As the impact of COVID-19 grows with corresponding actions that limited or halted face-to-face instruction in public schools across the nation and world, many parents opted into homeschooling. Homeschooling is not a new phenomenon in America, but the trend accelerated markedly as public school transitioned to virtual instruction (not necessarily the same as homeschooling) in response to the pandemic. Currently, nearly 5 million children in the United States are homeschooled.
West Texas A&M University is taking deliberate steps to energetically reach out to students from homeschool environments. Led by Dr. Brad Johnson, WT’s Vice President of Strategic Relations, our team is reaching out to various homeschool individuals—from local social media groups to groups across Texas and the nation. WT is working diligently to discover how we might best address the aspirations of homeschool families and students from a university perspective. Dual credit opportunities and the need for college-level course work for homeschool families have spawned considerable attention. Live face-to-face instruction with parents and students at home or in “micro” schools is enhanced by access to high-quality, digitally delivered college-level course work in a hybridized environment.
School districts across the nation are concerned that increasing homeschool enrollments will reduce attendance-driven state funding according to Forbes. To be sure, this is the case. Numerous districts report 5-10% drops in daily attendance, whether virtually or in face-to-face settings. Reduced state support presents significant challenges for even the best school districts that operate very close to the margins fiscally. Effective school districts are a finely tuned mechanism of resource flows that provide support in the appropriate place, at the appropriate time. Less well-managed school districts fall short of this precision. School choice, vouchers and other forms of educational innovation are on the rise driven by current circumstances. Families desire decision-making liberty tailored to their needs.
The academic and intellectual validity of homeschooling varies widely, as does efficacy in public schools. College readiness is often used as a measure of effectiveness. For example, homeschool students graduated from college at a higher rate than their traditionally schooled peers, average scores on standardized tests such as the SAT/ACT are higher and the nagging fears regarding a lack of socialization are not borne out in current studies. Research by Michael Cogan tracked homeschool students at a medium-sized university in the upper Midwest and revealed the following: higher ACT scores—26.54 for homeschoolers and 25.04 for all others. Additionally, homeschooler academic performance was strong with an average 3.37 freshman GPA compared to a 3.08 for traditional students. It wasn’t a flash in the pan either. As seniors, the homeschool GPA was 3.46 versus 3.16. Lastly, the college graduation rate was 66.7% compared to peer performance of 57.5%. All of this reported by Lynn O’Shaughnessy on CBS MoneyWatch.
These figures, like all statistical analyses, must be put in context. The view that homeschooling was fueled by fear of indoctrination in a public school setting is being displaced by concerns about academic quality, personal development, ideas of citizenship and other strong determinates fundamental to educational outcomes. These considerations are a powerful, personal, parental prerogative. Homeschooling decisions are made by parents that have attained higher education themselves and are typically wealthier than average. Some will argue that even if homeschool students didn’t perform better in college, it is a family’s responsibility to identify where and how a student receives educational opportunity.
None of this is to presume that public education is a failure when compared to homeschool learning environments. In fact, there are many effective school districts with high standards, high expectations and individually tailored learning opportunities. However, parents are central to the process according to the Public School Review. One potential failing in public education may be that too many people believe that parental responsibility stops on the steps of the school.
Those predicting radical shifts in public education driven by COVID-19 are likely wrong. Many families considering homeschooling may give it more attention based on the environment and circumstances brought into focus by the pandemic. Some families have tried and found that they are capable of a rigorous and deliberate educational experience in the home. Others will find, for a complex variety of reasons, they are not.
West Texas A&M University will continue to reach out to students from nontraditional educational backgrounds who desire to attend college. They will be warmly welcomed as we warmly welcome students from all K-12 educational routes—public school, private school, home school, military school and online school. We consider it our responsibility as a publicly funded institution of higher education.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His reflections are available at https://walterwendler.com/