Home schools are growing in Bladen County.
Last week, the North Carolina Division of Non-Public education released figures for the 2016-17 school year, revealing that 266 home schools were open last year, an increase of 7.3 percent over the previous educational year.
“Homeschooling is up across the state,” said Spensor Mason, executive officer manager and policy director for North Carolinians for Home Education, the state’s largest homeschooling advocacy group. “We think more and more people are realizing they can do a better job educating their own children than anyone else can.”
Despite the numbers shown for Bladen County, the number could be low, as it may be across the state, due to the way the state defines a home school. Since the compulsory age for school attendance in North Carolina is 7, the state does not approve applications for home schools with only a 5-year-old, and just recently began allowing applications for 6-year-olds. So a family with a kindergartner, first-grader, and a preschooler might not be counted by the state as a home school, though they may do instruction every day.
Additionally, some home schools just never register with the state.
Last school year, 80,973 home schools were recognized by North Carolina. The Division of Non-Public Education estimates (based on a random sampling of home schools) there to be about 1.6 students per home school, for a total of 127,847 students. However, North Carolinians for Home Education also conducted a sampling of home schools and found there to be 3.2 students per home school. The organization, therefore, believes even 2.5 to be a conservative estimate, but gives a nod to compromise and uses the figure for its data and statistics. Based on those numbers, the total population statewide is 202,432 students, which translates to 665 students in Bladen County in 2016.
“That means we represent 11 percent of the total student body in the state,” Spencer remarked.
The numbers in Bladen County reflect a steady increase. In 2000, there were only 30 home schools in the county, and the numbers have climbed every year, except in 2012, when they remained steady. Since 2001, on average, Bladen County home schools have been increasing 13.8 percent each year, a number that jumps to 23 percent if one takes into account the 87.5 percent increase in 2000.
The numbers are even starker when looking more recently. During the last five years, home schools have been increasing, on average, 14.9 percent.
“We think a small factor has been common core curriculum,” Mason speculated. “But we think it was a small factor. We think the bigger factors have been the frequent reports of bullying in public school, sexual harassment, and teachers having sexual relations with students.”
At least some of those who make the decision may do so for religious reasons. DNPE’s report reveals that statewide, 60 percent of homeschools file as religious institutions, while 40 percent claim to be independent.
The 14.9 figure, when placed alongside the 17-year average, means Bladen County should net 37 to 39 new home schools this year, with as few as 59 and as many as 98 new students of all ages.
Statistically, however, those students will not likely be in high school. On DNPE’s report, from age 6 to age 15, the numbers remain consistent — around 10,000 at each age group statewide in 2016/2017. At 16 years old, however, the numbers drop drastically, almost 15.0 percent, with another 18.6 percent drop the following year.
This year’s statewide increase of only 8 percent does not have advocacy groups worried.
“The percentage of increase fluctuates from year to year, but we’re still the fastest growing method of educating kids in the state,” Mason said.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.