It's common knowledge by now that homeschooling (actual homeschooling, not virtual public schooling or "distance learning") exploded in the first full "school year" following the March 2020 nationwide school closures caused by COVID-19 hysteria. Even the US Census Bureau admitted it, indicating that homeschooling increased from a pre-pandemic average of about 3% across the country to over 11% in Fall 2020 and a whopping 19.5% (almost one in five school-aged kids!) by Spring 2021.
Many predicted the numbers would fall right back to pre-pandemic levels by Fall 2021, as government schools "got back to normal." And, of course, some parents did send their kids back into the system. But the big surprise was that most who pulled their kids out for homeschooling between March 2020 and Spring 2021 continued to keep their children home during the 2021-22 "school year," mainly because they had discovered the huge benefits of private home-based education and had lost any interest in returning their children to the factory-style system.
I've read several articles to this effect over the past few months, heartened that parents' eyes have been opened and encouraged at their resolve to stay the course. And my colleague at The Homeschool Loft and I have experienced this anecdotally in our community as we've met with current and prospective homeschooling parents.
But I was very curious about the numbers throughout Wisconsin, where I live, and finally got a look at the belatedly-released data this week.
Despite the long history of homeschooling here - ours was among the first, in 1984, to re-legalize the practice in the modern era - and our incredibly favorable homeschool law, Wisconsin's homeschool numbers have always lagged behind those of many other states. We finally hit 2% of the school-aged population in Fall 2001, and the percentage hovered a little above or below that mark (representing anywhere from about 18,000 to a little over 21,000 children in any given year) all the way up until its pre-pandemic high, in Fall 2019, of 2.17%.
Though nowhere near the national average during 2020-21, Wisconsin did see a huge homeschool spike in Fall 2020, when the percentage went from 2.17% all the way up to 3.25, a greater than 47% increase! In raw numbers, that means the state went from having 21,644 homeschooled children in Fall 2019 to an impressive 31,878 in Fall 2020.
But, of course, the big test of the relative commitment level of the Badger state's crop of COVID-inspired homeschoolers is seen in Fall 2021 enrollment data. And the great news - for those of us who wish to inspire all parents to take direct personal responsibility for their children's education - is that Wisconsin reflected national trends in that vein, showing only a slight decrease in homeschool numbers. Specifically, the percentage of homeschooled kids in Wisconsin in Fall 2021 was 3% (29,402 kids), which was still a 36% increase from the state's pre-COVID numbers.
Interestingly, it seems clear that those who left homeschooling in Fall 2021 did not return to government schools. In fact, government school enrollment decreased by over 25,000 students between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 and by another 792 in Fall 2021. But enrollment in private schools increased by 2,867 kids between Fall 2020 and Fall 2021, which is almost the exact same number of children (2,476) who left homeschooling during that timeframe. In other words, homeschooling is holding quite steady in record-high numbers post-COVID, and those who only tried homeschooling for one year then moved on to private schools rather than returning their kids to public ones.
In my opinion, this is wonderful news for Wisconsin, and I hope homeschooling numbers hold firm or even increase again this coming fall. Children everywhere, including in my home state, deserve the best education possible, which (contrary to stereotype) can really only happen when it is customized to each child's unique, individual needs. Quite apart from (illogical) school COVID policies and the (very disturbing) highly-politicized nature of government schooling these days, that's what it comes down to. And the best people to customize an education for a child are those who know him best and love him most - i.e., his parents - when they enjoy true academic freedom as afforded to them in homeschooling.