Homeschooling is the fastest-growing form of education in the nation, a trend particularly evident in Rhode Island.
Between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years, the Ocean State witnessed a jump from approximately 1,900 home-schooled students to nearly 3,200 — more than a 60% increase.
While R.I.’s increase has been especially pronounced, the rise in homeschooling reflects a larger, national uptick in homeschooling over the past 30 years, according to Melissa Robb, the member advocate of ENRICHri, the largest secular homeschooling organization in R.I., which works to create community among homeschooled students.
Experts have cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the biggest reason for this uptick.
But this COVID-era mindset is antithetical to ENRICHri’s approach to homeschooling, Robb said. For families who typically choose to homeschool their children, “it’s usually because of positive reasons” including opportunities for experiential learning, tailoring instruction to the student’s learning style and “learning until mastery.”
“If you don’t understand how to multiply two digits by two digits, the class isn’t moving on the next day,” Robb said. “You are staying with that (concept) until you get it.”
While in the past year Robb has seen a decrease in the number of homeschooled students both in ENRICHri and statewide, she claims that ENRICHri has still maintained a 40% increase in membership compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Prior to the pandemic, the most common reasons parents chose at-home instruction nationwide were “a concern about school environment” followed by “a desire to provide moral instruction” and “emphasis on family life together,” according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.
According to Robb, Rhode Island’s education system has several problems — such as students’ “needs not being met” in public schools — that may play a role in parents’ decisions to educate their children at home.
Still, Robb said that the Rhode Island State takeover of the Providence Public School District did not play a significant role in the increase in homeschooling.
Rhode Island is considered a “high regulatory state” for homeschool education, which means that parents must submit an annual notification to the state indicating their intention to homeschool along with an attestation that their students have progressed in their education from previous years, according to Robb.
Most of the families Robb works with are “very happy” with this process, she noted.
As students progress toward their senior year, post-secondary plans come into question as many apply for colleges and universities.
Madeline Wachsmuth ’25 decided to transition from a homeschooled curriculum in middle school to a traditional high school due in part to the “resources that come with being able to attend a ‘real school’” during the college application process.
At Brown, homeschooled students make up less than 1% of the applicant pool, according to Associate Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admission Logan Powell.
“Our homeschooled applicant population has remained relatively flat over the past three years,” Powell wrote in an email to The Herald.
When reviewing these applicants’ submissions, admission officers look for similar qualities as traditionally schooled applicants: “academic excellence, potential for further growth and the ability to contribute to the Brown community,” Powell wrote.
They also require “objective third party support for their academic achievement,” including evaluation from a “neutral instructor … who is not a member of the applicant’s family,” whether that be professors or testing agencies.
ENRICHri advises applicants to “tell the whole story about who the student is and what they did with their extra time,” Robb said. “You have a lot more time on your hands than the people who are going to a brick building every year for high school. So what did you do with that time?”
“There’s this sense of deficit attributed to homeschooling,” Wachsmuth said, reflecting on her personal experience. But that time “taught me how to have … initiative with my schoolwork” — a skill that she said has transferred to her collegiate career.
Owen Dahlkamp is a Senior Staff Writer covering admissions, financial Aid and science & research. Hailing from San Diego, CA he is concentrating in political science and cognitive neuroscience with an interest in data analytics. In his free time, you can find him making spreadsheets at Dave’s Coffee.