A lot can happen in a year.
Remember when, in early 2020, law professor Elizabeth Bartholet published an article and planned to speak at a Harvard conference to promote her proposal that homeschooling be banned? The story went viral.
Suddenly the COVID-19 pandemic was closing schools across the country. Parents found themselves at home with their kids, trying to figure out how to do “school.”
A brand new EdChoice poll suggests that nearly 70% of new homeschoolers chose this educational option because of the pandemic. The US Census Bureau now reports that as many as 12–14% of households with children are currently homeschooling, a huge inflection point of double to triple the previously reported numbers.
Harvard Alumni Magazine featured Bartholet’s law journal article, sparking a storm of criticism and thousands of articles, op-eds and webinars in support of homeschooling. The conference was canceled.
Her ideas were so outlandish and, well, just plain wrong that all of us HSLDA attorneys (and other invited guests) got together and wrote a book in response. We called it Homeschool Freedom: How It Works & Why We Must Protect It. You can buy a copy at our online store or read some of the articles in the book on our website.
Boy, am I glad we are looking at 2020 in the rearview mirror.
But there were some positive developments.
What the Research Says
Harvard went from fiction to fact with a different conference on homeschooling. This event was organized by Harvard Kennedy School’s graduate program on educational policy and governance and presented online.
Its seven weekly webinars—collectively titled “The Post-Pandemic Future of Homeschooling”—featured mostly empirical research about homeschooling. Program Director Paul Peterson closed the first session of the program—which include a debate between myself and Professor Bartholet—with this observation: “Homeschooling has secured its place as a permanent fixture in American education.”
The series included presentations from mostly doctoral-level researchers on a variety of topics including socialization, the incidence of child abuse, and international homeschooling. It wrapped up with a panel of homeschooling parents sharing their experiences.
And the takeaway is no surprise to anyone who knows anything about homeschooling and the vast majority of research about homeschooling: It works, and it works well.
The research showed that the great majority of children who are homeschooled perform well in all relevant areas, and there is simply no evidence of elevated risk of harm to children who are homeschooled. And there is positive evidence that homeschooling benefits children and society.
Of course, as one might expect, the researchers cautioned viewers that there is a need for more data and that much of their research was early stage and not 100% conclusive. But if homeschooling harbored the kinds of problems and risks Professor Bartholet suggested, wouldn’t they be much more apparent after about 50 years of homeschooling in the US, with millions of children educated?
Daniel Hamlin of Oklahoma State University, who helped organize the event, told me that the program had the highest participation of any series Harvard’s Kennedy School has ever hosted.
I wasn’t surprised, because I know how attentive homeschoolers are to information like this. I’ve seen this level of engagement numerous times, as articles about homeschooling are among the most downloaded pieces of research in major education journals.
HSLDA has written articles about each of the sessions which can be seen at our website. And you can watch all of the panel presentations free at the conference’s website.
I have attended many research conferences, written journal articles, and tried to encourage more research on homeschooling, and I could not be happier to see this level of interest—especially from a preeminent educational research institution like Harvard’s Kennedy School.
As a homeschooling parent and advocate, I have always thought homeschooling is both an interesting educational approach and a social phenomenon that deserves to be studied seriously. Because homeschooling has produced so many benefits for children, families, and society, more information and research can help all of us improve and make education for all children better.
As Paul Peterson said, homeschooling is here to stay.
HSLDA attorneys have been contributing to the scholarly literature on homeschooling for years. In 2019 I co-edited a special homeschool-focused issue (the third of its kind) of the Peabody Journal of Education with Albert Cheng, one of the panelists at this year’s Harvard conference. We had no idea how prescient what we wrote then would turn out to be: “. . . undoubtedly, homeschooling will continue to grow and evolve. We look forward to seeing how this research will inform the shared discourse about homeschooling among the scholarly community, policymakers, families, and the broader public.”
We want to be in the forefront of studying this new, rapid growth in the post-pandemic homeschooling community. How many families will continue homeschooling? What are the new homeschoolers like? What are their values and concerns? What barriers and problems do they face? Will policymakers be more or less favorable to this new, larger, and motivated homeschooling population?
Part of our founding mission at HSLDA is to make sure parents remain free to homeschool. This now includes keeping up with, and, when possible, contributing to this research. This is why HSLDA recently added a director of research, Dr. Stephen Duvall, to our team.
We may not know the future but we do know this—more homeschooling means more kids enjoying the freedom and flexibility to learn at their own pace. What a rewarding experience for all of us!