BUFFALO, NY — The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in what may be the fastest increase in home schooling the United States has ever seen. Two years later, even after the reopening of schools and the generalization of vaccines, many parents have chosen to continue to direct the education of their children themselves.
According to data obtained and analyzed by The Associated Press, homeschooling numbers this year have fallen from last year’s record high, but are still significantly above pre-pandemic levels.
Families who may have turned to homeschooling as an alternative to hastily assembled distance learning plans have stuck to it — reasons include health issues, disagreement with school policies school and the desire to keep what worked for their children.
In 18 states that shared data throughout the current school year, the number of home-schooled students increased by 63% in the 2020-2021 school year, then fell only by 17% during the 2021-2022 school year.
According to the US Census Bureau, about 3% of American students were homeschooled before the surge caused by the pandemic. The surge in numbers has reduced public school enrollment in ways that affect future funding and renewed debates over the degree of homeschooling regulation. What remains unknown is whether this year’s small decrease signals a step back to pre-pandemic levels – or a sign that homeschooling is becoming more common.
Linda McCarthy, a mother of two from suburban Buffalo, says her children will never go back to traditional school.
Unimpressed with classes offered remotely when schools abruptly closed in the spring of 2020, she began homeschooling her fifth and seventh grade children in the fall. McCarthy, who worked as a teacher’s aide, said she knew she could do better herself. She said her kids have thrived on lessons that fit their interests, learning styles and schedules.
“There’s no more homework until the wee hours of the morning, no more tears because we couldn’t get things done,” McCarthy said.
Once a relatively rare practice chosen most often for reasons related to teaching religion, home schooling rapidly grew in popularity after the turn of the century before stabilizing at around 3.3%, or about 2 million students, in the years before the pandemic, according to the Census. Surveys have indicated factors such as dissatisfaction with neighborhood schools, concerns about the school environment, and the appeal of personalizing an education.
In the absence of federal guidelines, there is little consistency in reporting requirements. Some states, including Connecticut and Nevada, require little or no information from parents, while New York, Massachusetts and some others require parents to submit instruction plans and comply with school rules. Evaluation.
The new surge in homeschooling has led state legislatures across the country to consider measures to either relax regulations on homeschooling families or impose new ones — the debates have been going on for years. Proponents of more surveillance point to the potential for undetected cases of child abuse and neglect, while others argue for less in the name of parental rights.
All 28 state education departments that provided homeschooling data to the AP reported homeschooling increased in 2020-21, when infection fears held steady. the closure of many school buildings. Of the 18 states whose enrollment data included the current school year, all but one said homeschooling had declined from the previous year, but remained well above pre-levels. the pandemic. (The exception, South Dakota, recently changed how it collects data).
Minnesota, for example, reported that 27,801 students are currently homeschooled, up from 30,955 in the last school year. Before the pandemic, home school numbers were around 20,000 or less.
Black families constitute many converts to homeschooling. The proportion of black families homeschooling their children quintupled, from 3.3% to 16.1%, from spring 2020 to fall, while the proportion nearly doubled in other groups, according to surveys from the US census.
Raleigh, North Carolina, mother Laine Bradley said the shortcomings of the school system became more apparent to families like hers when remote learning began.
“I think a lot of black families have realized that when we have to go to distance learning, they realize exactly what’s being taught. And a lot of that doesn’t involve us,” said Bradley, who decided to homeschool 7-, 10- and 11-year-olds. “My kids have a lot of questions about different things. I’m like, ‘Didn’t you learn that in school?’ They’re like, ‘No.'”
Bradley, who works in financial services, transformed his dining room into a classroom and rearranged his work schedule to support his children’s education, adding lessons on financial literacy, the history of Black and Caribbean history important to his legacy.
“I can incorporate things that I think they should know,” she said. Her husband, Vince, who retired from the Air Force last year, sometimes steps in. The couple also have a 14-month-old child. They plan to continue home schooling for as long as their children want. Her social media posts about her experience have sparked such interest that Bradley recently created an online community called Black Moms Do Homeschool to share resources and experiences.
Boston University researcher Andrew Bacher-Hicks said the data showed that while homeschooling rates increased in all areas over the past school year, the increase was greatest in school districts that have returned to in-person learning, perhaps before some parents were ready to send their children away. .
He said the same health issues that drove the increases are likely to drive the continued high rates, despite further upheaval in schools as parents and policymakers debate issues around race and gender and what books should be in libraries.
“It’s really hard to disentangle those two things because it’s all sort of happening at the same time,” he said. “But I guess a lot of the decisions to go out of the system have to do with COVID-related issues as opposed to political issues, because those things come up frequently and we’ve never seen an increase in teaching at home rates like this before.”
He said parents might also be concerned about the quality of education provided by schools that have had to rely heavily on substitute teachers due to staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.
McCarthy, the mother from suburban Buffalo, said it was a combination of everything, with the pandemic compounding doubts she once had about the public school system, including her philosophical differences over the need for vaccine mandates. and masks and academic priorities.
The pandemic, she said, “was kind of – they say, the straw that broke the camel’s back – but the camel’s back was probably already broken.”
“There are children who don’t know the basic structure of English but they want to impose other things on the children, and it can be blatant but it can be, and it is above all, very subtle, very, very subtle,” McCarthy said. “So we were ready to take them out and never send them back to the traditional school. It’s just not for us.”
“It’s just a whole new world that’s a much better world for us,” she said.