The ranks of home educators were swelling long before the disruption of covid-19. For decades the greatest number in America have been conservative Christians who fear that schools may corrupt their offspring. But since 2007 the share of parents who say that providing religious or moral instruction is the “most important” reason for them to home-school has fallen, according to a survey by the Department of Education. More parents now cite concerns about drugs and other nasty influences in schools. Those who live near bad schools and who cannot afford private ones sometimes decide home-schooling is a better option. Black families and those from other minorities have additional worries about racism in the public-school (that is, state-school) system, says Cheryl Fields-Smith of the University of Georgia.
Around the world “accidental” home-schoolers are now more common, argues Rebecca English, who studies home education at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. These parents say that they have withdrawn their children as a last resort because their local schools cannot accommodate disabilities or emotional problems. Today’s parents have a lower tolerance for schools failing to deal with issues, such as bullying, that previous generations of children were sometimes expected to endure. In many places the expansion of special educational services has not kept pace with demand, leading to long waits for the evaluations that are required before children can benefit from them.