Over the last century, with the introduction of compulsory attendance and development of the modern public education system, teachers have largely held the responsibility of educating America's youth. COVID-19 brought about the shuttering of our nation's schools and education was very quickly thrust into the spotlight as parents found themselves back at the helm.
The sudden closure of schools brought about a cascade of consequences educators, parents and government officials were forced to triage. The bulk of this responsibility fell to parents, as they worked to fit a titan of a system into a quickly-changing scenario, with contradicting information, within the fluid environment of a home.
Though these efforts were nothing short of heroic and should be celebrated, the result has left many parents with a sense of trepidation as fall approaches.
As we approach the new academic year, homeschooling has taken on a new level of interest. In fact, a national poll completed in May indicated that 40% of parents were more likely to homeschool after the lockdown ends.
Across the nation, parents are seeking out information that will help minimize the negative impact COVID-19 has on their children's education. Though they will ultimately have to weigh the options and choose the best fit for their family, there are a number of considerations for each.
District-directed learning and virtual academies
As mandates are passed down by governors, school districts are working to determine how to implement safety measures while balancing the educational needs of their students. As of now, district-directed learning hasn't been fully fleshed out across the country as the plans are contingent on COVID numbers. Interest in virtual academies are at an all-time high, as parents are looking for options that won't be impacted by rising COVID numbers. Virtual academies provided public education from state-certified teachers, adhering to the same testing, attendance, and accountability standards as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
Among the benefits of district-directed and virtual learning is adherence to curriculum standards and special education guidelines. Students are expected to attend classes where they will interact with their teachers and receive feedback on their progress. Parents are expected to help facilitate learning and adhere to the structure of the school system.
Though there are a number of homeschool curriculums that effectively "copy and paste" the structure of public education into the home environment, the foundation of homeschool is built with the child and family center. To these ends, it's highly individualized and fluid. For those who are new to homeschooling, there are a number of considerations to help guide you.
Homeschool is regulated at the state level, meaning that each state has different requirements. Research is key for military families. Home School Legal Defense Association has a number of resources regarding state and special education laws. Additionally, homeschool families will often utilize an umbrella school for guidance to complete their state requirements, making a potential return to public school easier.
Homeschool curriculums cover a wide range of educational philosophy. From classical style to unschooling, there is a curriculum fit for every family. Most families use multiple curriculums depending on the need and number of children. Some curriculums have module-based learning where students access videos, relieving some of the pressure from parents. Many curriculums are designed with multiple grades in mind, allowing for families to teach certain subjects to multiple-level learners at once. There are online curriculum quizzes designed by veteran homeschoolers to help you find your best fit.
One point that tends to take public-school parents by surprise is the amount of time many homeschoolers dedicate to desk-work. Overall, homeschoolers spend a fraction of the time at a desk compared to their public-school peers. Additionally, the rate with which homeschoolers move through the material is highly individualized. For instance, if the curriculum provides 20 lessons on a certain topic, but the student has demonstrated mastery in 7, they move forward to the next concept. Conversely, if a student is struggling, parents are able to recognize it and take additional time to help ensure success.
Though families are also facing tough decisions about how to proceed in the fall, co-ops have historically been sources of a great community and learning among homeschoolers. The size and design of each co-op vary greatly as each community serves a different purpose. Though many co-ops are also awaiting further guidance smaller gatherings may continue to have fewer restrictions. Additionally, you can connect with a few like-minded families and create a co-op, allowing your students to continue to have a social connection with peers during this time.
Though the circumstances that have led us to this point have been, in many ways, catastrophic; parents should be empowered by policy and lawmakers to make the best educational decisions for their children. At a time when uncertainty is the only constant, embracing alternative forms of education may just be the thing that allows this generation of students to excel.
Nichole is a doctoral-level Board Certified Behavior Analyst, professor, and school psychologist with a specialization in education law and policy. A homeschooling mom of four and Marine spouse of 13 years, Nichole and her husband are stationed outside of Washington, D.C.