A Maryland school district’s subtle dig at homeschooling reveals some common—though unfounded—stereotypes about parent-directed homeschool programs.
An emphatic “HOMESCHOOL DONE RIGHT” is how the Worcester School District entitled its marketing flyer promoting its own virtual school, referred to as a “Blended Learning Program.” Copies of the flyer were sent to resident homeschool families.
Students can enroll in the program for free, saving families “hundreds or thousands of dollars next school year,” according to the flyer.
Another bullet-point highlight is that enrolled students will be in “live” virtual classes “giving them social interaction and opportunities for collaborative learning,” in addition to having access to extracurricular activities, school counseling, and meal services.
What’s not to love?
The district implies that its virtual public-school-at-home program epitomizes what homeschooling ought to look like. Its pitch to lure students back to a public-school program is built upon an assumption that parent-directed homeschool programs lack adequate social interaction, access to counseling, and extracurricular opportunities, in addition to draining the bank account.
But these assumptions about homeschooling are wrong.
Even when I was homeschooled a couple decades ago, there were plenty of extracurricular opportunities available to homeschool students. And the recent, explosive growth in homeschooling has made sports, band, art, scouting, 4-H, and other enrichment activities even easier to find.
Around half of the states grant homeschool students access to activities at their local public school. And in states or districts that don’t, there are opportunities in the private sector.
As for collaboration, homeschool co-ops, support groups, and other innovative learning environments offer opportunities for meaningful interaction with both peers and adults that will help equip students to excel in their education and chosen career field. Private homeschool organizations and enrichment groups, often led by volunteer parents, have been working overtime during school closures to meet the needs of families during the recent disruption to traditional schooling.
Parents Make the Difference
So what’s the main difference? Parental involvement. In a public virtual school program, parents take on a limited role as a cheerleader, while in a private homeschool setting, the parent is the architect of the educational program, and often the primary teacher.
A consistent theme in research on the academic outcomes of homeschool students is that homeschool students excel. In contrast, the research on virtual learning is significantly less promising.
Homeschooling empowers parents to design a unique educational program for each child that offers hands-on, experiential learning and meaningful social opportunities without compromising academic rigor. The child-focused nature of tailored homeschool programs is what enables children to thrive, not the cost or quality of the technology used in the program. Though it may be unconventional, the novelty of parent-directed homeschooling is a strength not a weakness.
And this is one reason why parents have been rushing to homeschooling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what is homeschooling done right?
Parents are best positioned to make this decision for their child, but one thing is clear: parent-directed, privately-funded homeschooling is good for kids, even if it does cost a few hundred dollars a year. The implication that public virtual school programs provide what homeschool parents cannot is misleading at best.
At HSLDA, we’re here to encourage and empower homeschool parents looking for the best educational option for their child.