Issue #4: Home-schooling the New Generation

Worried public educator ponders daughter's choice to home school

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Dear Kristin,

Along with several members of my family, I am a retired public school educator. My daughter is talking about home-schooling my granddaughter. Should I be offended or supportive of home schooling?

–Kicked In the Gut

Dear Kicked In the Gut,

My answer is that you can be offended, but you should also be supportive.

That’s it for this week, thanks for reading!

Okay, I have more, obviously. Let me talk about opinions first. I know you didn’t ask if you should share your opinion, but in case you are thinking about doing so, I advise you not to. It’s very likely your daughter doesn’t want your opinion. Did she ask for your opinion? No. Because she knows what it is. Your opinion is irrelevant here, despite your many years educating others. This is how it is, with adult children and their parents. Adult children just want support from their parents, even if they know that their parents may not agree with their child-rearing decisions.

I can help you get on board and support this choice, should she choose to go that route. Home schooling today isn’t like how home-schooling used to be. Much has changed, especially since the pandemic.

Us public school educators really think we have the market cornered on how to educate children, don’t we?  Most people are that way. Most promote whatever system of education they went through as kids (usually while also telling horror stories of the same system). We definitely want to promote that system if we have spent our entire careers in it. Let’s see if my research can help you loosen your grip on public school, just a little. 

Home schooling is now the fastest-growing form of education, according to an article by The Washington Post. They collected data on thousands of school districts across the country. They found that the pandemic helped families see the benefits of learning from home and some never looked back. 40 years ago, this form of education was illegal in most of the country. Now, it’s estimated that between 1.9 to 2.7 million kids are homeschooled in our country.*

Gotta love a data spike!

What’s particularly impressive about this meteoric rise is the deep commitment required to home-school. The entire family unit must shift and make huge changes to take this duty on. It will be interesting to see what the home schooling numbers look like, as we get further away from the pandemic. The expectation was that it would sharply decrease after covid and clearly, it has not. In fact, they found that home schooling has grown in popularity across all demographics, all regions, and even in high-performing school districts. 

Why are families drawn to this mode of education? Some say that what draws them to home schooling is the flexibility of schedule. Brandi Rondinelli at @motherhenshomestead on Instagram uses these guidelines for daily learning, as do many home school parents:

Who else is looking at this and thinking about all of that downtime?

It’s more than scheduling, though. Long gone are the days of solitary religious families, grueling over textbooks for hours on end. Today, home schooling looks more like families coming together, forming cohorts, supporting each other, and sharing curriculum. Online programs have become more robust as well. Children who learn from home are more likely, now, to have exposure to teachers outside of their homes. It’s no longer only the parents doing the educating. Additionally, some cohorts have focused on creating and fostering a school community by organizing clubs, holding dances, and putting on plays/talent shows.

Concerns. As with any system of education, there are going to be issues. And, since you have firsthand knowledge of what constitutes a good education, you also are aware of how it could go wrong.

  • Worried about how your grandchild might perform in college, as compared to non-home-schooled peers? I have your study right here. Home-schooled students had higher GPAs at graduation than those who were not home-schooled.**

  • You might be thinking, yes, but what about socialization? My granddaughter will surely fall short in that area, if she spends the day with her mom, learning from home. Not so. Harvard Researchers found home schoolers, as compared to their public school peers, to be well-adjusted adults. They found them to be more forgiving and more engaged civically. They were more likely to participate in volunteer work and also they were more likely to attend church. This, in turn,  lowers the “. . . risks of alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide.” Okay, now they are just bragging.

  • What about your daughter’s lack of a teaching degree? You need a teaching degree to be a good teacher, right?  Not if you are asking the National Bureau of Economic Research. They found that advanced degrees do not affect student performance. What does have a positive impact on student performance? Teacher experience. No word on whether your bachelor’s in education means anything to anyone, though. I suppose it’s a formality to get your foot in the door so you can gain that experience. (Would be nice if teacher experience was more valued than an advanced degree. Re: my second newsletter, 44% of new teachers quit within the first five years. Must remember to do something about teacher retention . . .)

Advice. Something is going on with home schooling; it’s wildly popular and families love it. I have to admit, as I researched this issue, I found myself pondering, Wait, is this something I should take on? It sounds pretty great. (I should not, my kids’ public school is fantastic and provides for all of their needs, better than I could. Also, neither my youngest son nor I would both be able to survive. I am not sure who would come out on top, probably him.)

As for your daughter and what you can do for her. Find a way to support her, despite your concerns. That doesn’t mean lying to your daughter’s face and saying that you love the idea. It means withholding your opinion and listening to her. Find out what she likes about the home school model. You might be inclined to poke holes in her answer and provide the downside to what she’s choosing. Don’t. Negatives can be found in every mode of education. Eventually, she will find those negatives, herself. 

Instead, focus on what she wants to get out of it and ask her how you can support her. Provide solutions. If you play your cards right, there might be a way for you to be involved. If you want. Perhaps you could come in for guest lessons and presentations? Or you could manage field trips? Maybe you could develop hands-on cooking lessons and experiments? Sharing your interests and expertise with your granddaughter, while she’s at school is pretty special. Not something you would be able to do, should she attend public school. 

Thanks for the question,

–Kristin

*The precise amount of children being home-schooled will not be known until every state mandates reporting. 11 states, at this time, do not require families to report they are home-schooling nor do they require any monitoring for progress. This is a major issue with home schooling, there must be fidelity and accountability. 

**The Harvard study found that fewer home-schooled children were attending college than their peers who attended public school. The researchers speculate that this could be because home-schooled children were finding alternatives to college and/or they ran into barriers when applying to college. They have also found that colleges have started to adapt their admissions policies to be more inclusive of home schoolers.

THAT being said, with such an influx in the number of home schoolers, I suspect the desire for universities to conduct more research. Thus, the funding to support said research in this area will grow exponentially over the next few decades.  With the current lack of mandatory reporting across all states, combined with the Harvard study findings that fewer home-schooled children are attending college, I have some concerns that the numbers may be skewed for the college performance data. They likely compared the cream of the crop home-schooled children against all public school graduates. With time and more research, we may have a more specific portrait of what a home school graduate looks like. That research may someday alleviate concerns about home schooling (or it may prove the concerns right). Nonetheless, what we do know is that home schooling has the potential to be just as effective as what we call “traditional methods of education,” if done with fidelity. 

Please share Ask a Teacher right here. Or, go ahead and sign someone up as revenge. I will take ‘em how I can get ‘em.

Also, I would love to respond to your questions! Give them to me! 

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