July 6, 2020
Recently Gov. Gary Herbert approved the Utah state school board’s plan to reopen public schools for the upcoming school year. Districts are currently conducting focus groups to discover what families and employees need to safely return.
With such a range of unique needs and concerns, parents, teachers and other education leaders should consider widespread access to hybrid homeschooling.
Hybrid homeschooling allows for students to spend part of the week learning in a traditional public school classroom and part of it learning at home.
Last semester’s unexpected experiment with schooling at home revealed that remote learning – at least as far as it could be implemented in an emergency – has mixed results. But it also exposed families to the benefits of having parents more involved with their children’s education.
Even prior to the pandemic, homeschooling had been growing in popularity. The number of homeschooled children doubled from 1999 to 2016. More than 3% of America’s student population is homeschooled. Still, many families want the resources, structure and expertise of the education profession and public schools.
Flexible approaches, like hybrid homeschooling, can offer the best of both worlds.
Consider three of the potential benefits from hybrid homeschooling:
1. Improves public health and safety
As infections continue to spike across the state, one of the top priorities in education decision–making for the fall is the safety and health of all Utahns.
State leaders are working to find safe ways to return students to school. Herbert recently welcomed 500,000 masks for students and teachers who will be heading back to school this fall. The education community has brainstormed using staggered schedules or shared delivery, which is part online and part in-classroom content delivery. Reducing the number of students and teachers who congregate in shared spaces on any given school day can help achieve adequate social distancing in schools.
Hybrid homeschooling may help offer the benefits state leaders are seeking with these efforts. Because hybrid homeschooled students would spend a significant chunk of time at home rather than at school, it decreases the number of students in the classroom on a given day, allows desks to be spaced sufficiently to reduce spread of the virus, and perhaps reduces the number of masks needed.
2. Offers varied expertise from professional educators and from parents
By nature, parents are their children’s first teachers. They are the adults most acquainted with how their children learn as well as the child’s strengths, weaknesses and interests when it comes to learning. Parents are also the most informed about the values that ought to be taught and the environments to which their children should be further exposed.
However, the reality is some parents do not feel equipped to teach more advanced coursework like calculus or chemistry, or even more basic subjects like reading and writing. Parents often rely on the expertise of trained educators to teach this content and need the resources teachers can provide.
Hybrid homeschooling allows parents to determine the subjects they feel most comfortable teaching and those courses they prefer someone else teach. This is not unlike parents who enroll students in a public school but also request release time for certain hours of the school day or homeschooling families who use online courses led by instructors. Making selections in this way reinforces the reality that parents have the primary responsibility for their children’s education. State or public options are just among the offerings available. Choosing from these offerings means that parents are creating an education that works best for each individual student.
3. Increases flexibility for education in the future
One of the most obvious benefits of hybrid homeschooling is the flexibility it brings. Increasing flexibility for students improves the agility of an education system to meet future needs – whether those are due to a pandemic, a chronic illness of a student, a family’s move to another city or state, or even a desire to pursue a student’s unique interest.
As we saw this past semester, dramatic, unexpected changes in education often have negative effects such as learning gaps, especially for students who are already most at-risk (like low-income or special needs students).
Giving parents the opportunity to temper external circumstances by offering some consistency at home improves the ability to navigate unexpected changes.
If the spring 2020 experiment of “school at home” with its range of outcomes taught us anything, it’s that one size truly does not fit all. Hybrid homeschooling might offer the right flexibility to match the needs of many students come fall.
Caring for children and families in vulnerable situations is an undoubted public priority, and everyone willing to provide good-faith help is needed.
The year 2021 has started fast and furious in the political space. Rioting at the U.S. Capitol and the banning of our president from certain big tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter have continued the national discussion about speech and ideas.
Ensuring that Utah civics education is adequate will take a statewide commitment from more than just the Legislature (and it’s usually better when it comes from more local decisionmakers), and it will demand that we avoid simplistic solutions about teachers or schools simply needing to “do better.”