New Research Lifts Hood on Homeschooling During Pandemic

According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey released earlier this year, homeschooling exploded during the pandemic. This shouldn’t surprise us. In states and districts around the country uneven communications, poorly thought out opening and closing plans and lackluster remote learning were upsettingly common.

In the spring of 2020, in partnership with Hanover Research, EdChoice conducted a survey of homeschooling families to understand what their experience has been. Among the main findings:

  • 68% of respondents said the coronavirus pandemic was an important or very important factor in the decision to homeschool.
  • 68% of respondents said the flexibility to shape their child’s learning experience was an important or very important factor in the decision to homeschool.
  • 70% said homeschooling had a moderate or major effect in improving their relationships with their children.
  • 69% said homeschooling allowed more time for other activities.
  • 68% said their children were learning more than in their previous educational environment.

It hasn’t all been roses, though. Respondents also expressed fears and concerns about homeschooling, namely:

  • 35% said fears about their children’s future prospects were very or extremely problematic.
  • 35% cited not enough time to homeschool as a concern (with 26% indicating difficulty managing homeschooling and other obligations).
  • 33% cited a lack of knowledge about homeschooling.
  • 44% said the lack of socialization opportunities for their children impacted them moderately or a great deal.
  • 35% said homeschooling offered fewer opportunities for extracurricular activities.

In order to get a more fine-grained look at families’ experiences, at the end of the survey we asked if respondents would be interested in participating in focus groups. Thankfully, enough homeschooling families agreed that we were able to conduct (again with Hanover Research) three focus groups. Enough other survey respondents had done some kind of learning personalization in the past year and agreed to participate and we were able to have three focus groups with them as well.

What did they tell us? The full report is available here, but the top-line findings are that first, homeschooling requires a blending of flexibility and structure. Homeschooling families love the freedom that homeschooling gives them to arrange their children’s days as they best see fit. At the same time, most homeschoolers recognize that children need to have routines and expectations in order to get in a good rhythm for learning. Finding that balance is a key job of homeschooling families.

Second, homeschooling families both crave and seek out opportunities for community and socialization. Homeschooling co-ops are old hat at this point, with homeschooling families working together for field trips, specialized classes and extracurriculars for decades now. The pandemic brought out the idea of “pandemic pods” and other organizations of learning environments that can offer a different structure for homeschooling families.

When it comes to personalized learning, the pandemic was a huge wakeup call for families. As parents had a chance to better understand their child’s education (because it was being beamed into their home), they more acutely understood where their child was succeeding and where he or she was failing. They recognized that in many cases, their child was being left out or left behind in an educational program that wasn’t working for them. Even for families that didn’t want to jump into the deep end of homeschooling, they realized they needed supplemental instruction, tutoring or other intervention.

It is not clear how many of the millions of families who turned to homeschooling and outside sources of personalized learning will continue to do so after the pandemic subsides. But the questions raised by the pandemic are not going away, and both homeschooling and personalized learning have compelling answers.

Michael McShane is the director of national research at EdChoice. EdChoice is a nonprofit dedicated to advancing educational freedom and choice for all as a pathway to successful lives and a stronger society.

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