September 11, 2020
Chaos is the word for school in the fall of 2020.
Pleasant Grove High School recently announced it would be shifting students online after an outbreak of COVID-19 among students. And only days later, two Utah charter schools also announced that they will be closing in-person class and moving all online. With storm closures and other challenges mixed in, the inconsistency is daunting.
For some parents of K-12 students, this reality may be prompting more serious consideration of homeschooling.
Sutherland reached out to some of Utah’s veteran homeschooling parents to learn from their experience.
Here are three key takeaways.
1. As your child’s first teacher, you are more qualified to provide homeschool than you think.
Each homeschooling parent with whom we chatted shared this similar encouragement: You have long been your child’s first teacher, and you know best your children’s needs – academic, emotional, social, and otherwise. These are crucial qualifications that parents can feel confident in as they step into the homeschooling space. As one veteran Utah homeschooling mom said, “Until public school came along, mothers always taught their children.”
While historically that is true, some parents still feel intimidated by the rigors of schooling today, especially when they don’t know a certain subject well enough to teach it. To that, homeschooling parents explained that if a parent doesn’t know a subject, they can study curriculum materials to sharpen up on those subjects, hire personal tutors, or access recorded lectures.
The idea that parents are a child’s first teachers is supported by the American legal framework as well. For instance, the U.S. Constitution protects the fundamental right for parents to raise and educate their children as they see fit. The parent’s role as teacher and guide in education is also codified in Utah statute. Included in this is a parent’s right to teach their children or choose from among education options for their child.
2. You don’t need to replicate the public school structure. There are different ways to educate.
A second common takeaway among many homeschool parents is this paradigm shift – the realization that homeschool doesn’t have to look like the public school day or classroom.
One homeschooling mom put it this way, “Education and schooling are not the same thing; my job is to help my child become educated in what really matters. Schooling is merely one of the tools that might help us get there.”
Learning is an inherent human ability. Curiosity and student interest have often paved the way to great learning. Even structured curriculum can be delivered to individuals in a personalized way with emphasis and pacing dependent on the individual student’s needs rather than the average pace of the classroom. The mode of schooling in public schools is not the one right way to approach education.
This same mom also pointed out that homeschool education can include things like “online courses, local classes, video series, neighbors, extended family, printed curriculum, museums, and websites.”
In fact, the school day as we know it did not always exist. Age-based cohorts with roughly 50-minute periods per topic is a tradition of the past 200 years or so. The point is, it’s okay to give yourself as a new homeschooling family (and those interested in it) the space to think differently about education, specifically the relationship between formal schooling traditions and the broader concept of education.
Of course, homeschooling parents must follow the laws of the state they’re living in. There is plenty of information out there specific to Utah. (For instance, you need a signed affidavit in Utah.) From there, homeschooling can include a wide range of creative learning models. That’s the beauty – and very often the point – of choosing homeschooling.
3. Homeschooling is more affordable and doable than you think.
Another important takeaway from homeschooling parents is that the switch to homeschooling doesn’t have to break the bank.
Many homeschooling parents are rightly troubled by the fact that they pay twice for their children’s education. Families first pay for the public system – which they opt out of – and then pay out-of-pocket for the homeschooling curriculum. It’s an unfortunate reality based on current state public policy, which could be alleviated in part by policies like homeschooling tax credits or education savings accounts, which mimic some homeschooling features by allowing parents to access private sources with public funds dedicated to their child.
Still, traditional homeschooling can be less expensive than some might think. First of all, many online resources are free. Structures like co-ops and commonwealths (more formalized homeschooling groups) can be affordable to join (sometimes a couple hundred for a family with multiple kids). And some families have even created “pandemic pods” in response to the pandemic, which means families pool their resources to pay for instruction and supplies for their kids. Utah families have likewise tried these “pods” with varying degrees of success.
Some families need the benefits of homeschooling, but diving into the full homeschooling model isn’t a good fit for them. These families might be interested in some unique public school innovations. Alpine Online School is a program run by Alpine School District that is designed for families that are inclined to homeschool but feel that they need support from a certified teacher. My Tech High is a public/private partnership option available through Tooele, Nebo and Iron County school districts that makes it financially doable for families to access a unique range of educational choices outside of the traditional classroom.
And, importantly, there are robust systems of online support and veteran mentors to guide first-time homeschooling parents. Most homeschoolers say the best first step is to hop on social media and find local homeschooling groups in the area to connect and learn more.
To parents considering some version of homeschooling because it might be the best fit in uncertain times, but lack confidence to do so – take heart. There is encouragement and help for you if you make that choice.
A better way is both possible and doable. We just have to be willing to be the kind of people who can accomplish it.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a significant religious freedom decision this morning, with all the justices concluding that the city of Philadelphia violated the constitutional rights of a religious foster care agency, Catholic Social Services, when it “stopped referring children to CSS upon discovering that the agency would not certify same-sex couples to be foster parents due to its religious beliefs about marriage.”
New education survey data released by Sutherland Institute show that while parents may not always have a high opinion about curriculum, Utah parents have a high opinion of their kids’ teachers. Even better, parents and teacher share many opinions when it comes to civics education and how to improve it.