In years past, homeschool families often got a bad rap and were even the target of jokes. This year, however, they became the envy of traditional school families, who watched them seamlessly cruise through the COVID-19 pandemic with little disruption to their family schedule or student learning.
Over the past decade, homeschool numbers have been climbing. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, the homeschool population had been growing at an estimated rate of two to eight percent annually over the several years leading up to the 2020-2021 academic year.
Then, homeschooling numbers exploded for the 2020-2021 school year, with further growth forecasted for this coming fall. This refers to true homeschooling, using the curriculum selected by the parent or recommended by the homeschool association cooperative, not to students working on school-provided curriculum at home through remote or hybrid learning formats of their enrolled schools.
According to data from the Census Bureau, homeschooling went from 5.4 percent of U.S. households with school-age children homeschooling in May 2020 to 11.1 percent by October 2020 — more than doubling in mere months. When isolated by demographic, the increase among black households leaped from 3.3 percent to 16.1 percent — a near five times increase.
At a time when millions of parents are desperately waiting for traditional public schools to resume pre-pandemic in-person hours and services, a significant number of parents have decided to pull their children out altogether. Of course, some parents’ decisions centered on coronavirus infection rates or the newfound reality of working from home.
Also, parent motivation included being fed up with the ongoing false promises of reopening, the ever-changing hybrid school schedules, or school districts emphasizing what’s best for employees at the expense of their children. Still, others exited after being disheartened by the lack of learning taking place. Finally, a growing percentage opted to call it quits because schools increasingly prioritize progressive, even Marxist, political indoctrination over academic learning and higher-order thinking skill development.
But the positive pull of homeschooling exceeds the negative factors pushing students out. First, families realize that their students’ time can be used much more effectively at home. In turn, student schedules are freed up for increased family time, hobbies, and involvement in other activities of interest. Furthermore, parents value maintaining authority over what their children and teens learn. Students are also motivated by having more choices in learning content, activities, and their daily schedule.
The rapid development of education technology companies (better known as Edtech) has made it easier for parents to homeschool than in past decades. Technological learning tools and curricula are easily accessed and provide students with the ability to progress at their own pace — rarely allowed in our traditional one-size-fits-all factory model schools. Parents can customize the learning to their student’s unique needs and obtain real-time feedback from learning assessment tools. Many of these online learning platforms are low cost, and the number of free online learning resources continues to grow quickly.
Not only is the value added to families undeniable, but the cost savings to taxpayers is also enormous when parents opt to homeschool. Voters and lawmakers would be wise to back legislation that financially supports parents providing education for their students through education savings accounts (ESAs). Rather than the current practice of deterring parents from educating their students by withholding financial assistance for learning materials and services, ESAs allow parents funds to cover approved expenses — generally a fraction of the average $14,270 per public school student the government spends annually. With approximately four and a half million homeschool students, that equates nationally to over $65 billion in taxpayer savings.
Moreover, academic achievement for homeschool students is superior to their public school peers. The National Home Education Research Institute notes that homeschooled students typically score 15 to 30 percentile points higher on standardized academic achievement tests. The gains for black homeschool students are even more impressive, as they score 34 to 42 percentile points above black public school students.
For the growing number of homeschool families, the move to true homeschooling has been advantageous, and for most, a return to traditional school post-pandemic is unlikely. It’s time to change the narrative. Instead of looking down on homeschool families, we should recognize the shining example they offer by taking their children’s education seriously and doing so with higher academic results than our formal public schools.