could lead to a permanent increase in the popularity of homeschooling. Many academics who study homeschooling say the pandemic's boost to the homeschool movement will last.

Unfortunately, public schools lose when homeschool numbers go up. Every child who doesn't opt in to public education withholds more than $10,000 per year from their local district. But research suggests students could benefit from learning at home. Homeschooling fosters the initiative, self-discipline, and creativity that help students succeed at college.

Public Education Stumbles During the Pandemic

Children's health and education professionals paint a grim picture of the effects of COVID-19 on youth across the globe. While the virus itself poses relatively little risk to healthy young people, they have still suffered learning loss and elevated levels of anxiety and depression. The full academic and nonacademic impacts of school disruptions due to COVID-19 remain to be seen.

The hasty transition online last spring left many students and families dissatisfied. In the fall, student engagement went down while absenteeism went up. And the subjects that students need the most help with are not faring well online. So far this academic year, test scores fell most sharply in math, according to the Northwest Evaluation Association. The sequential nature of learning math means that regular guidance from a teacher is critical.

In this environment, Columbia University education professor Luis Huerta told NBC that many parents feel "they need to take control of their children's education." Millions of families experienced learning from home for the first time during the pandemic. And many — across income and race groups — are finding homeschooling a workable option.

COVID-19 Changes Homeschooling Student Demographics

According to a recent Gallup poll, interest in homeschooling doubled in the last year. As learning from home is normalized, narrow stereotypes of homeschoolers no longer apply. Long tied to conservative, religious, and libertarian circles, the homeschool movement is diversifying.

Increasingly, "a demographically wide variety of people homeschool." Although three-fourths of homeschooled students in 1999 were white, 41% of homeschooled students were a race other than white in 2016.

More than half of Black parents say they have a more favorable opinion of homeschooling as a result of the pandemic.

While many white families pursue homeschooling in order to customize their children's education, many Black families have a different primary motivation. A recent study found that Black mothers take their kids out of school less because of academic concerns, and more because of racial discimination. In addition to increased racial unrest, Black and brown individuals face a greater risk of COVID-19 complications.

More than half of Black parents say they have a more favorable opinion of homeschooling as a result of the pandemic. As schools reopen, students of color might opt to stay home.

Homeschooling as College Prep

COVID-19 has set the stage for a homeschooling boom. But an increased number of homeschoolers is bad news for public schools, which rely on per-pupil funding. Critics of homeschooling also worry about the potential for child abuse and neglect, as well as the patchwork of state registration and testing requirements that makes tracking homeschoolers difficult.

Still, studies show homeschoolers tend to exhibit high academic achievement. Homeschooling, even temporarily during the pandemic, could provide important preparation for college.

More flexible and customizable than traditional schooling, homeschooling can help students progress through material more quickly. It also gives them time to study what interests them, discovering and developing new talents.

Homeschooling represents an attractive alternative path to college for many. It promotes self-initiative, self-discipline, and motivation, while also helping students find new areas of interest and figure out what they might want to pursue as their major in college.


Feature Image: da-kuk / E+ / Getty Images