About 850,000 of the nation's 50 million schoolchildren are being taught at home rather than in schools, according to a study by the Education Department. It calculates that 1.7 percent of American children were homeschooled in 1999, resulting in a total estimate higher than in the past.
The new figures come from a telephone survey of 57,278 households conducted from January through May 1999.
The new report says the number of homeschoolers could be as high as 992,000 or as low as 709,000. The 850,000 takes the average of the two.
It also paints a clear portrait of the average homeschooler, finding that they are more likely than other students to live with two or more siblings in a two-parent family, with only one parent working outside the home.
Parents of homeschoolers are, on average, better-educated than other parents a greater percentage have college degrees though their incomes are about the same. Like most parents, the vast majority of those who homeschool their children earn less than $50,000, and many earn less than $25,000.
"These are families that have one income, and have sacrificed to live on one income," said Laura Derrick, of Austin, Texas, the parent of two homeschoolers and president of the Home Education Network.
Homeschoolers have been in the news in recent years, taking top honors at events such as the National Spelling Bee and National Geographic Bee. Most parents say they homeschool their children to give them a better education and not necessarily because of religious beliefs, although religion was second on a list of reasons.
"The primary reason is that it's a great way to raise kids," said Mark Hegener, publisher of Home Education Magazine. "Any way you slice the American pie, you're going to find homeschoolers sticking out of it."
Based in Tonasket, Wash., Hegener's bimonthly magazine has a circulation of about 12,000. He has published it for 18 years while homeschooling his five children.
"Collectively, they spent about six weeks in a conventional school system," he said.
Hegener's grandchildren are now being taught by their parents, with grandpa's help.
The survey found that about 18 percent of homeschoolers were enrolled in schools part-time, with about 11 percent saying they used books or materials from public schools. About 8 percent said they used public school curriculums, and about 6 percent participated in extracurricular activities.
Derrick said relationships between homeschoolers and public schools vary widely, with some states and districts opening their arms wide while others ignore them. Most, she said, have begun accepting that homeschoolers are here to stay.
"Today, it's the rule, rather than the exception that there's a good relationship between the public school students and homeschoolers," she said.
Read the full text of the report; visit Home Education magazine, or find out more about the National Home Education Network.
Written by Greg Toppo
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