It's too early to know whether the pandemic-fueled surge in homeschooling will continue in the coming year, but the early indicators are that do-it-yourself education is here to stay as a popular choice for families from all sorts of backgrounds. Escalating public school battles over masks, in-person teaching, and curriculum content continue to push families to seek options that meet their needs without a fight. That choice is made easier by the proliferation of resources for learning, in many cases at little or no cost.
"With Texas public schools now restarting for the fall semester, interest in homeschooling is already outpacing the all-time records set by the enormous homeschool increase from 2020," the Texas Homeschool Coalition [THSC] announced last month. "Last week, THSC's weekly call and email volume reached 4699, nearly five times the weekly record set by 2020. Before being upset by 2021 numbers, the records set by 2020 had been all-time-highs."
The percentage of students homeschooled in Texas rose to 12.3 percent last year, up from 4.5 percent of students in Spring 2020, the organization pointed out. Nationally, 11.1 percent of students were homeschooled last year, up from 3.3 percent before the pandemic, according to the Census Bureau. (African-American families seem particularly done with schoolroom chaos; 16.1 percent of their kids joined the ranks of the homeschooled).
"It's clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children," Census Bureau researchers Casey Eggleston and Jason Fields noted in March. "From the much-discussed 'pandemic pods,' (small groups of students gathering outside a formal school setting for in-person instruction) to a reported influx of parent inquiries about stand-alone virtual schools, private schools and homeschooling organizations, American parents are increasingly open to options beyond the neighborhood school."
As that observation suggests, necessity and health concerns have led parents to explore alternatives to default public schools and to innovate on their own. But the conflicts that have engulfed government-managed education give students and their parents even more reason to abandon endless arguments in favor of environments where learning takes place according to their values and preferences.
"As summer fades into fall, nearly all of the major issues dividing the country have dropped like an anvil on U.S. schools," The New York Times acknowledged in August. The story noted that "From mask mandates to critical race theory and gender identity, educators are besieged."
Those increasingly frequent battles are an exhausting waste of time and energy. Parents and kids can attend meetings and yell at school board members over COVID-19 protocols they consider ill-conceived, or they can choose a setting where children will flourish. Likewise, they can battle other families over the ideological filter through which America's history and society are interpreted, or they can select instruction along lines that they consider accurate and appropriate.
In fact, ease of delivery represented by the internet along with the surge in demand among homeschoolers has resulted in an embarrassment of riches for those looking for materials that represent their values. The New York Times's revisionist 1619 Project take on America's founding, painting the country as fatally flawed by racism, has been turned into a curriculum that fuels some of today's classroom conflict. But those seeking something different can adopt alternatives including Hillsdale College's brand-new 1776 Curriculum, which offers K-12 lessons that portray the country and its founding in a rather more positive light and are also free to download and use.
Fortunately, not everything is (yet) consumed by politics, though we're getting closer to that point every day. Non-ideological resources include Khan Academy's free and widely praised offerings in math and other fields, the American Chemical Society's free chemistry lessons and resources for elementary, middle, and high-schoolers, and the free texts, study guides, and analyses of the Bard's work offered at Shakespeare Online. Not everything is available without a charge, of course, but the range of offerings and sources means that there's something for pretty much everybody (I maintain an online list, far from complete, of homeschooling resources).
Learning opportunities can also come from unexpected quarters in a world of surging homeschooling, microschools, pandemic pods, and creative ad hoc arrangements. After we recently pulled our son out of his private school to return to DIY education (it's a great school, but a grueling commute) the family of one of his former classmates, who switched to homeschooling last year, reached out to propose sharing the cost of hiring a retired professor for a creative-writing course. We were about to look for something along those lines anyway, and this gave us an opportunity to help custom-design a class to our specifications.
Unsurprisingly, choosing what works for you instead of fighting with administrators, teachers, and other families tends to be reflected in higher rates of satisfaction. "Private School and Home School Parents are more strongly satisfied than District School Parents," the monthly survey performed by Morning Consult for EdChoice consistently finds. In the latest report, 60 percent of private school parents say they are "very satisfied" with their children's experience, compared to 54 percent of homeschoolers, 47 percent of charter school parents, and 37 percent of district school parents (all learning categories are in positive territory when you add those who are "somewhat satisfied," though district parents still lag).
That same report found that some homeschooling families planned to return to traditional classrooms this school year, but that was before arguments and even shoving matches became a recurring feature of school board meetings. It was also before teachers' unions returned to claiming absolute dominion over public schools and their policies and mocking parents who object.
"You can recall the Governor. You can recall the school board. But how are you going to recall me?" Cecily Myart-Cruz, the head of United Teachers Los Angeles, snickered in an interview with Los Angeles Magazine.
Ultimately, teachers' unions may find themselves presiding over hollow shells, especially if the impetus continues to grow for letting funding follow students instead of remaining linked to institutions. After all, what matters is that the kids learn, not that they learn in a government-owned building from a protected class of people. Families looking for alternatives to struggling public schools turned battlefields of culture war have more options than ever, and that includes homeschooling made increasingly easy.