According to the Education Week survey, it’s lower-income families who are more likely to be choosing homeschooling during the pandemic. This challenges the continued criticism that “pandemic pods” and other family-centered learning models are only options for more privileged families. Indeed, as the New York Times pointed out in July in response to these criticisms, “the population of home-schoolers — before the pandemic — was less affluent than average.”
Public School Enrollment Plummets
Driven in large part by new homeschoolers, public schools across the country are experiencing plummeting enrollment. For instance, in Arizona, public school enrollment is down five percent compared to last year, and in Massachusetts it's down four percent.
Declining enrollment in public schools has some people worried. State funding of public schools is often directly related to the number of students enrolled in these schools. With the recent public school exodus, states like Texas and California have decided to freeze enrollment at pre-pandemic levels to maintain school funding rates. But many parents and taxpayers may be getting frustrated that public schools continue to receive full funding while, in many cases, not offering their full education services for students. This could partly explain why parent support for school choice has soared during the pandemic.
According to a recent RealClear Opinion Research poll, support for school choice policies that encourage funding to follow students instead of schools has jumped 10 percent since April, to 77 percent.
Sustained Surge in Homeschooling
With a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, hopes of returning to normal life are higher than they were at the start of this academic year. Many of the families who recently withdrew their children from a district school in favor of homeschooling or private schooling will likely return to their district when the pandemic ends and standard schooling resumes. But some families may find that they prefer their new learning options.
Some of the now nearly five million homeschoolers and their parents may discover that they weren’t so fond of standard schooling after all and appreciate the freedom, creativity, and flexibility that homeschooling offers.
Parents I have interviewed told me that they had been considering homeschooling for a long time but lacked the catalyst to give it a try until now. Seeing their children flourish outside of a conventional classroom could lead many of these parents to continue homeschooling post-pandemic. As an article in The Atlantic stated: “COVID-19 is a catalyst for families who were already skeptical of the traditional school system—and are now thinking about leaving it for good.”
Once life returns to normal, new homeschoolers may also discover that real homeschooling is much better than the pandemic version they have experienced. Local homeschooling groups will regain their full vitality and sociability. Museums, libraries, and local businesses and organizations will return to offering their suite of homeschooling classes. Daily activities will take place more often outside one’s home than inside it, and homeschoolers will once again be deeply connected to the people, places, and things of their communities.
This fall, millions of new homeschooling parents have realized that their children can learn without school. When the world reopens to them, they will find that homeschooling is even better than they imagined.