A rise in innovative schooling is under the microscope—from parent-operated co-ops, to micro-schools and classical academies.

Many of the principles HSLDA has championed over 40 years—as we work to secure freedom for parents to craft education programs specific to the needs and interests of their children—are now being echoed by advocates campaigning for this wide range of new education programs.

To delve deeper into this topic, HSLDA’s Darren Jones, director of group services, recently attended a Harvard University symposium examining just how, in the words of the organizers, these “emerging models are moving into the mainstream.”

“Homeschoolers are right smack in the middle of these emerging models,” Jones said. “I talk with a lot of parents and leaders who want to know if they can take advantage of these trends to provide new services and opportunities to homeschooling families.”

“Not everything they propose will work within the homeschooling context, but it is exciting to hear ideas from folks who are passionate about helping children thrive,” he added.

In some states, lawmakers are encouraging innovative schooling through legislation that expands educational options.

“HSLDA needs to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in schooling and education-related legislation,” explained Jones. He added that, as always, “our focus is how to defend and advance the rights of homeschooling families.”

Deliberately Different

Of primary interest to Jones at the Harvard event was a panel discussing developing options for homeschoolers to participate in groups and services outside the home.

Panelist Bernita Bradley described how the homeschool co-op she founded in Detroit in 2020 operates solely on private grants. Part of the reason for this is that she doesn’t want to risk her organization being forced to emulate some of the public school practices she has observed that can be harmful to Black students.

Bernita said that much of her efforts involve coaching and encouraging families, helping instill in them a love of learning as well as confidence that they can direct their own educational journey. She sees her mission as training parents to homeschool their own children. To bolster this effort, the co-op operates a building where parents and students can engage in all sorts of educational activities while feeling safe and empowered.

“We started with a pilot of 12 families,” Bernita said. Since then, “we’re just organically growing.” The co-op now services 120 families.

This growth reflects the surge in Black families who have switched to homeschooling since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a CNN report, reasons that Black parents cite for this trend include wanting more control over what their children are taught and how they are treated.

For advocates such as Bernita, the freedom homeschooling provides means crafting programs that do not look like public schools—which she sees as rigid and authoritarian.

“Traditional education does not work for our children,” she said.

Faith Matters

Panelist Emily Hill operates a collaborative classical nature academy in which Colorado homeschoolers may participate. Her program teaches from a Christian perspective because most of the families involved in her school place a high value on successfully transmitting their religious beliefs to their children.

This observation echoes a recent Washington Post poll of homeschoolers. Though the survey showed that providing religious instruction has moved down the list of reasons parents cite for homeschooling, providing moral instruction did rate as the second-highest motivation.

In Emily’s experience, the basis for the morals that parents adhere to “is usually a faith tradition.” And this sort of religious instruction is just not possible in public schools.

Putting Children First

Emily’s school does use some public funds, by operating as two separate entities, each with its own bank account, enrollment, and even unique logos. But the decision to mix government money with private homeschooling remains extremely rare. In most states, the law simply doesn’t allow it. And panelists agreed that accepting government funds for any activity invites additional government regulation.

Speakers at the event went on to say that any measure restricting homeschool flexibility strikes at a key element that makes the practice so successful.

Emily noted that the ability to customize schedules, curriculum, and teaching methods is so important to homeschooling parents that many will opt out of any program that doesn’t fit the needs of their children.

In this respect, she said, even her own hybrid school can present a challenge to homeschoolers because “you’re introducing the structure of the classroom back into it.”

The bottom line is that “homeschool parents fight for their kids like no one else. They’re the first to reach out to me and say, ‘hey, this isn’t working for my student,’” she said.

A Matter of Trust

In a separate discussion, panelists noted that the easing of regulations over the years in response to homeschooling’s success has not been duplicated in other areas of education policy.

John Kirtley, chairman of a nonprofit that manages six taxpayer-funded Education Savings Accounts in Florida, observed that parents and schools that try to access these accounts “face a great deal of complexities.”

Lisa Snell, a national advocate for school choice, agreed. She lamented that despite recent legislation expanding education funding in some states, families who wish to obtain government money must still navigate a host of regulators. These include what she called “third-party verifiers and aggregators,” not to mention “administrators.”

Of course, this reality illustrates the very reasons HSLDA has cautioned against mixing public funding with private homeschooling.

Panelist Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice, said that in addressing school funding legislators have forgotten the lesson illustrated by homeschoolers—that education begins at home.

He noted that even the most well-meaning legislators are not equipped to make the kind of loving and informed decisions that parents can on behalf of their children.

“If we’re going to make these programs work, they have to be based on what parents want,” Robert said. Lisa concurred. “We have to trust parents,” she insisted.

Jones noted that is exactly what HSLDA has been asserting for decades.