PURCELLVILLE, Va. (BP) — Parents across the U.S. and many foreign countries are exploring homeschooling their children for the first time this fall as schools navigate reopening amid COVID-19 dangers and uncertainties.
Christian groups and churches are among those preparing parents to meet the challenge and to navigate homeschooling regulations. Regulations not only vary among the states but are changing amid the pandemic.
Membership in the Home School Legal Defense Association is growing at 300 percent of its pre-COVID-19 growth rate. Home School Legal Defense is a Christian group training and equipping homeschooling parents in the U.S. and abroad.
Home School Legal Defense Association senior counsel Mike Donnelly said that the group has about 100,000 member families, compared to 80,000 before the pandemic. "We see unprecedented interest in homeschooling, and it's a consequence of the plans that public schools are issuing for the return," said Donnelly, himself a homeschooling parent. "We are seeing just dramatic numbers of people contacting us, asking questions about how to get started Homeschooling. Our membership numbers are growing at record levels, and we are not the only people seeing this," Donnelly said. Donnelly said he is in contact with several curriculum providers who said they are selling out of some of their materials. Their sales are up 50 to 100%. It appears that there are millions of people looking at Homeschooling now, that never have before.
The women's ministry at Willowbrook Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, received so much interest from its members that it hosted a how-to homeschooling workshop Aug. 15.
Women's ministry leader Bobi Ann Allen said many parents are exploring Homeschooling because schools are not sure how to reopen safely during the pandemic.
"We have women who were homeschooling long before the pandemic," Allen said. "But there is a new wave of moms … and families … who are choosing Homeschooling for their family. And because we saw the need arising at a larger number, we saw this as a need that we could step in and help meet."
The church consulted and tapped veteran homeschool moms within the congregation in organizing the "Help, I'm a Homeschool Mom" conference, which was limited to 40 onsite attendees to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines. The church provided video recordings to other interested parents. Allen hopes to foster community among homeschoolers and to encourage, equip and empower parents to homeschool.
Interest in Homeschooling is surging across the U.S. and in some foreign countries. The National Center for Education Statistics said before the pandemic, 1.7 million 5- to 17-year-olds, or 3.3% of U.S. children were homeschooled as recently as 2016.
The Associated Press reported a 75% increase in homeschool applications to the Vermont Agency of Education, a 21 % increase in Nebraska, and an increase in homeschool applications in North Carolina that overwhelmed a government website in July.
Donnelly said he had heard similar news from dozens of education organizations and many countries, including Portugal, Uganda and South Africa. Donnelly serves as director of global outreach for the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Donnelly said, Homeschooling could be a safe, effective, and low-cost educational option for parents. He and his wife Patricia have homeschooled their seven children over the past 20 years. Two have graduated from college, one is a college senior, and the youngest four — ages 9 to 17 — are still homeschooled.
While states are changing their regulations during the pandemic, Donnelly said Homeschooling is flexible and provides a personal approach that leads to better student outcomes.
"Homeschooling does not require 100% hands-on parental involvement all the time. People have this idea that it is a school at home, but that's not what Homeschooling is," Donnelly said. "The parents are working more as guides, providing the curriculum, providing the direction and answering questions, providing oversight."
Even single-parent families or those with both parents employed full-time outside the home can manage to homeschool. They would utilize such resources as homeschool co-ops, relatives and neighbors, or allowing older children to study alone.
"The laws do not require that you homeschool between 8 and 3. You can homeschool early in the morning. You can homeschool in the evening. You can make up for work on the weekend," Donnelly said. "No state requires any particular schedule. Even if they require a certain number of days and hours, there's no requirement that they are continuous or during particular parts of the day."
The Home School Legal Defense Association has created the resource website, www.youcanhomeschool.com, and hosts a series of free virtual workshops. The latest in the series is the 45-minute "You Can Homeschool Through High School!" launching at 5 p.m. CDT today (Aug. 18). A session on homeschooling children with special needs airs Thursday at 5 p.m.
Parents can homeschool their children, on average, at the cost of $600 to $1,000 a year and sometimes less, Donnelly said. He said homeschooled students often enjoy a better education than students in corporate school settings, regardless of the parents' educational attainment.
"Research on public education shows that there is very little correlation between an individual teacher's certification and education level, and the outcome of students in their classroom." "The same is true in the homeschooling environment.
"… A parent who has a Ph. D. versus a parent who has a high school diploma will produce an average homeschool kid. Average homeschool kids score, on academic and standardized achievement tests, very well, much higher than private and public school students."