DIY education is on the rise


During the pandemic, My Reflection Matters grew from 300 to over 900 members, numbers that fit a larger trend. The last United States Census Survey households with school-aged children, released in March, found that the proportion of home-schooled students rose from around 3.3% before the pandemic to 5.4% in spring 2020 and again to 11 , 1% in fall 2020. (The survey question clarified that respondents did not confuse home schooling with virtual education in a traditional public or private school.) The increase has been particularly dramatic. for black families, among whom home education increased from 3.3% to 16.1% between spring and fall. Meanwhile, nationwide public school enrollment fell 3% for the 2020-21 school year – the biggest drop since World War II – as some 1.5 million students have left for homeschooling or private schools or have simply dropped out.

National figures for the current school year are not yet available, but this month National public radio compiled data from 600 districts across the country and found that most enrollments recorded in fall 2021 were even lower than last year. And while the census has yet to release new data, home schooling rates also appear to have remained higher than they were before the pandemic. “It’s hard to pin down the exact number of homeschooled children,” says Michael McShane, a researcher with educational choices advocacy group EdChoice, who found that 9% of a representative sample of American families planned to educate their children at home during the period 2021-2022. school year. “But by all accounts, it looks like the pandemic has caused a surge. “

Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise. School closures linked to the pandemic have thrown families into chaos, and although nearly every public school in America has reopened in person this fall, classes are still ongoing. canceled on short notice for reasons which include insufficient staff, bad student behavior, threats of violence, COVID epidemics and mental health respite. Once federal pandemic relief funds are exhausted, the effect of declining enrollment will be felt in school budgets, which will likely lead to further disruption. And if these trends prove to be lasting, the consequences could be severe not only for our schools but for American democracy itself.

Our education system has never worked perfectly. African American, Latino and Indigenous children have long been particularly underserved. Yet in a fragmented society where common cultural points of contact are increasingly scarce, school has always, for better or for worse, forced young people to mix with others who have different points of view. different. Historically, it is also a place where we expose the next generation to the broader values ​​of society, even though the precise nature of those values ​​is never fully established. What then happens when more and more parents withdraw their children from a municipal education?

Gone for good?

“I got into this because I didn’t have a good experience at school, and then I saw my children in difficulty,” explains Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, an advocacy group. rights to pressure public schools to better meet the needs of families. , especially those from poor and minority communities. “We have created a public education system that is really addicted to the status quo. “

The National Parents Union receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation and other philanthropic organizations that have historically supported school choice, including charter schools and vouchers. During the pandemic, he channeled $ 700,000 in direct grants for technology, training and supplies for homeschooling families, co-ops and learning modules, in which families pool their resources to hire a private teacher. Many of these parents saw the pandemic as an opportunity to take a step they had been considering for some time.

“They were already concerned about the education of their children,” Rodrigues says. “They were worried about bullying or racism. Now they have experienced self-determination, they have seen that they can do it on their own, and they are voting with their feet. If you think you can do better, if you have that option, you’re going to take it.

Keri Rodrigues de Somerville is president of the National Parents Union.Lane Turner / Globe Staff

Rodrigues, who lives in Somerville and sends her five sons to public and parish schools, believes there will always be a place for traditional schools, if only because parents need child care. But she also argues that more families following their own path will pressure public schools to better meet the needs of the children who remain. This idea has been at the heart of educational reform efforts for decades, and there is some evidence that competition can increase test scores in public schools.

While the current education crisis offers an opportunity for innovation, some are already seizing it. Newton-based KaiPod Learning is a startup that provides physical space and learning coaches for small groups of children taking online classes, a program that offers part of adult socialization and supervision. traditional schools while allowing students to work at their own pace. Another company, Prenda, offers training and support to help parents set up ‘micro-schools’ in homes or community centers – more than 400 nationwide by fall 2020. Combiner.)

Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a Seattle-based think tank, has studied the ways families and schools have adjusted to disruption during the pandemic. She sees home schooling and learning modules as a potential ‘salon lab’ for education in general, encouraging not only tech startups but mainstream schools to experiment. This is already happening in districts like public schools in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, where – inspired by the modules the district ran to facilitate virtual classes during the pandemic – a new ‘Hub and Spoke’ program allows students to spend half of their time in basic classes at traditional schools, then join small interest-based groups or study individually with learning coaches. High school students can even leave campus entirely to complete internships and obtain school credits.

“Usually our systems are not configured for this,” admits Lake. “But is it possible? We just need to start thinking more creatively about staffing, seat time requirements and schedules. The return of families who have left public schools, she said, “will depend on whether public education takes and responds to the concerns of these families and students seriously.”

The trend of home schooling could cause schools to try new things, but some argue that this also comes with serious risks. Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard Law School professor who studies child protection, supports “an alleged ban on homeschooling” with exceptions only for parents who can demonstrate a legitimate need. Right now, few states in the US have testing, teacher certification, or even compulsory subject requirements for home students. Bartholet attributes the lack of oversight to a long lobbying campaign that Christian conservatives have launched in the wake of desegregation efforts in the mid-20th century and remove religion from public schools.

Mainstream conservatives still hope to influence public school curricula (witness the furious claims around critical race theory). But home schooling helps far-right parents avoid exposing their children to ideas like gay rights or equality on the basis of race and gender, on which the majority of Americans are. now generally agree. Some use textbooks, for example, which contain revisionist history in which slavery was only “black immigration” and white Southerners formed the Ku Klux Klan “to protect.” . . their society of anarchy.

“The state also makes mistakes,” says Bartholet, “but I don’t think that means we should just give up on the idea that it has the right and the obligation to educate children about the nature of life. society as a whole and its values. “

Judging by recent statistics, home schooling as primarily the domain of conservative white evangelicals may be an outdated idea. But homeschooled families who fear public schools will serve black and brown children well may also be motivated by ideology. Ethnographic to research by Professor Cheryl Fields-Smith of the University of Georgia, for example, found that black homeschooling families often see it as “a vehicle of resistance to institutionalized racism.”

A black or Latino parent who joins My Reflection Matters, accessing a like-minded online community – as well as curriculum products such as “The ABCs of the Black Panther Party” – is very different from one who teaches his daughters that they must submit to the men in their lives or that the civil war was a fight for the rights of states. Both families, however, see public schools as a barrier to efforts to instill their own values ​​in their children. As a heated debate over how to teach racism, gender, and American history unfolds nationally, there are families on both sides who have left the conversation.

This instinct is understandable, given that the national conversation can seem increasingly toxic and unproductive. After all, parents with financial means have always had alternatives – although, as with public school, attending even the most solid private school involves learning alongside others with whom one could not. -be not chosen to spend time. But if we normalize and expand homeschooling, are we tacitly embracing a future in which Americans remain isolated within their political or identity groups and where fewer children spend time learning to live with others who do not share their views?

After nearly two years of education disrupted by a pandemic, after decades of racial and socio-economic achievement gaps, it makes sense that many parents are looking for alternatives to public schooling. They may be correct in saying that it is the responsibility of schools themselves to attract families by striving to meet the needs of each child. But what is clear is that in a pluralistic and democratic society there is a lot at stake if people forgo communal public education.

Amy Crawford is a freelance reporter in Michigan. Follow her on twitter @amymcrawf.


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