Friday, April 23, 2021 : By Isa Ryan
The homeschooling industry is reporting a sustained interested in at-home education amid continued school closures — and industry insiders predict that growth will continue even as in-person classes return.
Homeschoolers and their advocates are somewhat infamous for failing to hide their desire to see significantly more American school-aged children join their ranks. However, they likely didn’t expect so many children would find themselves suddenly stuck at home under the strangest of circumstances in 2020.
Indeed, speculation began instantly among those advocates of home or alternative education on whether the pandemic would provide the opportunity for parents to reconsider the mode of schooling that best catered to the needs of their children.
It appears that this has proven to be true in many cases, according to homeschool curricula industry insiders, who report a healthy growth in interest they expect will continue even as schools begin to re-open.
“The reason is that the motivation for homeschooling is changing,” Johannes Ziegler, founder and CEO of Miacademy, an online homeschool curriculum, told Just the News. “It used to be a few years ago that a very large share of homeschoolers were homeschooling for religious reasons and [other] worldviews. The shift began prior to COVID and is big-time now.”
But as children were forced to sit through frustrating virtual classes or parents were required to facilitate learning themselves, many parents began to realize that traditional public schooling might not be the best route for their children. Home education seemed to provide a better opportunity to meet their child’s unique educational needs.
“What typically happens is parents decide to homeschool in a bad situation, like in the pandemic,” said John Edelson, the founder and president of Time4Learning. “What they find is that they like it, and that their children thrive.”
It’s not just curricula or class size that drives many parents to make the choice to dive into the world of home education either, as Ziegler noted.
“Beyond the immediate need of schools closing, more and more people are dissatisfied with the experience in public schools and are homeschooling for very pragmatic reasons,” he said, pointing also to a desire to avoide “bullying” and “negative experiences” as additional motivating factors for parents.
Last fall, as districts weighed whether or not to return to in-person schooling — and teachers’ unions made tall orders for the conditions under which their members would agree to return to the classroom — the data was clear that homeschooling was bearing fruit for many families.
One unique driving factor is that public school teachers and parents seem to have different goals — parents want hands-on teaching, while public school teachers seem to be largely content with teaching via a computer screen. As an example, a May 2020 USA Today/Ipsos poll revealed that 1 in 5 teachers had no plans to return to in-person learning, but at the same time, a separate poll found that 1 in 6 parents were considering at-home learning rather than traditional schooling in the fall.
That same month, a nationwide RealClear Opinion Research Poll found that 40 percent of parents were more likely to consider homeschooling once the pandemic was over. The same poll also found that 64 percent of parents supported school choice.
“With 55 million students no longer in their normal educational setting, families are clearly considering new options and many are seeing the benefits of homeschooling and virtual schooling,” said John Schilling, president of the American Federation of Children, in a statement on the poll’s findings. “Millions of families are seeing the inadequacies of school districts that are too inflexible. We owe it to our nation’s families and students to give them more flexibility and additional educational options.”
Pandemic schooling has certainly brought the school choice issue to the forefront as millions of parents are faced with no other choice but to reconsider alternatives to public schooling. Several states are now considering legislation that would expand public funding and scholarship opportunities for alternative and home schooling.
Earlier this month, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, R, signed into a law a bill that gives parents money to help pay for private or home education.
Eligible recipients can receive funds “equal to 100 percent of the prior year’s statewide average net share aid allotted per pupil based on net enrollment adjusted for state purposes.”
Even as children return to school, the homeschool industry is predicting that the explosion of interest in homeschooling will continue.
A representative from the online learning program Outschool said they’ve seen a 2,000 percent increase in sales from last year. “We expect that the interest in our unique offering will remain, even as schools open up,” the rep told Just the News.
Katherine Hays of curriculum publisher Oak Meadow expects the same even in the 2021/22 school year.
“The distance learning school side of our business is seeing a very clear interest in fall enrollment,” she said. “Applications to our distance learning school are up (by 186% in February) and almost all of the families applying now are looking to begin this summer or in the early fall.”
The observation that America’s public school system is broken is far from original or profound. However, in this highly political and divisive period of American history, millions of parents of all ideological persuasions can find common ground in the knowledge that they are the ones who are best equipped to make educational decisions for their children — not teachers or bureaucrats or politicians.
This may not always result in a decision to homeschool, of course, and that’s just fine, but it is heartening to see so many parents willing to take a hard look at all of their educational options.
We need to remember that this is not about politics, ideology, color, or creed, it is about education — an endeavor that will fail if it does not hold the student at the center.
Homeschooling is growing in popularity because parents are discovering how much better the approach suits a child when meeting that child’s individual needs is the primary goal, something which was true before the pandemic and will remain so afterwards.
But praise the Lord that so many new parents are discovering the benefits of homeschooling for themselves — and for their children.