COVID-19’s Surprise Effect: More Parents Are Interested in Home Schooling

COVID-19’s Surprise Effect: More Parents Are Interested in Home Schooling
(AP Photo/David Vincent)

This spring, the American education system crash-landed on the kitchen table of the average American family. Conventional wisdom is that the sudden shift to emergency home schooling has been daunting or downright overwhelming for most families. However, a recent poll by RealClear Opinion Research indicates that a surprising number of parents are, in fact, more likely to consider home schooling or a virtual online school once the lockdowns are over.

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Schools scrambled to move classes online when the COVID-19 crisis hit. But, for many families, emergency home schooling during the pandemic has been largely a disaster, with low-quality, hastily thrown together virtual classes, and reports of low participation among students. News outlets have been full of stories about how stressful the experience has been for American families.

But those stories may have been a bit misleading. Because four out of 10 parents in our poll say they are more likely to consider home schooling after the lockdown.

We asked 626 registered voters, “Are you more or less likely to enroll your son or daughter in a home school, neighborhood home school co-op, or virtual school once the lockdowns are over?” In response, 40.8% said they were more likely to choose one of the alternative schooling methods, while 31.1% said they were less likely to do so.

While home schooling is often associated with conservative or religious families, surprisingly, there seems to be no significant difference here with respect to party affiliation. In fact, Democrats were slightly more likely (45.7%) to express increased interest in home schooling, compared to Republicans (42.3%).

The data gets even more interesting when you look at the breakdown by ethnicity. Only 36.3% of whites said they were more likely to choose home schooling, and just 38.2% of Hispanics. That number was much higher for blacks (50.4%) and Asian Americans (53.8%).

For parents who feel more favorable about home schooling post-lockdown, the question is: Why?

I can think of a couple possible explanations. First, it could be that many parents are getting a closer look at their children’s curriculum, some perhaps for the first time, and they are alarmed by what they see. They fear that quality of education they are seeing on their kids’ Zoom classes is emblematic of what’s normally offered.

When it came to moving instruction online, some states and school districts were more prepared than others. Florida, for instance, has invested a lot in online schooling over the past two decades and had the advantage of that experience and infrastructure. Florida has even exported its state-run virtual school to students in other states during the pandemic. My brother, who lives in the state, told me that his kids’ transition to online education was quick and relatively seamless. In Tennessee, by way of contrast, where my kids are enrolled, it was a different story. Implementation of online schooling was slow and stumbling. Instruction consisted largely of optional online assignments that in no way duplicated the level of instruction the students were supposed to receive in the classroom. My seventh grade daughter seemed mostly bored and disengaged.

A second possible explanation for increased interest in home schooling may have to do with fear of the virus itself. Those respondents see the coronavirus as a long-term crisis that won’t go away any time soon. They wish to minimize their kids’ potential exposure to the virus even after the lockdowns end. They don’t think schools are safe. In other words, some parents may see home schooling as less risky.

Harvard came under some criticism recently over a conference it was set to host that was critical of home schooling. One of the organizers, law professor Elizabeth Bartholet, believes home schooling should be banned. Ironically, that conference was canceled due to the pandemic, while, at the same time, the COVID-19 school closings have shifted parents’ views about home schooling and virtual schooling in a more positive direction.

Will the current shift in attitudes about home schooling have a lasting impact on education in America? It is important to note that a majority of parents surveyed said they expected life to “return to normal” within six months. On the other hand, 13% thought it will take more than a year, and 5% said life would “never” return to normal. Whether the current positive shift of opinion on home schooling and virtual schooling actually results in more parents choosing these options for the children over the long term—that’s the big unanswered question.

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