Since the appearance of COVID-19, the whole world has had to adapt to a new way of living, working and playing—and children are experiencing a new way of learning. While this quick transition to a new form of schooling came with its challenges, it also provided parents with an opportunity to experience some of the benefits of non-traditional education methods. Will this non-traditional schooling experience affect parents’ decision to pursue non-traditional methods after social distancing ends?
A recent national poll showed that 40% of families say they are more likely to homeschool or virtually school their children after lockdowns end. And 64% of parents polled also support school choice. We’ve all seen the pandemic homeschooling memes poking fun at the hardships of suddenly homeschooling children, but the truth is some families may be finding an up-side to the sudden expansion of approaches to learning.
I asked my friend and next-door neighbor Mandy Hunter about challenges the pandemic brought to light and the specific learning needs of her children, ages 7 and 9.
“With the unpredictability of Covid-19, we are considering homeschool. Our biggest concern is what the atmosphere will be like when/if the kids return,” said Mandy. “With constant changes in rules and regulations, I worry what kind of stress it may add or how it may affect the mental health of both students and staff. I applaud our teachers and school for responding to this unknown situation as quickly as they did.”
Last spring, we all became homeschoolers. But even prior to that, homeschooling was the fastest growing form of education in the U.S., increasing 2 to 8% annually (for comparison, to public education has grown 1% over the last 10 years). It’s no surprise that homeschooling is on the rise when studies show students rank 15 to 30 percentile points above their public school peers on national achievement tests.
Before the pandemic, parents also stated they choose to homeschool their children due to the school environment, dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools and a desire to provide more moral or religious structure. Among Black homeschoolers, racism in the schools was the second most common reason cited for why the family chose to homeschool.
Often, people worry that non-traditional schooling programs will force families to sacrifice social opportunities. But there are many extracurricular activities, from sports to music to other elective programs that children still have a chance to participate in. The Texas Homeschool Coalition’s website provides resources for parents to join homeschool groups in their community that provide students with the opportunity to participate in traditional extracurricular activities.
Studies also show that homeschooled students outperform their peers on issues of social and emotional development, which is measured by peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem.
Students enrolled in Connections Academy, a virtual public school program, say that virtual programs provide them with greater flexibility. And they can open new doors for academically advanced or struggling students. Students in rural areas, for example, can take Advanced Placement courses, language programs and electives not offered at a smaller traditional schools.
How might an increase in homeschooling affect taxpayers? Homeschooling families spend approximately $600 per student per year on education. Public schools spend on average more than $11,000 per student per year. With approximately 2.5 million homeschool students in the United States, homeschooling currently saves taxpayers about $27 billion per year.
What is good for the goose isn’t always a good fit for the gander. While there are pros and cons to both traditional and non-traditional schools, we can all agree on one thing—parents should have the right to choose the best option for their child. For some, that will be a traditional school, and for others, it could be a charter school, virtual school or hybrid programs.
Amongst all the change and discomfort this pandemic has caused, my hope is that taxpayers, parents and legislators will take the time to explore new opportunities in our K-12 education system to better serve Texas families.