School Choice

Once Marginalized, Homeschooling Hits the Mainstream

DIY approaches to education—including homeschooling, learning pods, and microschools—are gaining popularity as public schools fold under pressure.

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This week, Chicago Public Schools became the latest large school district to opt for online-only lessons in the fall. It's an attempt to minimize the threat of COVID-19 infection, but it leaves a lot of Chicago families unhappy and—like their counterparts around the country—heading for the exits, in search of options that better suit their needs now and in the future.

It's part of an education revolution poised to leave government schools just one option among many, as once-marginalized approaches such as microschools, teaching pods, and homeschooling become perfectly mainstream.

"Today, after carefully considering advice from public health experts and feedback from many of you, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will begin the year learning at home through the end of the first quarter," CPS leaders announced August 5. "Prior to the beginning of the second quarter, we will assess the state of COVID-19 and the safety of switching to a hybrid learning model similar to what we proposed in our preliminary reopening framework."

Chicago isn't alone in this choice. Thirteen of the biggest government school districts in the country have opted for online-only approaches. Hawaii and New York City public schools propose a hybrid model.

There's certainly a constituency for online-only classes, although preferences vary. In July. Gallup found that 28 percent of parents favor online learning as schools reopen this fall, 36 percent want in-person school, and 36 percent prefer a hybrid model.

But people favoring any educational approach want it done well. And when Chicago Public Schools released data in May, even the best spin couldn't polish unpleasant facts.

"The percentage of students using Google learning tools for remote learning at least once a week has increased from 70 percent during the first week of remote learning (April 13—April 17) to 77 percent during the week of May 11," it reported. That means roughly a quarter of students weren't showing up at all for online classes.

Plenty of public schools suffered similar challenges, leading the Wall Street Journal to conclude: "The results are in for remote learning: It didn't work."

That leaves even many families favoring online classes as dissatisfied as those preferring in-person learning—and not just in Chicago. Across the country, there has been a surge in interest in traditional alternatives such as private schools as well as homeschooling, microschools (which essentially reimagine one-room schools for the modern world), and learning pods (in which families pool kids and resources).

Homeschooling numbers are difficult to track, but North Carolina's website for families announcing plans to homeschool crashed at the beginning of July "due to an overwhelming submission of Notices of Intent." The site continues to experience high demand.

Homeschool filings in Nebraska were up 20 percent as of late July, and in Vermont they increased by about 75 percent over the same time in 2019.

The Texas Homeschool Coalition (THSC), which maintains an online withdrawal tool to help families notify their districts that they'll be homeschooling, reports that it "saw 15 times the number of public school families withdraw from public school through THSC's website to homeschool compared to the number of families who did so in July 2019."

Families that don't have the time or resources to educate their own kids are joining together to create learning pods, and microschools that spread costs, expertise, and responsibilities. Given that families often pool resources only for select subjects, and that wealthier families sometimes hire teachers for their learning pods, the lines are blurry among the various categories of DIY education. But why shouldn't they be blurry? Families aren't interested in imposing rigid models on their kids; they're trying to educate their children and adopting whatever tools and techniques get the job done.

In the past, that kind of experimentation was daunting to many families. Reinventing education is an unwelcome challenge to people already forced to pay taxes to support schools that, in many communities, seemed like safe if uninspiring institutions. Private schools require tuition on top of taxes, and homeschooling takes personal commitment to the process itself as well as to swimming upstream against cultural currents.

Even so, private schools before the pandemic enrolled about 10 percent of U.S. students, publicly funded but privately run charter schools enrolled about 6 percent of students, and homeschooling steadily grew to encompass at least 3.3 percent of students. Those percentages represent millions of families opting out of traditional public schools in good times.

Then came the pandemic, and a massive face-plant by the nation's government-run schools. Now, "23 percent of families who had children attending traditional public schools say they currently plan to send their children to another type of school when the lockdowns are over," according to some admittedly unscientific polling by the Reason Foundation's Corey A. DeAngelis. "Notably, 15 percent of respondents said they would choose to homeschool their children when schools reopen."

Families with kids in charter schools and private schools also plan some reshuffling—with homeschooling the likely big winner in all cases.

The data from states including Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, and Vermont bear out what parents told DeAngelis: DIY education, in various forms, is enjoying a boom in popularity.

Other approaches are sure to emerge as people invent them to meet their needs. And some of the families now trying education alternatives will happily walk away when the crisis is over. They'll go back to what worked for them in the past. But they'll bring their experiences with them. DIY education won't be so strange to families who have done it themselves, and who have increased ranks of friends and neighbors still happily and enthusiastically engaged in homeschooling and its related variants.

Going forward, education is going to be a lot more diverse than in the past. And Americans are going to be much more comfortable with once-marginalized education options that are quickly becoming mainstream.

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  1. “That means roughly a quarter of students weren’t showing up at all for online classes.

    Plenty of public schools suffered similar challenges, leading the Wall Street Journal to conclude: “The results are in for remote learning: It didn’t work.””

    Just so i understand the take here….
    Is it the school system/district’s fault that a kid doesnt show up for online classes? Or is it the parent’s fault? If a kid doesnt show up for school (whether online or in person) that is squarely the fault of the parents.

    Am i supposed to believe that those 25% whose parents couldnt be bothered to have their kid log on to zoom, are going to choose to homeschool and have success at it?

    The kids who will have success homeschooling are going to be the kids with the most engaged parents that have the time and/or resources to homeschool…..those kids would most likely also have successful remote learning outcomes for those exact reasons.

    The problems with disengaged parents who dont make sure their kids give a crap about school don’t suddenly become the school’s fault because they went remote.

    This is just another OP/ED trying to take public dollars for education and diverting it to for-private schooling nothing more

    If a parent

    1. “This is just another OP/ED trying to take public dollars for education and diverting it to for-private schooling”

      First off, those “public dollars” came from the private sector. Secondly, diverting those dollars to *wherever* for the education of a child is a problem… because?

      1. And to answer my own question because public school defenders won’t, it’s a problem because it affects the need for unionized school teachers (read: fewer are required) and the associated hangers-on in administration (ditto).

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      2. Because it takes away resources from the public schools.

        Despite the right wing and libertarian masturbatory dreams….the large majority of Americans want a well funded public education system, not a bunch of commoditized “for profit” schools whose first priority is capturing as many public education dollars as possible and spending as little as possible in order to return profits to shareholders.

        1. Because it takes away resources from the public schools.

          If they gave those resources to public schools, would they do anything with them?

          1. Yes. They’d waste them.

            1. I have worked for public schools for many years and I must agree.
              There is a lot of waste.

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        2. chools whose first priority is capturing as many public education dollars as possible and spending as little as possible

          It doesn’t look like a lot of public school systems are trying to maximize their productivity.

        3. “Because it takes away resources from the public schools.”

          Again- so what? If people are taking their kids out of the public schools, the schools no longer need the tax dollars they’re collecting to educate those kids, do they?

        4. a bunch of commoditized “for profit” schools whose first priority is capturing as many public education dollars as possible and spending as little as possible in order to return profits to shareholders.

          It’s like you’ve only read about private schools in CNN articles or something.

        5. “.the large majority of Americans want a well funded public education system”

          For some values of well funded. The truth is over the last several decades, spending on public education has more than doubled, with no improvement in outcomes.

        6. “Well funded”..for whom? The teachers? Administrators? Private firms that sell to the govt? Oh it’s about the “kids” we always hear. The 20th century proved the utter failure of any centralized approach to anything and yet we have public centralized schools. How about just giving each family a small stipend per kid..they can use it to homeschool or pool together with other families and hire a teacher like the old days. Both my kids finished HS a few years ago and most of it was a waste (and they both did very “well” and earned college degrees in four years)…watered down “easy” classes. Elementary school was a total waste…babysitting and idiotic teaching methods (whole language and “fuzzy math” which as a research scientist I had to teach my kids math myself). I have no faith in the current public education system. We need to break up the centralization and go to very small districts or just a stipend per student for each family.

        7. “Because it takes away resources from the public schools.”
          Good.

    2. The problems with disengaged parents who dont make sure their kids give a crap about school don’t suddenly become the school’s fault because they went remote.

      That’s an interesting way to describe a single mom with four kids who can’t afford to quit her job so she can supervise homeschooling.

      1. Where’s Daddy? Seriously…four kids and no daddy? WTH? Get rid of welfare and you won’t see that anymore

        1. Yeah, a perverse incentive is harder to see otherwise. Thanks, LBJ!

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    4. Only in govt run or regulated industries do prices always go up and outcomes don’t rise (and debt goes up)..banking, healthcare, education…see a pattern here?

  2. “Learning pod”

    Homeschoolers have been doing this for decades. They call it a homeschool cooperative. Everything has to be revamped with a douchey name to be acceptable nowadays

    1. Lots of socialists tell me they want a democratic and decentralized “workplace” like a worker-owned co-op. They seem to have big problems with these homeschool co-ops, which are probably the least hierarchical structure you can have for schooling.

      1. Are these socialists aware that they are completely free to form their worker owned co-op under the existing system?

        I don’t think the problem is that they can’t collectively own their own company, it’s that they can’t collectively steal someone else’s.

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  4. “Today, after carefully considering advice from public health experts and feedback from many of you, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will begin the year learning at home through the end of the first quarter,”

    Chicago kids are more likely to be gunned down in the street than catch COVID.

  5. They want the democratic and decentralize workplaces after violent overthrow of the existing order followed by several decades of totalitarian rule to properly educate the masses in how to participate in worker’s paradise and make sure they don’t get any funny ideas about being individuals. After each and every person that has even the slightest objection has been executed or put into hard labor, the utopia can begin. At this point all members of the ruling regime will go peacefully and quietly into the night, giving up all their power, privileges, wealth and connections, knowing that any evils they committed were for the greater good. Then we can have our totes peaceful, harmonious democratic and decentralized workplaces that will never have to deal with silly old white supremacist ideas like resource scarcity or disagreements about what should be produced.

    ****This is what socialists actually believe****

    1. “****This is what idiots believe that socialists actually believe****”

      Fixed that for you

      1. ^This is what socialist idiots believe^

        FTFY

      2. ***This, at least the first half, is what has really happened in Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, and almost every country in Africa. Socialism never has and never can work, but it would be such a great idea – everyone would be happy!

      3. ^this is what’s known as a ‘useful idiot’

      4. ChicagoTom
        August.7.2020 at 3:21 pm
        “Fixed that for you”

        Lied about it, slaver. Fuck off and die.

  6. People didn’t show up for a half assed curriculum at the start of a pandemic with no warning.

    That’s totally the same as the upcoming school year.

    1. Don’t bet on the public schools being any better prepared for the upcoming school year.

  7. Having worked on both sides of the fence, I amazed at the amount of acrimony raised against either side, not just in theses comments, but throughout the news.
    Just read an article in Forbes about the evils of charter schools, Sure, a default, public school option is necessary to a modern society, but it is good to give people other choices as well. Ironically, in public education, they love saying “one size does not fit all”, though they oppose charter vehemently. Charter schools do not take money from public schools. Public and charter schools are paid per student, in California we call it ADA. So, if the student doesn’t go to a school, why does the local public school deserve the money anyhow just because that is the student’s local school? And don’t preach to me about how it is bad to enrich private companies. Public schools spend a fortune on overpriced textbooks, conferences to improve student outcomes, and buy all sorts of shitty curriculum and equipment with all of our tax dollars, all from private companies.

    With that said, the teachers at your local public school are hardworking, generally idealistic people who believe that education is a gateway to your future success. They aren’t getting rich, and it’s not their fault that education is such a shit show. They aren’t trying to brainwash your kid into a socialist, or make them gay, or godless, or whatever else it is you fear. But I always support your right to send your kid anywhere you like. Hell, I even support the idea of vouchers.

    1. Sure, a default, public school option is necessary to a modern society,

      Citation needed.

  8. Seems that vouchers, vouchers, vouchers, vouchers and vouchers, with no strings attached, might be the answer.

    1. Totally agree, Harvard. Adding some competition to the equation can’t hurt.

    2. You mean letting parents have a CHOICE?!
      The Teacher’s Union will string you up for that, and use the kids as a prop for a vid *proving* they hate you!

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  11. Government’s only competency is in incompetency, and government’s only efficiency is in inefficiency.

    Government schools were an unmitigated and costly failure and petri dishes of parasites and contagion before the pandemic; that they are, now, worse and more dangerous is what it took to break the programing of negligent parents. Better educations, huge savings, cultural bonuses, greater independence, and contagion safety are all to be had as close as home.

  12. Boy oh boy…I can just see the turnaround but he teacher’s unions as more and more kids get homeschooled and finally the folks start to ask what the hell they get for their property taxes. The sad truth is remote schooling isn’t going to work for most kids who don’t have engaged parents..I know a linguistics specialist in an urban school who said once they went to remote in April, 50% of the kids didn’t show up for online classes and these are kids who are in middle school and can’t read very well. In my district if the kids are not going in..well I expect my property taxes to do down (no more paying bus drivers, cafetaria workers and hell all the security and admin they don’t need anymore but that won’t occur as govt workers are NEVER downsized. This should be the final death knell of the current system..just give each parent X dollars and they can educate their kids on their own or like the old days a few families can pool their money and hire a teacher. The 20th century of centralized school systems should come to an end..it didn’t work

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