The number of Maryland children registered as homeschoolers continued to decline slightly in the Free State, according to reports released by the Maryland State Department of Education. By 2007, homeschooling peaked with 25,215 children learning at home. By the end of the 2009-2010 school year, that number dipped by almost 2,000 children.
Maryland law requires homeschool educators to file a Letter of Intent before they begin to teach their children. Families must also provide annual notification of their intent to continue to homeschool. Local school boards track these notification statistics and report them annually to the state.
Frederick is the only county that has not seen a single year of decline in homeschooling numbers in the past 10 years. Washington County, which immediately adjoins Frederick to the west, tripled its total number of homeschoolers from 194 children in 2000 to 774 in 2009.
On the other hand, Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, heading towards Southern Maryland; and Dorchester and Talbot counties, across the Bay on the Eastern Shore have lost up to a third of their enrolled homeschoolers in the last decade.
Not surprisingly, the most populated counties in the state, Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore, are also home to the largest numbers of homeschoolers. At their peak, these counties boasted as many as 4,500 homeschoolers. Today, none can claim even 3,000 children learning at home.
But statistics don't always tell the whole story.
Economic forces, rather than any type of homeschool failure, may compel many families to enroll their children into public school.
As the cost of housing, food, and gasoline increases, it becomes more difficult for a family of 4 or more to live off a single income. The financial burden of purchasing your own curricular resources, paying for field trips, as well as the travel costs to get to all their activities - well, the option to homeschool becomes cost prohibitive for some.
Determining a nationwide number of homeschoolers is difficult. Not every state requires a family to register its intent to homeschool, while other states confer homeschooling oversight directly to local jurisdictions and do not monitor their programs.
Still, estimates abound.
In 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics reported an estimated 1.1 million homeschoolers in the United States. Based upon results from the National Household Education Survey, this estimate includes students who may have been enrolled in part-time public school for less than 25 hours a week.
Ann Zeise, owner of A to Z Home's Cool mega-site, conducted her own analysis by reviewing available reports from states that publish homeschool statistics. She concluded that, on average, homeschoolers account for about 2.5 percent of a state's student population.
According to MSDE data, Maryland homeschoolers account for 2.4 percent of the state's student age population.
Using her formula, along with 2009 census data, Zeise estimates 1.37 million children are homeschooled in the United States.
This article originally appeared on Owing Mills Patchin August 2011.