A fresh view of homeschoolers

So, who are these people?

When homeschooling established itself as a significant force more than a decade ago, it sparked plenty of speculation: Who would homeschool? Were they all rich? Why wouldn't they want to use existing schools?

Now the US Department of Education is weighing in on such questions with its just-released report "Homeschooling in the United States: 1999." What makes this evaluation different, the department says, is that it is the first to use a rigorous sample survey of households to determine what's happening in the field.

The results confirm some assumptions: A greater percentage of homeschoolers than nonhomeschoolers are white, and high percentages of them come from two-parent families. Many also come from large families. And, yes, their parents are typically better educated: 47 percent have a bachelor's or master's degree, compared with 33 percent for the parents of nonhomeschoolers.

But there are surprises. Homeschooling often means the family operates on one income (52 percent of homeschooling families, versus 19 percent for others). Still, most homeschoolers are not wealthy. Nearly two-thirds of both homeschooled and conventionally schooled children had household incomes of $50,000 or less, and the distribution in other income ranges was parallel.

Perhaps most interesting were families' motivations. Nearly half of parents (who could give more than one answer) said they could offer a better education at home. About 38 percent cited religious reasons, and a quarter mentioned a poor environment at school.

(For the full report, see http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001033.)

E-mail newcomba@csps.com.

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