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U.S. Secretary of Education Weighs In On Growing Home School Numbers

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During a breakfast for reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor this week, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. spoke briefly on a form of education that often flies way under the radar: home schooling.

Home schoolers make up only a sliver of the total K-12 student population in the U.S., and it's certainly not every day that such a high level education official discusses the topic.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates there are 1.8 million home-schooled students in the country, which was 3.4 percent of the overall K-12 student population in 2012. That's about double the number of home schoolers 10 years ago.

But that's a best guess because tracking the size of the population is difficult due to wildly different reporting requirements from state to state.

King was asked by a reporter what he thinks of the recent uptick in homeschooling, especially as more students who are educated at home are entering college, and whether home schooling could be a possible solution to some persistent issues facing education, such as the achievement gap.

Here is King's response, compliments of my colleague, Education Week reporter Alyson Klein, who was there:

"I have certainly seen examples of students who had a great schooling experience. I had college classmates who had home schooled, and experienced tremendous academic success.

But on the other hand I worry in a lot of cases students who are home schooled are not getting the kind of breadth of instructional experience they would get in school. They're also not getting the opportunities to develop relationships with peers unless their parents are very intentional about it.

And are often not getting those relationships with teachers and mentors other than their parents, again, unless their parents are very intentional about it. 

I do worry about whether home schooled students are getting the range of options that are good for all kids.

But there are examples of them doing incredibly well ..."

The reporter also asked King if there was research on how well home schoolers perform academically. King said he had not seen research around home schooling. He continued:

"I imagine it would be very hard to figure out what it is exactly that you're capturing as there is such diversity in experiences of home school students."

As Ed Week's school choice beat reporter, I can attest to that. There is not much research on the academic performance of home schoolers—and the research that exists comes with a lot of caveats because it's almost impossible to get a representative sample of students.

The Home School Legal Defense Association, the most visible group on the national level in the home schooling sector (of which there are very few), took some issue with King's remarks.

"While Secretary King had some good things to say about homeschooling, I'm disappointed that his comments imply that public schoolers have a wider range of options in education, which is simply not true," HSLDA co-founder Michael Farris said in a statement on the organization's website.

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