The COVID-19 pandemic forced most parents in America to adopt alternatives to brick-and-mortar classroom education—and many of them discovered they liked having options.
Now that public and private schools are struggling to stay reopened, the question is whether parents will want to return to the old model of rigid schedules and mass instruction.
Recognizing this societal question, researchers, journalists, and a former Florida governor will be exploring the issue in School Choice in the Post-Pandemic Era, a free online conference with weekly sessions from October 8 through December 10. Organized by the Harvard University’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, the event will feature topics such as digital learning, a look at schooling options now available, and the political movement behind the issue.
The event will be moderated by prominent Harvard scholar Paul E. Peterson and University of Oklahoma professor Daniel Hamlin. Both also helped Harvard organize a similar conference, Post-Pandemic Future of Homeschooling, which ran May 6–June 17 of this year.
Hamlin said that though the upcoming event will not focus on homeschooling, the topic “will be a thread in pretty much every session.”
Part of the Conversation
“The fact that one of the nation’s most prestigious universities is talking about this in a high-profile way shows how important school choice has become,” said Mike Donnelly, senior counsel and director of global outreach at Home School Legal Defense Association.
One of four panelists who spoke at the opening session of Harvard’s homeschooling conference last spring, Donnelly is looking forward to this fall’s exploration of the many learning options available to parents today.
“We expect the upcoming symposium will have a lot to say about the huge growth of homeschooling during the pandemic,” he said. “Millions of families made the switch, and it looks like a lot of them found that the safety, flexibility, and personalized nature of home education is something they want to stick with.”
Hamlin added that, just as they did in the earlier homeschooling conference, moderators will be accepting online attendee questions during upcoming sessions on school choice
“We want to be attentive to the audience,” Hamlin said. He explained that during the spring conference, “We had so many people who were homeschooling parents, they really shaped how we approached our sessions.”
He expects that audience interest could have a similar effect for the upcoming discussion on school choice.
The conference is certainly timely.
The question about how much influence parents should have over their children’s education was highlighted in the media last week, following remarks made in a debate between two Virginia gubernatorial candidates. “I'm not gonna let parents come into schools' [libraries] and actually take books out and make their own decisions . . . ,” Terry McAuliffe said. “I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Meanwhile, some innovators are reporting a continued interest in different ways of doing school.
Kerry McDonald with the Foundation for Economic Education recently wrote about parent and educator Tiffany Pierce, of Queens, New York City, who spent the entire 2020–21 academic year teaching homeschool students from the great outdoors—sometimes inside a tent.
Pierce said the experience convinced her that parents are ready for change.
“I believe this year and [a] half has shown us all that there needs to be more than just a reform to education,” Pierce told McDonald. “There needs to be a conscious elevation and rethink of what is learning, why do we need it, what are the infinite ways that learning can look like.”
One of those ways of providing an innovative education is homeschooling—something HSLDA has been promoting for decades. We believe homeschooling works because it tailors education to meet each child’s individual needs and interests, and is guided by the people who know and love their children best—their parents.
If you are thinking about homeschooling and would like to know more, a great place to start is on our website at youcanhomeschool.org.