While homeschooling has been steadily growing in popularity for decades, the past two years have brought on an explosion. It seems that a pandemic, a mature internet, and an increased awareness among parents have provided the perfect storm for millions of parents to take matters into their own hands.
I asked Kerry McDonald, a senior education fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education and author of “Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom,” about the variety of educational options available today and for her advice for those working their way through the decision to homeschool. Here’s what she said.
The Epoch Times: The number of families opting for an alternative to public school has skyrocketed over the past couple of years. What do you think are the most significant factors driving this shift?
Kerry McDonald: In the spring of 2020 when schools shut down and went online, parents were able to see for the first time what was actually happening in their children’s classrooms. Many of them didn’t like what they saw and were motivated to explore other education possibilities beyond an assigned district school.
As schools remained shuttered for the 2020/2021 academic year, parents felt empowered to take back control over their children’s education. In record numbers, they pulled their children out of district schools for private education options, including homeschooling, which doubled in 2020 to more than 11 percent of the overall K–12 school-age population. Despite schools reopening for full-time in-person learning this fall, homeschooling and private school numbers remain high, while public schooling enrollment falls in many areas.
The Epoch Times: When people think of homeschooling, they may envision a mom and her children gathered around the kitchen table as they work through multiplication or make a volcano with baking soda and vinegar. In reality, the variety of educational choices has widened significantly, and the various alternatives look different to different families. What options should parents be aware of if they’re thinking of pulling their kids out of public school?
Ms. McDonald: Homeschooling is really a catch-all term for a whole host of schooling alternatives. Legally, it means that parents, not schools or districts, are in charge of overseeing a child’s education. In practice, it includes a wide variety of instructional approaches and educational philosophies, ranging from replicating school at home to allowing children’s interests to guide their learning using an array of digital and community-based resources to enrolling a child full time in a local learning center or micro-school—and everything in between!
The Epoch Times: What advice would you give parents who find themselves dissatisfied with their children’s current school and looking to make a change?
Ms. McDonald: You have more educational options available to you than you may think! Learning pods, homeschool co-ops, learning centers and micro-schools, education startups focused on supporting schooling alternatives, and a growing community of homeschooling families are creating and catalyzing new models and methods for K–12 learning.
The Epoch Times: The explosion in homeschooling has also expanded opportunities for teachers. Teachers who find themselves disenchanted with the public school system have been offering their services to the growing homeschool market. What advice would you give a teacher [who would] like to capitalize on this opportunity?
Ms. McDonald: Some teachers realized during last year’s school closures that they could earn more money with fewer hours and more flexibility by serving as a tutor for learning pod families or by launching their own micro-school. Today, as teacher burnout grows due to ongoing school coronavirus policies and staffing shortages, more teachers are choosing to leave their public school classroom, but not their profession. Instead, they are starting or joining micro-schools, offering their services as tutors and learning guides, and becoming more entrepreneurial in their approach to education. It’s a great time for teachers to become education entrepreneurs! Parental demand for more and better learning options for their children has never been higher.
The Epoch Times: To the parent about to pull his or her child out of the public school system, but feeling a bit nervous about their decision, what would you say to encourage them?
Ms. McDonald: Now is the ideal moment for parents to experiment with a different learning model for their children. Public schools remain mired in burdensome coronavirus policies and procedures, and some schools are moving back to online learning for part of the school week. This is aggravating parents and could be just the nudge they need to opt out of the public system.