Home schooling has grown slowly in Maine over the last 20 years. However, as in many other states, Maine’s home school participation doubled during the pandemic. And while participation receded a little last spring, home schooling is still strong. In Maine, about 5.6% of all K-12 school-aged students are currently home-schooled, compared to about 9% who attend private schools. National estimates indicate that around 6% of students are currently home schooling, up from less than 3% just a few years ago.
While data for this year are not yet available, the most recent Maine home-school participation data show a 100% increase during the first year of the pandemic and a 10% decrease last year. While a 10% decrease sounds substantial, comparing it to the 100% increase in 2021 puts it in perspective. Most of the students who began home schooling during the pandemic are still homeschooling.
For example, in 2000, nearly 4,400 home-schooled students were reported by districts across the state. By 2015, that number had grown to 5,400. By 2019, that number had slowly but steadily increased to 6,700. However, in the 2020-21 home school report from the Maine Department of Education, that number had doubled to just over 12,000 students. During the 2021-22 school year, that number dropped slightly to just shy of 10,900.
Trends by district differ across the state. Some districts follow the state-level trend with doubled growth followed by slight declines. For example, Portland reported 72 home-schooled students in 2020, which grew to 174 in 2021 and dropped slightly to 134 in 2022. Smaller districts followed similar trends with examples like Saco, where 36 home-schooled students increased to 79 in 2021 and decreased to 65 in 2022. However, other districts experienced increased participation during the height of the pandemic but no decline in the following year. For example, Auburn had 101 home-schooled students in 2020; 171 in 2021, and 182 in 2022. Similarly, Bangor reported 140 home-schooled students in 2020; 223 in 2021, and 266 in 2022.
While Maines’ homeschool report does not include information on student race, gender or socioeconomic status, there is national evidence that as more families choose to home-school, their reasons for doing so are diversifying. Similarly, there is evidence that more minority families are choosing to keep their children home. For example, a recent report by Aaron Hirsch of the Center for Reinventing Public Education finds that the fastest growing groups within the home schooling movement are African-American and Hispanic families.
Maine home-school participation is concentrated in early grades. This trend reflects broader national trends. For example, there are just over 1,000 7-year-old home-schooled students; 991 are 8 years old, 980 are 9 years old and the numbers continue to decline as students age.
Maine requires parents to notify their local district of their intent to homeschool. Maine does not require a parent to have any educational background. Still, they must keep records related to each child’s education. Additionally, homeschooled students must participate in an annual academic assessment that can include a portfolio review by a Maine-certified teacher.
Even before the pandemic, home schooling was popular for all kinds of families. Student-athletes and families with less traditional schedules value the flexibility that home schooling provides. Students with special and gifted needs can find a customized match for their needs in a home school environment. Bullied students may find safety at home. In fact, safety is the top reason parents select for choosing to home-school their child and is an especially prevalent choice for minority families seeking a culturally affirming education.
Home schooling has also become increasingly feasible as many parents work remotely and can supervise their students at home. Similarly, the increased internet savvy of most families because of the pandemic allows home-schooled students to connect virtually and collaborate with other students. Home school families can also organize through formal or informal online and in-person co-ops. Dual enrollment and hybrid programs have also expanded, allowing more students to work from home. Some enterprising public school districts even welcome home-schooled students to take some of their classes, including sports.
Some speculate that national home-school numbers will return to normal this year, assuming that home-school growth was driven by families temporarily switching because of the pandemic. However, Maine’s home-school data do not appear to support this theory and could foretell emerging national trends.