Buffalo, NY ( Associated Press) — The coronavirus pandemic has seen the fastest growth in homeschooling in America. Two years later, even after schools have reopened and vaccines are widely available, many parents have chosen to continue to self-direct their children’s education.
Homeschooling numbers fell short of last year’s all-time highs this year, but are still well above pre-pandemic levels, according to data obtained and analyzed by the Associated Press.
Families who have turned to homeschooling as an alternative to distance learning plans as soon as possible are stuck with it – reasons include health concerns, disagreements with school policies, and what has worked for their children. Including the desire to keep it.
watch: Homeschooling through the coronavirus pandemic
In the 18 states that share data through the current school year, the number of homeschooling students increased by 63% in the 2020-2021 school year, then declined by only 17% in the 2021-2022 school year.
According to the US Census Bureau, about 3% of American students were homeschooled before the pandemic-induced boom. Increasing numbers have cut public school enrollment in ways that affect future funding and spark renewed debate over how closely homeschooling should be regulated. What is unknown is whether this year’s small decrease indicates a move toward pre-pandemic levels – or a sign that homeschooling is becoming more mainstream.
Linda McCarthy, a suburban Buffalo mother of two, says her children are never going to a traditional school.
Unhappy with lessons delivered from afar, when schools suddenly closed their doors in the spring of 2020, she began homeschooling her fifth and seventh graders. McCarthy, working as a teacher’s aide, said she knew she could do better on her own. She said that her children have progressed with lessons tailored to their interests, learning styles and schedules.
“There’s no more homework until the early morning hours, and no tears because we couldn’t get things done,” McCarthy said.
Once a relatively rare practice chosen most often for reasons related to instruction on religion, homeschooling grew rapidly in popularity in the years before the pandemic, to the level of about 3.3%, or about 2 million students. Census. Surveys have indicated factors including dissatisfaction with neighborhood schools, concerns about the school environment, and appeals to optimize education.
In the absence of federal guidelines, there is little uniformity in reporting requirements. Some states, including Connecticut and Nevada, require little or no information from parents, while New York, Massachusetts, and a few others require parents to submit instruction plans and comply with assessment rules.
The new jump in homeschooling numbers has prompted state legislatures across the country to consider easing rules on homeschooling families or implementing new measures — a debate that has been going on for years. Proponents of greater oversight 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 Associated Press reported that homeschooling accelerated in 2020-21, when fears of infection kept many school buildings closed. Of the 18 states whose enrollment data included the current school year, all except one state said homeschooling had declined over the past year, but was well above pre-pandemic levels. (The exception, South Dakota recently changed the way it collects data).
For example, Minnesota reported that 27,801 students are now being homeschooled, compared to 30,955 during the previous school year. Before the pandemic, homeschool figures were around 20,000 or less.
Many black families homeschool converts. According to US Census surveys, the proportion of black households homeschooling their children increased five-fold from 3.3 percent to 16.1% from spring 2020 to fall, while the proportion doubled in other groups.
Raleigh, North Carolina, mother Line Bradley said the shortcomings of the school system became more apparent to families like her when distance learning began.
Read more: Will black and Asian families return as schools reopen?
“I think a lot of black families felt that when we had to go into distance learning, they realized what was really being taught. And a lot of that doesn’t involve us,” Bradley said, who decided to homeschool her 7-, 10- and 11-year-olds. “My kids have a lot of questions about different things. I’m like, ‘Didn’t you learn this in school?’ They’re like, ‘No.'”
Bradley, who works in financial services, converted her dining room into a classroom and rearranged her work schedule to handle her children’s education, adding important lessons to her legacy on financial literacy, black history and Caribbean history .
“I can incorporate things I think they should know,” she said. Her husband, Vince, who retired from the Air Force last year, steps down several times. The couple also has a 14-month-old child. They plan to continue homeschooling for as long as their kids want. Her social media posts about her experience have drawn so much interest that Bradley recently created an online community called Black Moms Do Homeschool to share resources and experiences.
Boston University researcher Andrew Baker-Hicks said the data showed that while homeschool rates increased across the board during the previous school year, the increase was greater in school districts that returned to individualized learning. , probably before some parents were ready to send their children back. ,
She said that despite additional upheaval in schools, parents and policy-makers debated issues around race and gender and what books should be in libraries, with similar health concerns fueling those increases. Have given.
“It’s really hard to separate these two things because it’s all happening at the same time,” he said. “But my guess is that a large proportion of the decisions to get out of the system are related to issues related to COVID as opposed to political issues, because those things come up often and we have never seen an increase in homeschooling. Such rates before. ,
He added that parents may also be concerned about the quality of education delivered by schools, which have to rely heavily on substitute teachers amid the shortage of staff due to the pandemic.
McCarthy, the mother of suburban Buffalo, said it was a combination of everything, with the pandemic clearing up misconceptions she already had about the public school system, including her philosophies on the need for vaccine and mask mandates and educational priorities. differences were involved.
The epidemic, she said, “was one of a kind—they say the straw that broke the camel’s back—but the camel’s back was probably already broken.”
“There are kids who don’t know basic English structure, but they want to push other things onto kids, and it can be obvious but it can be, and mostly, very subtle, very, very subtle,” McCarthy said. said. “So we set out to drag them and never send them back to a traditional school. It’s not good for us.”
“It’s just a whole new world that’s a better world for us,” she said.