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Homeschooling: The numbers keep increasing

By Stacy Gittleman

Where have all the children gone? That’s a question demographers and public school districts are wondering, especially those in Michigan who depend on “count days” to determine how many dollars a school district will receive from state per-student funding in order to determine annual budgets.

COVID money given to school districts in Michigan is drying up at the same time Michigan is facing declining public school enrollment, a shrinking and aging population and people moving out of the state instead of moving in.

One of the biggest responsibilities and decisions of parenting is how to educate one’s children. In a trend that began long before the pandemic but has picked up steam since, a small but growing number of families are abandoning the tried-and-true route of a public school or even a private education to learn at home through parents, guardians, a co-op of parents or in a drop-off learning center.

Reasons to homeschool range from the frustration and disillusionment with public schools following disastrous attempts to teach during the pandemic, to thinking one’s local school district politics lean either too far to the left or right, to having a desire to teach from a faith-based perspective that is free from the rigid structures of standardized tests. In a stark sign of the times, some parents are home schooling their children for fear of bullying, violence and school shootings.

In October 2023, the Washington Post ran an extensive series called Homeschool Nation and investigated where K-12 schoolchildren were going in the years before, during, and after the pandemic. Their findings were based on 21 states which take a tally of public, private and home school enrollment. But there is no data from 11 states on these numbers, including Michigan.

In the 21 states where data was available, public school enrollment fell by about 700,000 students between the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 school years. A much bigger group of students switched to homeschooling. The number of children registered for homeschooling surged by around 184,000.

Outside of the numbers of registered public, private and homeschooled students, there are an estimated 230,000 students still unaccounted for in the data. These are children who didn’t sign up for private school or home-school or move out of state.

In earlier data, according to the 2016 National Household Education Survey (NHES), 1.7 million children were being homeschooled in the United States in 2016 and these numbers are similar to a 2012 survey. However, researchers say the NHES could have undercounted this number because of discrepancies in data collection and spotty response rates from surveyed populations.

The 2016 NHES survey also revealed that 80 percent of homeschoolers were more likely to live in two-parent households and likely to have only one parent in the workforce. About 25 percent of homeschooling households had dual-income parents. Education levels of homeschool parents were on par with the general population, though homeschool parents without a high school diploma went from one percent in 1999 to 15 percent in 2016.

According to the Washington Post, at its peak, homeschooling shot up by over 60 percent in the 2019-2020 school year – this a number independent from students forced to do online and distance learning through their public school district – and only went down to a 51 percent increase during the 2022-2023 school year. States that saw the sharpest rate of increase in homeschooling since 2017 were New York (103 percent), South Dakota (94 percent) and California (78 percent) and Rhode Island (91 percent).

Because there are no laws on the books in Michigan that mandate parents inform the state that a family is homeschooling their children, there is no way to be sure exactly how many homeschoolers there are in the state.

“It’s tough to get the estimates on numbers of homeschoolers that are specific to states, especially if your state doesn’t have that data,” said Nat Malkus, senior fellow and deputy director of education policy at the nonpartisan, right of center American Enterprise Institute (AEI). “California has got the data, for example, and Michigan does not.”

Malkus said though his organization has written extensively about homeschooling, it takes no pro or con position on the practice.

“Homeschooling in America is a strange marriage of origins,” Malkus said. “You’ve got your hippie movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s meshed with Christian conservatives in later decades, which is probably the strongest force in homeschooling today.”

Malkus said from state to state, there are no consistent tests or benchmarks to measure or understand if homeschooled children fare better academically than their more mainstream peers. That’s because their education takes place within the privacy of one’s home, where nothing is monitored or regulated.

“Regardless of one’s opinion about if going off the grid and attempting to educate one’s child on their own is a good or bad one, you have to admit it is a courageous decision,” Malkus said. “Across the country, more parents are giving the idea more than a passing notion. The ones who are doing it as a reaction to the pandemic, and all the weaknesses and inadequacies they saw in public and even private school systems, they are not a small group.

Homeschooling doubled over the pandemic. There was a time that only three percent of students were homeschooled and now it is up to six percent. These numbers are going to rival the number of students in charter schools. We are not there yet, but that’s where we are headed.”

Malkus said homeschooling can be done well and effectively, but it is not a decision to enter lightly.

“Homeschooling takes a great deal of investment on the family in their time, efforts and energy as well as money,” said Malkus. “It is a restructuring of the family dynamic, and it may mean the loss of income from one parent. What I am concerned about, coming out of the pandemic, is that many homeschooling families made this decision under duress. However the decision was made, parents need to be well prepared to execute it. I don’t think the decision to homeschool is one that can go badly, but if it is done poorly, it is like walking a tightrope without a net.”

Though the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) does not collect enrollment data for all homeschools in Michigan, there are some figures from homeschooled students who volunteered to register with the state to have their children receive non-core classes or services from a local district.

In 2018-2019, there were 763 students enrolled in 306 homeschools. During the 2019-2020 school year, 581 students came from 280 home schools. The 2020-2021 school year saw the biggest jump with 14,947 students enrolled in 794 homeschools; and 700 students in 402 homeschools in the 2021-2022 school year; 678 students in 460 homeschools in 2022-2023; and finally 732 students in 508 homeschools for the current 2023-2024 school year.

MDE does not collect data related to why families homeschool their children in Michigan nor do parents in Michigan need to report to the state their intentions or reasons for making this decision. According to MDE, Michigan parents and guardians who homeschool are completely responsible for all instruction and educational decisions for their children, including providing homework, tests, grades, report cards and diplomas. Parents are not required to check in with the local school district or MDE to monitor progress, nor are homeschools required to report college applications or enrollment activities.

It is not required in Michigan to have homeschooled children taught by people with backgrounds or certifications in education, nor is there a minimum requirement of the number of days or hours per day a child has instruction. There is no required attendance or a requirement to submit an attendance record to a school district or the state.

There are state-mandated curriculum subjects to be followed by grade.

Students are eligible for part-time public school enrollment and extracurricular participation but that is dependent upon the district. Michigan is not required to provide special education services to homeschooled children.

All this freedom and hands-off approach is seen as liberating to some. A homeschooled child can be free to customize their education to their specific interests. Having flexibility free from the bell schedule of a brick-and-mortar school can allow elite child athletes or performing artists to pursue their goals, and allow for more family time at best. At worst, critics argue that homeschooling makes way for neglecting children in varying degrees, from not providing them with an adequate, thorough education or in the worst cases, working a hands-off system that allows for physical, verbal and even sexual abuse of children to go undetected by the general public. Some who are closely connected to homeschooling trends say there is a danger of keeping children out of the public eye of trained teachers and other educator professionals who are mandated reporters, and those who push back on any regulations understand abuses are taking place.

Though most homeschooled children live in loving households with caring and vigilant parents, some have sacrificed their own careers and shifted their lives around to be their child’s teachers, there have been some extreme cases in Michigan where children kept at home, and out of the public eye, have been neglected, abused and even trafficked.

In December 2023, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced 36 criminal charges against Joel and Tammy Brown and Jerry and Tamal Flore, all of Dewitt, for allegedly adopting dozens of children and neglecting and abusing them for financial gain. The children, many of them grown, were said to be homeschooled under the care of the couples. It is because of these cases that Nessel is now advocating for introducing modest regulations on home-schooling families.

In a statement emailed to Downtown Newsmagazine, Nessel said for starters, the state should know how many

children are being homeschooled and where they live within the creation of a statewide registry.

“We have seen criminal cases, prosecuted in our department or published in the news, where abuse of children, or worse, is concealed or undetected, at least in part, because of the parents’ decision to homeschool,” she stated. “That is not to say homeschooled children are more likely to face abuse, but only that there are cases of abusive parents concealing their abuse by opting to homeschool their children. We have alleged precisely this in an ongoing prosecution, that alleged abuse went unnoticed, and part of what kept the abuse undetected was that the child victims were homeschooled.”

Nessel said that children educated in public schools have a daily interaction with mandatory reporters, and in many cases of child abuse the suffering and abuse is first detected by a teacher or school employee.

“Homeschooled children do not have the same encounters with mandatory reporters and sometimes have little access to other adults where they would be able to or comfortable with speaking to about their home experiences,” she stated. “If we began to account for who and where these children are we could attempt to afford that opportunity to homeschooled children without infringing on (a family’s) educational or parental rights to determine the best education for their children. Implementing modest monitoring mechanisms is crucial to ensure children receive the necessary protections.”

Nessel reaffirmed that her office is not saying that homeschooled children are more likely to be abused. However, abusive parents could choose to homeschool because it will better conceal their treatment of their children. A registration requirement and even infrequent contact with a child welfare specialist would save child suffering, and potentially a child’s life.

Reacting to the Nessel’s charges, Michigan Superintendent of Schools Michael Rice released a letter to state legislators advocating for enrolling every Michigan child, including those who are homeschooled. Rice stated: “Currently, Michigan enrolls students in traditional public school districts and academies. In recent years, our understanding of private and parochial school student enrollments has grown, depending on the interaction of private and parochial schools with particular state-funded programs.”

He said that for the safety of all students, each should be enrolled in one of the four “buckets:” public schools (including charter schools), private schools, parochial schools or home schools.

“Having a record of all children enrolled in these four buckets would provide an understanding of the children not currently enrolled in any learning environment.” The letter continued: “The issue of ‘missing children’ is a national problem with potential negative consequences for too many children. Parents should be able to choose the best educational system for their children. However, there is a history in Michigan and across the nation of some children not receiving any education at all, in particularly egregious cases in abusive or neglected environments.”

In Michigan, the largest and most influential homeschooling group – and the strongest lobbyist against any regulations on homeschooling – is the Michigan Christian Homeschooling Network (MiCHN). Created in 1984 as the Information Network for Christian Homes and rebranded in 2019 as MiCHN, the grassroots organization operates a loose network of families through conferences and retreats, its website, and newsletters, and connects Christian families.

MiCHN founder Israel Wayne estimates that around 50,000 children are receiving a K-12 education in their homes, sourcing the National Center for Education Statistics. From that number, Wayne said that there are around 11,000 families educating around 33,000 children through MiCHN.

“The reasons that people have chosen homeschooling are shifting,” explained Wayne “Twenty years ago, research showed that many families homeschooled because of religious ideology. That would be the dominant reason even as recently as two years ago. Today, the number one reason people are choosing home education is the physical safety of their children.”

Wayne said that years of school shootings as well as bullying and abuse in school have motivated many families to opt for homeschooling.

Wayne pointed to the perceived danger and sexual assault occurring in public school bathrooms, playgrounds and school buses. According to a 2021 report from the National Education Association and with data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, there were 14,938 incidents of sexual violence in K-12 schools in 2017 -2018 compared with 9,649 in 2015 -2016, representing a 55 percent increase.

Wayne said he was homeschooled with his siblings by his mother in Maryland in the late 1980’s until his graduation from grade 12 in 1991, at a time when doing so was illegal and homeschooled children could not even attain a state-issued high school diploma. He and his siblings would remain inside during school hours to avoid being reported by neighbors and sometimes child protective services would come to his home, which his family viewed as a government invasion. His wife was homeschooled in Arizona in the 1980’s, and together they homeschooled their 11 children in Michigan outside of Kalamazoo.

Wayne said his homeschooling hours permitted him opportunities that would not be possible in a traditional school schedule. Beginning in his early teens, he volunteered at a local radio station where he learned about editing and producing. He said he still puts these skills to use as a writer, producer, and podcaster for MasterBoooks, a line of textbooks widely used by Christian homeschoolers.

Arguing that there is much down or wasted time in traditional schools, Wayne said that homeschooled children can spend less time in instruction because things like math and science concepts are more easily processed in a one-on-one or in a smaller group setting.

“In a homeschool environment, you could spend as long or as short a time on a math or science concept depending on the child’s ability,” explained Wayne. “As a kid, I had ADHD and could not sit long in a class. But I could absorb a math concept within 10 or 15 minutes, so why would I need to sit with a worksheet drilling that math concept for 45 minutes? In homeschooling, once a child masters a concept, they can quickly move onto the next subject, saving hours of time and avoiding immense amounts of boredom that are generated in a traditional classroom.”

Wayne said homeschooling allows for larger amounts of family time where parents can establish better values and relationships with their children during the time they spend learning.

When it comes to socializing, Wayne and others who were homeschooled also believe that the groups of children in a classroom were subject to contrived and forced socialization. Wayne said that MiCHN students maintains social outlets through church youth groups. There are also a multitude of homeschooling Facebook groups and Michigan homeschool and co-op websites with memberships in the thousands who regularly post about signups for homeschooled athletic leagues, robotics clubs, orchestras and performing arts opportunities.

On the issue of the possibility of Lansing state legislature introducing legislation to put guardrails on homeschooling in Michigan, Wayne asserted that if there are cases of child abuse that arise in the homeschooling population, there are already laws on the books that should be enforced by the state’s Child Protective Services Department (CPS).

“If the government wants to protect children, it’s best to enforce laws that are already in the books and not collectively punish well-meaning parents because of a few cases of abuse and neglect,” Wayne said. “The view of MiCHN is there should not be a universal presumption of guilt against parents. Culturally, we’re moving in that direction. The framers of our Constitution consistently wrote that citizens needed to be watching the government because it tended to become abusive and tyrannical. Now we have this reverse mindset put upon parents.”

Arguing that CPS cannot intervene in homeschooling situations because its laws were never updated to reflect the legality and prevalence of homeschooling in the state is Samantha Field, government relations director for the nonprofit Coalition for Responsible Homeschooling Education. “CPS laws were created before homeschooling was made legal and they have yet to be updated,” stressed Field. “CPS policy was written in a way that CPS workers can do their job under the assumption that children exist somewhere in the public and are being seen at a school institution outside the home. That is no longer true. Homeschooling has fundamentally changed that and CPS is no longer able to do their jobs because of (a lack of) homeschool policy.”

Field said MiCHN’s Wayne is a bit “unhinged” when it comes to his call for no regulations at all in Michigan. She noted that the organization is also backed nationally by the national homeschool freedom lobbying organization called the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

“Right now. Michigan is out of step with the rest of the country in terms of homeschooling oversight,” Field asserted. “Most states have some kind of enrollment process, if not more than that. HSLDA would prefer to see the entire country look like Michigan. Culturally, MiCHN and the HSLDA are to homeschooling is what the NRA is to gun control reform.”

Unlike those organizations, the 10-year-old Coalition believes that there should be regulations on homeschooled children. The organization is comprised of alumni of homeschooling who are now in their 30s and 40s and want to uphold all that is good about homeschooling while making sure homeschooling families are accountable for giving their children a solid education, meet key developmental and physical milestones, and not using the system to hide behind to neglect or abuse children.

“We have just begun to evaluate our childhoods and see whether or not the homeschool system was beneficial for us,” Field said. “We try to represent the lived experience of homeschooled children and advocate for beneficial and not intrusive policies.”

Overall, Field said she and her sister had many positive experiences from her 10 years of homeschooling in New Mexico, Iceland, and Florida. Her father was in the military, and her mom, who had a public school education, did the homeschooling. Her parents ascribed to what she described as an authoritarian, fundamentalist church that believed that women did not need a college education. From her personal experiences, one of Field’s missions is to make sure that every homeschooled child is seen regularly by doctors and that they all have their hearing and eyesight tested, just as public school children are routinely tested.

“My mom grew up in a world where every public school child had their hearing and vision routinely checked,” explained Field. “She didn’t think about doing this for us. Not that she was neglectful, it just never came to mind. My sister was nine or 10 when she started wearing my mom’s castoff spare pair of eyeglasses because she said she couldn’t see anything. By the time my mom got her to an optometrist, she couldn’t even make out the big “E” at the top of the chart.” Field’s sister was diagnosed with progressive myopia that could have been caught earlier in her life if she had a routine vision test. “Every homeschooled child should have their vision and hearing checked, and to make sure that they are hitting age-appropriate benchmarks for gross and fine motor skills. And most parents are not trained in child development.”

When it comes to academics, Field said while the coalition does not advocate for standardized testing, they do recommend homeschooled students a few times a year produce a portfolio containing a body of work that they accomplished over a period that can be presented to a certified grade-level educator.

Field pointed to Pennsylvania as a state that has a good portfolio review process in place, though at times it can be inconsistent and imperfect. Families who wish to homeschool their children through high school must go through this portfolio review process to attain a state-issued high school diploma that can be used towards applying to college. For those who are not college-bound, a review of a portfolio is not necessary, Field said. She said her organization believes that the ideal homeschool setting is centered on the child’s academic and emotional well-being, where the parents educate with the goal of raising independent children who can someday join the workforce.

Field’s education disintegrated once she reached her high school years in Florida. She noticed the gap in her academics when, at age 14, she checked out a friend’s math book, one of the few friends she had who attended public school.

It was then she realized how far behind she was. “My parents were not capable of teaching me high school material,” Field recalled. “And I really wanted to go into a STEM field. That was until I looked at my friend’s math book. My friend was horrified, which horrified me. I realized that I was behind and would not be able to catch up. I did not have choices. If I was ever going to go to college, how could I get a scholarship to afford college with my grades, I wondered, because my family was poor. At that point, I realized I would not have the time or the financial freedom to take remedial classes in math. It was like there was this door that was not going to open up for me.”

But Field did go on to college and then earned a master’s degree. Now living in Ann Arbor, from a Michigan legislative standpoint, Field said it was too premature to talk about proposals for regulations. But she is working extensively with the education committee about the prospect of putting some guardrails on the state’s homeschooling environment.

“What we are thinking about pursuing is extremely limited and will not change anything as to how homeschooling fundamentally operates in Michigan,” Field said. “It is a basic step, but considering that Michigan has nothing as far as homeschool regulations, any tiny step forward would be huge. In our research, we are seeing patterns in Michigan and other states with a lack of regulation, is that children are disappearing and being trafficked.”

Some parents homeschool their children when they feel their child’s learning disabilities are not being met.

Maria Confer of Birmingham said she and her husband began homeschooling their only child, X, beginning in 2020 when they lived in Boulder County, Colo. It was halfway through first grade after a few tumultuous years in preschool and kindergarten. Confer said her son was enrolled in a reputable school district with lots of support, and people kept telling her to stick with the school, because it was best for her son. Then X was diagnosed at age seven with ADHD. Though school officials said X spent a lot of his time running in the hallways at school, he did not qualify for accommodation or services.

Confer encountered the same challenge when they moved back to Michigan in 2021 to be nearer to family. At the coaxing of neighbors, she researched accommodations at her neighborhood school, Pierce Elementary. Because of continued distance and online learning, Confer said the school principal could not meet X’s needs.

According to Dr. Embekka Roberson, Birmingham Schools superintendent, during the 2022-23 school year, nine students previously part of the Birmingham Public School system are now registered as homeschooled. Additionally, sometimes families with truant students withdraw them and state that they are homeschooling them. Over the past few years, anecdotally, Roberson said parents have shared a variety of rationale for homeschooling. These reasons include student depression/anxiety, dissatisfaction with the district’s handling of COVID-19, or needing a smaller setting and individualized pace. Currently, there are three homeschooled students participating in elective classes in Birmingham like art and music.

Confer said she also explored X’s options at The Roeper School, where the administration asked he be further evaluated. While the results revealed that X was bright and gifted, his inability to sit with others in a classroom led Roeper administration to determines they could not accommodate X’s needs due to his disruptive nature.

X is now 10. Through trial and error, including trying to find other local families homeschooling through social media and her son’s tennis classes, Confer said she is piecing X’s education together.

“When we began homeschooling, I read every book on the subject I could get her hands on,” said Confer. “The best advice I got was to not make the homeschooling experience mimic a classroom. So we eased into homeschooling. We started with a lot of reading together and arts and crafts. Then we worked on reading, math, cursive and phonics workbooks.”

Confer said she at first spent thousands on subscribing to homeschooling curricula materials, much of it she did not like or use, and fears that there is money to be made from homeschooling curricula companies who prey off the uncertainties and insecurities of parents going it on their own for their kids’ education.

“I think a lot of these paid curricula prey on the insecurities of homeschooling families,” Confer said. “So that’s why to me, I’ve learned to just trust my own instincts, evaluate where my son is at and then find those resources myself.”

As her son gets older, Confer said she is looking into more structured options for his education.

One of them is Homeschool Connections, a Christian, conservative-based learning resource center with five campus locations in Clarkston, Rochester, Brighton, and Clinton Township, as well as online offerings that operates on a semester basis. Administrators stress that it is not a school. Intended as a hybrid outlet to supplement homeschool education, parents with K-12 schoolchildren can sign up for a-la-carte instruction from everything from math to literature to science lab and foreign languages. Sample classes include civics, the History of the Underground Railroad, and Introduction to World Languages. There are also science and biology labs, where biology is taught from a creationist standpoint.

Classes are staffed with dozens of instructors with a range of backgrounds, from seasoned homeschool parents who come to teach after their own children have grown to trained teachers who have left the public or private school systems. Homeschool Connections works in partnership and affiliation with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association and the Michigan Christian Homeschooling Network. However, Christianity is not taught and the facility welcomes children of all faiths and backgrounds.

Shelly McMahon is the vice president of operations at Homeschool Connections. She and her husband homeschooled their seven children, now all adults, because they wanted to instill in them their Christian values and strengthen family togetherness.

When it was time for more advanced classes, McMahon said all her children did dual enrollment with local community colleges by the 11th grade, enabling them to complete high school while earning college credits. Several of her children went on to college and pursued advanced degrees, while another child married before age 20 and runs his own business without going to college.

McMahon said families find their way to Homeschool Connections due to dissatisfaction with public schools, whether it be ideological or religious differences or for more flexibility. “Homeschool Connections is a place where students have resources that may be hard to finesse at home, such as labs and art studios,” McMahon said. “The organization also offers after-school activities, a performance arts program that puts on musicals and plays, and even social events like dances. Interest in Connections, and homeschooling in general, is growing by leaps and bounds. Our Facebook group has 15,000 members and every day 30 more people ask to join.”

For its oldest students, Connections offers college counseling and transcript development. There are graduation ceremonies at the end of each school year where the parents design and hand their kids their diplomas.

“All kids have gifts and learn to use them. Unfortunately, those who cannot seem to fit into the public school model are the children who fall behind. Our students are liked by universities because they have extra things to offer like their voluntarism in the community or running their own business. College is not for everyone, but if this is what they want, we help them get there,” she said.

According to ACT data, from 2001 to 2014, scores on the ACT® test for homeschooled students have fluctuated between 22.3 in 2007 and 22.8 in 2014. Average ACT scores for homeschooled students were consistently higher than those for public school students, with the difference ranging between 1.4 score points in 2007 to 2.2 score points in 2014. Compared to students enrolled in private schools, homeschooled students have scored lower since 2003. In 2014, homeschooled students scored 1.1 score points below private school students, on average.

Compared to students enrolled in private schools, homeschooled students have scored lower since 2003, with the gap incrementally widening to 1.3 points by 2019. All three groups have experienced declines in mean ACT Composite score since 2017, marking the first time that scores dropped for all three groups.

There is a growing body of research focused on the culture and outcome of homeschooling, and much of it is done by people who were themselves homeschooled.

In a 2020 paper titled Homeschooling: An Updated Comprehensive Survey of the Research, (Robert Kunzman, Indiana University and Milton Gaither, Messiah College), researchers conclude that because of lackadaisical rules, or in some states as Michigan, no rules at all, it is difficult to find and analyze quantitative data on the success and progress of students who are homeschooled in the United States.

Kunzman and Gaither in the paper disclosed that they were both homeschooled.

They stated: “We are fascinated by it as a social phenomenon and convinced of its significance as an educational movement. We are neither indiscriminate advocates for homeschooling nor unrestrained critics of the practice; we consider homeschooling a legitimate educational option, one that can result in exemplary growth or troubling neglect. Above all, we are interested in furthering accurate, empirically grounded knowledge of homeschooling.”

The researchers pointed to the most recent National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data from 2019 found that when asked to choose their most important reason for homeschooling, 34 percent of the sample chose dissatisfaction with the environment of schools, 17 percent chose dissatisfaction with academics at schools, and 16 percent chose the desire to provide religious instruction. When allowed to select multiple reasons, 80 percent were dissatisfied with the school environment, 74 percent wanted to provide moral instruction, 61 percent were dissatisfied with school academics, and 51 percent wanted to provide religious instruction.

In summary, researchers found that there is a push-pull relationship between conventional and homeschooling methods over time. At first, parents push away from traditional public and private schools because of various dissatisfactions and see homeschooling as a second choice. Then, as they come to appreciate the benefits of homeschooling, such as greater flexibility of schedules, more quality time spent as a family, and more customized learning, they are pulled to the practice.

The researchers concluded that more systematic research into what enrichment education homeschoolers are receiving because NHES studies from the 20-teens suggest that nearly 40 percent of homeschooling households are not offering instruction in music, the arts, or foreign languages.

“Since that study came out in 2020, there have not been many major studies on homeschooling just in the fact that it is so difficult to know exactly who these people are,” said Kunzman, professor of education at Indiana University School of Education. “It is hard to track academic achievement or other outcomes. It is hard to make any generalizations or gather any real hard data because we don’t have access to their academic outcome. Though some argue that standardized tests are just one metric and a partial glance in measuring a child’s academic progress, we don’t have any such metric in the homeschooling environment.”

The study said that political partisanship that funds the bulk of literature on the topic skews perceptions and realities of homeschooling.

The main point of contention was aimed at the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), which for decades was the dominant player in homeschooling research and the most visible champion of research-based homeschooling advocacy. It has become far less active in recent years, even as university-based research has increased. NHERI’s major studies were funded by the Home School Legal Defense Association. Founded by trained zoologist and biologist and former university academic turned homeschooling evangelist Brian Ray, who wrote many widely quoted studies in the 1990s and early 2000s from his homestead in eastern Oregon, where he and his wife homeschooled their eight children.

Ray described himself as the consummate quantitative researcher. He knows that homeschool populations are difficult to access because the population is disjointed by its very nature. He said he found and identified groups of homeschoolers to survey through states that keep rosters of homeschooled families and other homeschool organizations. He said since going on his own with NHERI, he “eats sleeps, and breathes” research on homeschooling.

“Homeschoolers are a small yet growing segment in our country,” Ray said. “They are becoming more politically diverse. They are found to be more tolerant of viewpoints that differ from their own, and are more likely to comfortably socially interact with a wider age range than traditional school students. And when they arrive at college, professors find homeschooled students are often more engaged and curious in class.”

Ray said that as homeschooled kids get older, many families join forces and gather in co-ops. That way, parents can share their expertise in subjects like grammar, math, science and language with others in the group to offer kids a more well-rounded education. “Co-ops like this have existed like this since the late 1980’s. It’s just that there are more of them now and the media is starting to pay more attention to homeschooling.”

When asked about the homeschool-to-college path, Ray said homeschooled children will most likely take dual enrollment classes for college credit, or stay home and take courses at a community college before applying to a four-year institution of higher education. Above all, Ray said these students should be looked upon and regarded the same as those who attend what he describes as “institutionalized education.” They should be expected to submit transcripts, take college entrance exams, and write entrance essays.

“Academically they do just as well and some even better than their peers. They may also finish college at a higher rate than those who were not homeschooled,” Ray asserted.

Though Ray’s research from the ‘90s and early 2000s was widely sought after and quoted and seen as the leading authority on homeschooling, Kunzman said recent research poured cold water on his expertise because he cherry-picked the homeschooling families he surveyed, which were mostly White, rural and Christian.

“Ray over the last few decades was once widely touted as the authority on homeschooling,” said Kunzman. “The sampling of homeschoolers Ray used in his studies are not representative samples of homeschoolers from a broader perspective. I would use any conclusions that he draws with a great deal of caution. There is very little that we can learn about homeschoolers in general or generalize from that body of research.”

Professor Roland Coloma of the Division of Teacher Education of the College of Education at Wayne State University said as a researcher, he is increasingly asked to review papers that examine homeschool education. Additionally, some of his colleagues are taking this route for their children’s education. Coloma said while there may be some WSU students who were homeschooled at some point in their academic career, through his decades of teaching at the campus, he could count the number of students who told him they were homeschooled on one hand.

“We do not have very good data on what the transition from homeschooling to college looks like, but anecdotally, I can tell you that some of our students who want a career in education will privately disclose that they were homeschooled.”

Roland said the body of research on homeschooling has revealed that White families give ideological and religious reasons for homeschooling. People of color, especially inner-city single mothers of Black boys, are concerned about the school environment for their children, whether it be for disciplinary and discriminatory reasons, or that their child is performing poorly academically.

“For many Black families, Black mothers in particular, there is grave concern about the kind of school environment and treatment of Black children and particularly Black boys in schools,” Coloma said. “That’s why they choose homeschooling. I think along the lines of race, there are some distinct differences in terms of their motivations. Black families in Detroit are seeking what’s best for their children when traditional options have not yielded the kinds of benefits that they see are beneficial for themselves for their children and for their children’s future.”

The fastest-growing demographic entering the homeschooling arena is urban minorities. The most dramatic shift in homeschool enrollment during the pandemic was among Black families. According to a 2020 census household survey, homeschooling among Black families in the fall of 2020 was five times higher than it was in the spring of 2020. And nowhere is this better illustrated than in Detroit and the rapid growth of a project called Engaged Detroit Homeschool CoOp. Launched with a $25,000 microgrant from the VELA Education Fund in September 2020 with about a dozen families in its pilot program, the program grew to 32 families in one week and by July 2021 there were over 70 involved parents, all receiving homeschool education coaching at no cost by trained education professionals. In the fall of 2020, the Skillman Foundation and Busy Bee Here to Help granted $15,500 to the organization to help purchase a building for its hub, Homeschool Corners located at 1485 East Outer Drive, large enough for 300 students. Engaged is also the recipient of several 2022 YASS Awards amounting to over $200,000.

Social justice entrepreneur and Engage Detroit founder Bernita Bradley said the project is a bright spot in Detroit’s bleak academic landscape for a dedicated group of parents who can wait no longer for the Detroit Public Schools Community District to improve.

According to reports, Michigan students ranked fourth in the nation for chronic absenteeism. Detroit Public Schools Community District reported a chronic absenteeism rate of 77 percent in the 2021-22 school year. Absenteeism decreased to 68 percent in 2022-23.

Bradley has been an advocate for parents in the Detroit school district since 2010, pushing back at teachers and administrators when a child’s educational and emotional needs were not being met. When the pandemic hit and exposed all the inequities Detroit’s public school students were facing, Bradley said she and other Detroit parents watched the suburban districts quickly pivot to online and remote learning while their kids lacked tablets or iPads and back at home lacked decent WIFI to get connected

“When the pandemic shut everything down, all families wanted was there to be a connection between their kids and Detroit Public Schools,” lamented Bradley. “I cannot tell you how many families I knew who felt so cut off from the school from March through May of 2020. Besides going to a building to pick up lunches, if they were lucky enough to have a school standing in their neighborhood and not miles away, they felt like they barely had a connection to their classmates, teachers, or administrators. More barriers were being created between students and their education.”

At that point, Bradley still wanted her daughter Victoria, then an 11th grader, to return to school as soon as buildings opened although she was in touch with some families who were already taking the path of homeschooling independently from the district. But her daughter said she could not bear her senior year of high school on Zoom or socially distanced learning.

“Homeschooling was not my forte,” said Bradley. “I just wanted to help other parents. Many frustrated families were just checking out of public school. They wanted to homeschool their kids but didn’t know how to go about doing it. And then more parents began to speak up, we formed a network of families helping each other out. We found opportunities to apply for grants to create a micro-school, and that is how Engaged Detroit began.”

Families connected to Engaged learn about their homeschooling rights in Michigan and how to explain to school administrators that their children were being homeschooled and should not be considered truants.

“We are not a school,” Bradley asserted. “We are a place where parents come and learn how to educate their children, and we provide the coaching tools and other resources. We have online assessments that the parents can use to track their children’s progress in math and reading, and how to keep them moving up as they succeed to avoid getting bored.”

A builder of networks, Bradley said her email inbox is exploding with requests for partnerships. But in keeping with the mission of Engaged, only those that ask within the framework of the co-op’s mission – keeping it local and benefiting the people of Detroit – qualify. Dozens of partner organizations give monetary and in-kind donations, from art supplies to science and math kits. Stand-out collaborations include the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Michigan State University School of Music and the Detroit Area Pre-College and Engineering Program.

To Bradley, her biggest challenge is to educate and persuade the public, including institutions of higher education like Wayne State University, that homeschooling is real, that children are learning, and homeschool transcripts are valid and should be accepted.

“If I am going to be totally honest, more Black children are homeschooling, and it’s because of that, the stigma remains that these Black children cannot be as smart as rural, White Christian children,” Bradley said. “It’s as if people think that our children are from families that are not affluent enough to be brilliant. I have pushed back hard on many organizations that may have made this assumption.”

Like her Christian homeschooling counterparts, Bradley is against the state proposing regulations on homeschooling.

Bradley said when a family does decide to homeschool their children in Detroit, she makes sure they notify the public schools in writing, and that the family knows their rights.

“I don’t want a (homeschooled) child counted in a seat by a superintendent who knows that you’re homeschooling and then sends that family a letter anyway to report truancy,” stressed Bradley. “And in Wayne County, a long truancy means that child can be removed from the parent and placed in custody of the county or that family loses their benefits from the Department of Health and Human Services. The county will argue they want to know what they are doing (about school). According to Michigan law, they do not have to know. All they care about is those dollars in those seats in the classroom.”


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