The number of children home-schooled on Long Island has risen from about 1,200 in 2009-10 to more than 3,700 in 2022-23. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

The number of home-schooled students on Long Island has tripled since 2010 — to more than 3,700 in 2022-23 — a rise that picked up during the pandemic before dipping in the last school year, a Newsday analysis found.

About 1,200 Island children were home-schooled in 2009-10, according to state data, and that number slowly grew to about 1,800 nearly a decade later, before the COVID pandemic hit in early 2020. During the pandemic, the numbers climbed sharply, peaking at more than 4,600 in 2021-22.

Educators attributed the recent spike to the removal of religious exemptions to state-mandated vaccinations in 2019, and later, health concerns as well as dissatisfaction with online learning and other restrictions during the pandemic. Many parents, however, choose home-schooling unrelated to pandemic constraints.

Ashley Kjarbo, of East Patchogue, home-schools her children for several reasons: She opposes vaccinations; she takes issue with how certain subjects, like sexual health education and the history of Thanksgiving, are being taught in school; and she’s concerned about bullying. She also wants to play a greater role in her children’s education.

“I want to know what they are learning and be able to keep them close,” Kjarbo said.

Even with the high growth rate during the pandemic, the number of home-schooled children remained a tiny fraction of the student population in public schools on Long Island and across the nation. In 2022-23, for example, home-schooled children accounted for only 0.9% of their counterparts in K-12 public schools in the Island’s 124 districts.

Nationwide, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that about 1.7 million children were home-schooled in 2016, or 3.3% of the school-age population.

Statewide, the number of home-schoolers grew from 17,757 in 2009-10 to 51,858 in 2022-23, climbing from 0.66% of the public-school student enrollment population to 2.16%.

The families that choose home education have grown more diverse in demographics and ideologies, according to researchers, census data and findings from a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll.

“The home-school population is diversifying and broadening,” said Robert Kunzman, professor of Curriculum Studies and Philosophy of Education at Indiana University, who has studied home-schooling.

“If I had to characterize, at least pre-pandemic, one of the primary characteristics of home-school parents is that they believe that parents held the primary responsibility and authority to shape the educational experience of their child,” he said.

Parents often chose home education for myriad reasons, according to surveys and parents. Some find the academic quality and overall environment in institutional schools unsatisfying, while some want to provide religious or moral instruction that reflects their values. Others are concerned about safety from violence, including bullying. Parents of children with special needs might home-school to accommodate those specific needs.

Home-schooled children more often receive one-on-one attention, parents said, and learning is more child-centered and infused in day-to-day living.

Robert "Bobby" Vincench’s daughter, Ania, is 5, a year younger than the state’s compulsory age of 6 when children must receive instruction. Vincench, who has his own business that's mostly remote, and his wife, a public schoolteacher, started teaching Ania when she was 3. He said they plan to continue to home-school as she gets older.

“We take what she loves and we infuse the core subjects into that,” Vincench said. “She loves to collect things. Rocks. Shells. As she collects, we use nature guidebooks to identify different rocks. There’s counting. Math lessons. Addition. Subtraction.”

Vincench, of West Babylon, was a public school student and said he felt he would have been better served by home-schooling.

“I tend to think outside the mainstream. There was not a lot of room for that in public schools,” he said. “I felt I was held back, or the environment wasn’t conducive to that.”

In home education, parents such as Vincench said, learning takes place anywhere and anytime. When they go grocery shopping, children can learn to budget and read the label of nutrients. Parents also point to growing resources online and on social media, where they can find curriculum, lesson plans and group activities where their children socialize.

In the home-schooling community, students oftentimes go to classes at learning cooperatives. Parents arrange regular playdates or have their children participate in extracurricular activities with other families in support groups or clubs. Some put together shows and chorus recitals.

Then there are the trips to museums, libraries and aquariums.

Kjarbo, who works a night shift at her job and spends most of the day home-schooling her children, took her son, Brian, or “KJ,” 11, to the Garvies Point Museum and Preserve in Glen Cove. She plans to take her son and daughter, Margaret Jane, or “MJ,” 4, there soon, to learn about Native American culture and history.

Kjarbo graduated from Longwood High School in 1998 and said she didn’t have a bad experience but did not want to send her children to a public school.

“Having been in public schools, I know how mean kids can be,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about my son coming home being bullied.”

Across the nation, regulations over home education vary by state.

In New York, parents are required each year to file a letter of intent, an Individualized Home Instruction Plan, quarterly reports, and an annual assessment to the home district. The state does not require parents or tutors to produce credentials for home instruction.

In some states, parents are not required to provide notice of home-schooling at all, which critics have said created loopholes that could hide educational neglect or abuse.

A group of home-schooled alums in 2013 created the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a nonprofit that calls for more oversight. Writing from personal experiences, the group’s founders said home-schooling allowed some children to flourish but others to fall through the cracks.

Because home-schooling can vary so widely, Kunzman, the Indiana University professor, said “it's almost impossible to generalize” what an average home-schooler is like.

“It's like asking, 'What's the typical public-school experience?' ” he said. “It depends on where they go to school, and it depends a lot on all sorts of background demographics that don't even necessarily have anything to do with the [schooling] structure itself that determine how a child's learning process unfolds.”

Another issue frequently raised in home-schooling is socialization.

Home-schooling parents said their children interact with other children, and adults, plenty in group classes or activities where they solve problems and resolve conflicts.

“How is socialization in school different than socialization at home-school?” said Kjarbo, the mother of two. “My son is a chatterbox. He has more friends than I do.”

Parents also argue that home-schooling offers adequate, if not superior, socialization because it allows children to interact with people from all age groups and protects them from undesirable interactions such as negative peer pressure.

Xiao-Lei Wang, dean of the Ruth S. Ammon College of Education and Health Sciences at Adelphi University, said that schools, however, offer a more organic environment for children to learn the social skills they need before they enter society.

“Even a lot of things appear to be negative like peer pressure, nevertheless these things will happen in real life,” she said. “Overall, I would say that children will tend to learn those things spontaneously on a daily basis rather than [in] a selected environment."

“You cannot really select the environment for a child because eventually unless you have a selected society, you will have to encounter that,” Wang said.

Home-schooling comes with drawbacks, but also benefits, Wang said. They include the undivided attention a parent can give a child, and a flexible schedule that could allow a parent to teach the curriculum based on a child’s needs.

“You don't have to wait for the whole class to get one topic through,” Wang said. 

Educators said they would love to see students in school with their peers and teachers. They also acknowledged family needs differ and said they respect parental choice.

“While I prefer folks being [in brick-and-mortar schools], I think that it can be successful with the right families, the right circumstances and the right resources,” said Sachem schools Superintendent Christopher J. Pellettieri.

Some noted the time and effort parents undertake to home-school their children.

“In this day and age with many parents in this area of Long Island in particular where they're both working, having the time to do that is extraordinary,” said Kevin Scanlon, superintendent of Three Village schools, which serves areas including Stony Brook and Setauket. 

Merrick schools Superintendent Dominick Palma said home-schooling parents take on another role in addition to parenting.

“I would assume it's a significant challenge to be home and be both your child's parent and your child's teacher and making sure you have the content knowledge yourself and the pedagogy to deliver,” he said. “It must be very challenging, but it seems to work for some families.”

Like many other home-schooling parents, Vincench said he recognized the level of commitment it takes but believes he and his wife “can do at least as good, if not better" when it comes to teaching their daughter.

“A lot of those criticisms about home-schooling are unfounded and more related to being unaware of other ways to do things, including educating children differently,” he said. “When it’s done right, the 2023 home-school community is quite focused and intentional. It’s a more well-rounded experience for kids.”

The number of home-schooled students on Long Island has tripled since 2010 — to more than 3,700 in 2022-23 — a rise that picked up during the pandemic before dipping in the last school year, a Newsday analysis found.

About 1,200 Island children were home-schooled in 2009-10, according to state data, and that number slowly grew to about 1,800 nearly a decade later, before the COVID pandemic hit in early 2020. During the pandemic, the numbers climbed sharply, peaking at more than 4,600 in 2021-22.

Educators attributed the recent spike to the removal of religious exemptions to state-mandated vaccinations in 2019, and later, health concerns as well as dissatisfaction with online learning and other restrictions during the pandemic. Many parents, however, choose home-schooling unrelated to pandemic constraints.

Ashley Kjarbo, of East Patchogue, home-schools her children for several reasons: She opposes vaccinations; she takes issue with how certain subjects, like sexual health education and the history of Thanksgiving, are being taught in school; and she’s concerned about bullying. She also wants to play a greater role in her children’s education.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The number of students being home-schooled on Long Island has tripled since 2010, a rise that picked up during the pandemic.
  • In spite of its high growth rates, the amount of home-schoolers remained a tiny fraction of the general student population, accounting for only about 1% of the Island’s public school student body.
  • Home-schooling parents said they believe they can deliver a better, more well-rounded education for their children.

“I want to know what they are learning and be able to keep them close,” Kjarbo said.

Even with the high growth rate during the pandemic, the number of home-schooled children remained a tiny fraction of the student population in public schools on Long Island and across the nation. In 2022-23, for example, home-schooled children accounted for only 0.9% of their counterparts in K-12 public schools in the Island’s 124 districts.

Nationwide, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that about 1.7 million children were home-schooled in 2016, or 3.3% of the school-age population.

Statewide, the number of home-schoolers grew from 17,757 in 2009-10 to 51,858 in 2022-23, climbing from 0.66% of the public-school student enrollment population to 2.16%.

A 'diversifying and broadening' population

The families that choose home education have grown more diverse in demographics and ideologies, according to researchers, census data and findings from a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll.

“The home-school population is diversifying and broadening,” said Robert Kunzman, professor of Curriculum Studies and Philosophy of Education at Indiana University, who has studied home-schooling.

“If I had to characterize, at least pre-pandemic, one of the primary characteristics of home-school parents is that they believe that parents held the primary responsibility and authority to shape the educational experience of their child,” he said.

Parents often chose home education for myriad reasons, according to surveys and parents. Some find the academic quality and overall environment in institutional schools unsatisfying, while some want to provide religious or moral instruction that reflects their values. Others are concerned about safety from violence, including bullying. Parents of children with special needs might home-school to accommodate those specific needs.

Home-schooled children more often receive one-on-one attention, parents said, and learning is more child-centered and infused in day-to-day living.

Robert "Bobby" Vincench’s daughter, Ania, is 5, a year younger than the state’s compulsory age of 6 when children must receive instruction. Vincench, who has his own business that's mostly remote, and his wife, a public schoolteacher, started teaching Ania when she was 3. He said they plan to continue to home-school as she gets older.

“We take what she loves and we infuse the core subjects into that,” Vincench said. “She loves to collect things. Rocks. Shells. As she collects, we use nature guidebooks to identify different rocks. There’s counting. Math lessons. Addition. Subtraction.”

Bobby Vincench and his daughter Ania, 5, at Belmont Lake State Park,...

Bobby Vincench and his daughter Ania, 5, at Belmont Lake State Park, where they used acorns to brush up on Ania's math skills. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Vincench, of West Babylon, was a public school student and said he felt he would have been better served by home-schooling.

“I tend to think outside the mainstream. There was not a lot of room for that in public schools,” he said. “I felt I was held back, or the environment wasn’t conducive to that.”

In home education, parents such as Vincench said, learning takes place anywhere and anytime. When they go grocery shopping, children can learn to budget and read the label of nutrients. Parents also point to growing resources online and on social media, where they can find curriculum, lesson plans and group activities where their children socialize.

In the home-schooling community, students oftentimes go to classes at learning cooperatives. Parents arrange regular playdates or have their children participate in extracurricular activities with other families in support groups or clubs. Some put together shows and chorus recitals.

Then there are the trips to museums, libraries and aquariums.

Kjarbo, who works a night shift at her job and spends most of the day home-schooling her children, took her son, Brian, or “KJ,” 11, to the Garvies Point Museum and Preserve in Glen Cove. She plans to take her son and daughter, Margaret Jane, or “MJ,” 4, there soon, to learn about Native American culture and history.

Kjarbo graduated from Longwood High School in 1998 and said she didn’t have a bad experience but did not want to send her children to a public school.

“Having been in public schools, I know how mean kids can be,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about my son coming home being bullied.”

Regulations, experiences vary

Across the nation, regulations over home education vary by state.

In New York, parents are required each year to file a letter of intent, an Individualized Home Instruction Plan, quarterly reports, and an annual assessment to the home district. The state does not require parents or tutors to produce credentials for home instruction.

In some states, parents are not required to provide notice of home-schooling at all, which critics have said created loopholes that could hide educational neglect or abuse.

A group of home-schooled alums in 2013 created the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a nonprofit that calls for more oversight. Writing from personal experiences, the group’s founders said home-schooling allowed some children to flourish but others to fall through the cracks.

Because home-schooling can vary so widely, Kunzman, the Indiana University professor, said “it's almost impossible to generalize” what an average home-schooler is like.

“It's like asking, 'What's the typical public-school experience?' ” he said. “It depends on where they go to school, and it depends a lot on all sorts of background demographics that don't even necessarily have anything to do with the [schooling] structure itself that determine how a child's learning process unfolds.”

Another issue frequently raised in home-schooling is socialization.

Home-schooling parents said their children interact with other children, and adults, plenty in group classes or activities where they solve problems and resolve conflicts.

“How is socialization in school different than socialization at home-school?” said Kjarbo, the mother of two. “My son is a chatterbox. He has more friends than I do.”

Parents also argue that home-schooling offers adequate, if not superior, socialization because it allows children to interact with people from all age groups and protects them from undesirable interactions such as negative peer pressure.

Xiao-Lei Wang, dean of the Ruth S. Ammon College of Education and Health Sciences at Adelphi University, said that schools, however, offer a more organic environment for children to learn the social skills they need before they enter society.

“Even a lot of things appear to be negative like peer pressure, nevertheless these things will happen in real life,” she said. “Overall, I would say that children will tend to learn those things spontaneously on a daily basis rather than [in] a selected environment."

“You cannot really select the environment for a child because eventually unless you have a selected society, you will have to encounter that,” Wang said.

Home-schooling comes with drawbacks, but also benefits, Wang said. They include the undivided attention a parent can give a child, and a flexible schedule that could allow a parent to teach the curriculum based on a child’s needs.

“You don't have to wait for the whole class to get one topic through,” Wang said. 

Brian Kjarbo, of East Patchogue, works at the South Country...

Brian Kjarbo, of East Patchogue, works at the South Country Library in Bellport. Credit: Barry Sloan

Respect for parental choice

Educators said they would love to see students in school with their peers and teachers. They also acknowledged family needs differ and said they respect parental choice.

“While I prefer folks being [in brick-and-mortar schools], I think that it can be successful with the right families, the right circumstances and the right resources,” said Sachem schools Superintendent Christopher J. Pellettieri.

Some noted the time and effort parents undertake to home-school their children.

“In this day and age with many parents in this area of Long Island in particular where they're both working, having the time to do that is extraordinary,” said Kevin Scanlon, superintendent of Three Village schools, which serves areas including Stony Brook and Setauket. 

Merrick schools Superintendent Dominick Palma said home-schooling parents take on another role in addition to parenting.

“I would assume it's a significant challenge to be home and be both your child's parent and your child's teacher and making sure you have the content knowledge yourself and the pedagogy to deliver,” he said. “It must be very challenging, but it seems to work for some families.”

Like many other home-schooling parents, Vincench said he recognized the level of commitment it takes but believes he and his wife “can do at least as good, if not better" when it comes to teaching their daughter.

“A lot of those criticisms about home-schooling are unfounded and more related to being unaware of other ways to do things, including educating children differently,” he said. “When it’s done right, the 2023 home-school community is quite focused and intentional. It’s a more well-rounded experience for kids.”

Latest videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME