5,000 homeschoolers in Maine?


As debate continues around consolidation, school funding, and school reform here in Maine (more on the governor’s “not quite charter schools” idea later), it is important to keep track of how many Maine families have simply opted out of public schools altogether by homeschooling their children.

The Maine Department of Education maintains data on the state’s homeschooling population and while their website has not been updated in a couple of years, a recent request for updated numbers reveals that according to the state, 5,006 children are being educated at home this school year.  Is it me, or is that a remarkably high number?

According to the state, as recently as 1998 there were only 3600 students homeschooled, meaning that the number of homeschoolers has risen 35 percent in just over a decade, during a time when the number of school-age children actually declined.  There are 20,000 fewer kids in our schools today than there were in 1996, yet the number of homeschoolers has gone up by 1,500.

Maine, it turns out, is not the only place this is happening. A December 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that nationwide, more than 1.5 million students were being homeschooled in 2007, up an astonishing 74 percent since 1999.

What is going on here?  Almost certainly the rise of the internet and of web-based educational materials has made it easier than ever for families to develop comprehensive programs of instruction.  Additionally, though, more and more parents may be opting out of schools that they no longer see as providing meaningful learning.  A USA Today article from January of this year, reporting the findings of the Department of Education survey, discussed the rise of a group known as the “un-schoolers,” who simply do not feel that modern standards- and test-driven schools meet the needs of their children.

So could it be that all of our debate about how to improve our schools is for nothing? Will parents, given access to ever-improving and ever-more affordable educational material online, continue to vote with their feet and leave the public schools behind in ever-increasing numbers?

It is hard to say, but the explosive growth in homeschooling is certainly worthy of more study.