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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

It’s a Great Time to Be a Homeschooler

A lot has changed for homeschooling and education choice since the late-90s.

Homeschoolers are a diverse bunch. Our teaching approaches and learning philosophies vary. Our politics run the gamut and our visions of education reform differ greatly. Yet, despite these contrasts, homeschoolers are remarkably similar. I recently asked a large, eclectic group of homeschooling parents why they chose this education option for their children. Key homeschooling features like “freedom,” and “time,” and “flexibility,” and “individualization” were common drivers for all.

Of course my first question was: “What about socialization?”

When I first heard about homeschooling, it was 1998. I was a senior in college writing a research paper on education choice and the rising homeschooling movement, and became fascinated by this option. A college classmate of mine connected me with her family members who were homeschooling, and they invited me into their home to observe and ask questions. Of course my first question was: “What about socialization?”

I remember the mom’s calm and eloquent response, pointing out the obvious difference between being social and being socialized. She described their vibrant and engaging homeschooling networks, community involvement, and neighborhood activism. She explained that much of the socialization that happens in schools is not positive and can lead to malevolent behaviors, like cliques, and bullying, and unhealthy competition. Her homeschooled daughter graciously played her violin during my visit, and was one of the most curious, articulate, and polite young children I had ever met. I was hooked.

Later, I went on to graduate school in education policy at Harvard and became more committed to the ideas of education choice and innovation and alternatives to school. Now, as a homeschooling mom to four, never-been-schooled children, I combine policy and practice on a daily basis, watching the extraordinary ways in which my children learn without school.

According to new data released this month by the U.S. Department of Education, the number of homeschooled children has doubled since 1999 to 1.8 million children in 2012, or 3.4 percent of the overall school-age population. (As a comparison, about 4.5 million children are enrolled in U.S. K-12 private schools.) According to the DOE data, the geographic distribution of today’s homeschooling population is evenly split, with about one-third each in rural, urban, and suburban areas. “Concern about schools’ environments” remains a top driver for homeschooling families, with 9 in 10 survey respondents indicating it was an important reason in their decision to homeschool.

Homeschooling networks are diverse, active, and far-reaching.

A lot has changed for homeschooling and education choice since the late-90s. Homeschooling has become much more mainstream. There are numerous resources for homeschooling families, including community-based, self-directed learning centers scattered across the country. Education choice is in high demand and family empowerment grows. With President-elect Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, the umbrella of education choice promises to widen for more families. As The New York Times reports: “Ms. DeVos will probably be a boon to the relatively small, growing population of families that home-school their children.”

While I still get asked that knee-jerk question about socialization that I so naïvely asked years ago, I find it happens less often. Many people know homeschoolers, and some have even considered the approach themselves. Homeschooling networks are diverse, active, and far-reaching, connecting homeschoolers to each other and their community’s resources in myriad ways. Organizations and businesses, museums and libraries, nature centers and community colleges recognize homeschooling’s popular rise and offer classes and resources to meet different needs and interests. Free, online learning resources like MIT’s OpenCourseWareHarvardX, Khan AcademyCourseraDuolingo, and many more allow for easy, on-demand access to a range of topics and subjects. Facilitating learning and pursuing knowledge has never been easier or more accessible.

It’s a great time to be a homeschooler!