MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: record rates of homeschooling.
Schools across the country are juggling all sorts of pandemic problems: state mask orders, mandatory COVID-19 testing protocols, and social distancing requirements, to name a few. Many parents are frustrated with all the new rules.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: That has led to a surge in families choosing to educate their children at home. WORLD correspondent Laura Edghill has our story.
LAURA EDGHILL, REPORTER: Claire Taylor happily sent her two sons to their local public school in Midlothian, Texas, last year. But that all changed this summer when state officials unveiled pandemic protocols for the fall.
Eight-year-old Rhett and 6-year-old Reed would have to keep a safe social distance from their classmates and avoid many activities that make education engaging but also require close contact. They also faced the threat of sudden school closures if community virus cases spiked.
Taylor turned to a friend and veteran home educator for advice.
TAYLOR: She has homeschooled for years and when this all kind of happened, I called her all like “Oh, what do I do?” And because she’s been homeschooling I think for eight years and she said “You’re already a homeschool mom!” She’s like “You read with the kids, all the stuff you do, you already are! So don’t worry about it.” And I was like, OK, that’s kind of what got me started actually, like “Hey, I think I kind of am, yeah!”
Taylor and her husband ultimately decided if the boys could end up at home anyway, they might as well take the plunge completely.
TAYLOR: I like to kind of have my ducks in a row. And I just kind of felt like if I’m going to be doing this, then I want to control what my kids are learning and what curriculum they’re following.
The coronavirus outbreak—and the uncertainty it has caused in school districts across the nation—prompted thousands of families like the Taylors to homeschool their children for the first time this fall.
States use different methods to count homeschoolers, but experts generally estimate 2.5 million school-aged students learned at home before the pandemic. That’s a little more than 3 percent of all schoolchildren.
It will take some time to calculate this year’s numbers. But most industry experts predict the population of homeschoolers will swell considerably, potentially as much as double the current level.
Jeremy Newman is director of public policy for the Texas Home School Coalition. It helps families like the Taylors make the switch to home education.
NEWMAN: The shift towards homeschooling is going to be somewhere between large and enormous. I don’t know exactly where, but it’s going to be big.
The Texas Education Association’s release of back-to-school guidelines in July proved the tipping point for many families in the Lone Star State. Schools had to provide daily, in-person instruction to any student who wanted it along with a host of now-familiar pandemic procedures like requiring students to mask up for class. Parents expressed concern about being left high and dry due to sudden closures, while others worried about exposing students to the virus and transmitting it to vulnerable family members.
NEWMAN: Parents were just having none of it. It was too onerous for a lot of parents is what it came down to. And so within 24 hours of when the TEA announced those guidelines, our call and email volume doubled. And it was parents, asking “How can I start homeschooling right now?”
Newman also said the number of downloads of public school withdrawal forms from the organization’s website skyrocketed by 1,500 percent in July and another 400 percent in August.
Other states also saw surges in homeschooling requests this summer. In North Carolina, the website that handles new homeschool paperwork crashed just days after opening for fall submissions due to unexpectedly high volume. And Vermont’s Agency of Education website currently warns of a five- to six-week processing time for new homeschooling applications. They were already up 75 percent from last year by mid-July.
Jeremy Newman says he’s not surprised by the surge in interest.
NEWMAN: I think that’s the reason that people are flocking towards it is because it offers stability and flexibility at the same time. And those are the two things that just totally went out the window in the traditional system.
Taylor says she’s enjoying the switch. She quickly connected with other “newbies,” and joined a homeschool co-op that meets one day a week in a local church. She appreciates both the stability and flexibility that Newman describes.
TAYLOR: One of the things, we go every day right around 10:30, we have a snack and we go for a walk and the kids ride their bikes. And some days Daddy gets to go! And that was one of the things, when we asked them after the first couple weeks, “What’s your favorite thing?” and they were like “the walk, and Daddy gets to go.” And so then we were like “We’re doing that every day now.”
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Laura Edghill.