Discover the history of homeschooling in the United States including its origins, legal challenges, resurgence, and its adaptation during the recent pandemic.

By Angela R. Watson and Karuna Sinha

Early Acceptance

Homeschooling, once the norm in the early years of the United States, faced significant challenges throughout its history, shaping and reshaping its trajectory. The journey from widespread acceptance to legal prohibition and eventual resurgence reflects the evolving relationship between societal changes, educational ideologies, and government policies.

Legal Challenges

In the 1800s, homeschooling was commonplace until societal shifts led education reformer Horace Mann, who homeschooled his children, to normalize the American public education system. These changes, including the influx of immigrants with different cultures and religions, prompted a shift toward institutionalized education. Homeschooling faced outright prohibition in most states (Bell et al., 2016).

The mid-20th century witnessed a renewed interest in homeschooling, fueled by social questioning of public education and the rise of de-schooling ideas propagated by figures like John Holt (Watson, 2018b). By the 1980s, a pivotal era began as states started legalizing homeschooling, recognizing the diverse reasons parents chose this educational path (Watson et al., 2018a). The number of homeschooling families rose, reaching an estimated 2 million in the early 2000s (Ray, 2011).

Concurrently, as homeschooling gained legal recognition, it encountered a wave of stereotypes designed to stigmatize and delegitimize participation. Many of those stereotypes persist today. Notably, critics question the validity of homeschooling, asserting that it is unregulated, poses risks of indoctrination, and often involves parents with conservative Christian values seeking to isolate their children (Watson et al., 2020).

Resurgence During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The dynamics shifted drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic when homeschooling experienced a rapid surge. As traditional schools grappled with closures, parents sought alternative educational options, giving rise to learning pods, microschools, and other innovative approaches (Watson, 2020). Some regulations relaxed as the educational landscape adapted to new possibilities. Many assumed participation would normalize post-pandemic. However, while numbers receded slightly, homeschooling continues to grow in some states.


Examining the historical trajectory of homeschooling in the United States reveals a dynamic progression shaped by evolving societal norms, legislative challenges, and the responsive ingenuity of parents. From its early prevalence to legal prohibitions and subsequent resurgence, homeschooling has adapted to changing circumstances. The post-pandemic landscape sees fluctuating numbers, altered regulations, and innovative educational approaches. This transformation underscores the malleability of homeschooling, shaped not only by parental choices but also by broader societal and educational dynamics.


Bell, D. A., Kaplan, A., & Thurman, S. K. (2016). Types of Homeschool Environments and Need Support for Children’s Achievement Motivation. Journal of School Choice, 10(3), 330–354.

Ray, B. D. (2011). 2.04 Million Homeschool Students in the United States in 2010. National Home Education Research Institute.

Watson, A., Maranto, R., & Bell, D. (2018a). The fall and rise of home education. In Homeschooling in the 21st Century. Routledge.

Watson, A. R. (2018b). Is homeschool cool? Current trends in American homeschooling. Journal of School Choice, 12(3), 401–425.

Watson, A. R. (2020). Parent-Created “Schools” in the U.S. Journal of School Choice, 14(4), 595–603.

Wolf, P., Lee, M., & Watson, A. (2020, May 5). Harvard Law Professor’s Attack on Homeschooling Is a Flawed Failure. Moreover, Terribly Timed, Too. Education Next.