Home Schooling

Home-schooling surge: Pandemic learning exposes families to benefits of home schooling

When the pandemic closed schools in March 2020, it also created a wave of change upending the education system. It forced people to bring learning home beyond regular homework and worksheets, and for some, reevaluate what they wanted for their children entirely.

Lane County has seen the number of students who are home-schooled increase 82% since the pandemic began, following a national trend of surging interest.

For the past five years, more Oregon families have been turning to this option, especially since the pandemic began.

“There’s just a huge, huge growth in home schooling,” Rosalyn Newhouse, president of the Oregon Home Education Network board, said. “Now that we are seeing a return to in-person school, there are still challenges with the pandemic. We probably all know schools that have had to take a two-week break because of an outbreak or difficulties with protocols.

“There are parents who said, ‘You know, home school really worked for us, we’re just going to keep doing it,’ ” she said. “There’s a big change in our educational methodology because people have been exposed to home schooling in ways that they hadn’t been before.”

Growth by the numbers

Home schooling has been gaining popularity nationally for decades.

Between 1999 and 2016, the number of home-schooled students doubled in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2016, nearly 1.7 million students were home-schooled, making up 3% of all students, according to the center’s most-recent data that was released in 2019, pre-pandemic.

The pandemic only accelerated this growth — interest in home schooling has jumped significantly.

In April 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau found 5.4% of U.S. households with school-aged children reported home schooling, and by fall 2020, 11.1% of households with school-age children reported home schooling. The calculations represent true home schooling families and do not include distance learning.

“That change represents an increase of 5.6 percentage points and a doubling of U.S. households that were home schooling at the start of the 2020-2021 school year compared to the prior year,” the report states.

Oregon is a relatively easy state to home-school in, Newhouse said.

When a family wants to home-school their child, all they have to do is let their local Education Service District know by submitting a letter of intent to home-school and register.

In Oregon, the Department of Education does not compile home schooling numbers for the state. Officials said numbers are only available at each individual Education Service District, where families register their students.

For Lane ESD, which supports Lane County’s 16 school districts and about 44,000 students, there’s been a 68% increase in home-schooled students from the 2017-2018 school year to December 2021. Now, 6% of students in Lane ESD are home-schooled.

While interest waned slightly in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years, the numbers rose again in the 2020-2021 year, when districts were in distance learning, with 2,407 Lane County students home-schooled, according to Lane ESD. By December of this school year, there were 2,682 students home schooling, a more than 11% increase over last school year.

Newhouse said while some service districts saw growth of about 4%, other ESDs reported a 70% increase of home-school enrollment through the pandemic, comparable to Lane County’s 82% increase.

Myriad reasons to homeschool

People have many reasons for wanting to home-school: social pressure such as bullying, developmental delays or other challenges, students excelling above their grade level, realizing children do better in smaller environments or needing more one-on-one educational help.

It also can be useful for students who have a very specific focus such as music or performance arts to be able to tailor their education around performance and practice schedules.

“One of the beauties of home schooling is how very flexible it is and how adaptable it is to different kids and different personalities,” Newhouse said.

The increased interest in home schooling is reflected in Oregon Home Education Network Facebook group. Before the pandemic, the OHEN group had about 2,000 members, Newhouse said. But now, it’s grown to 7,500 members.

“For those first two, three months at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, nobody really knew what to do with school kids and everybody was home,” Newhouse said. “Parents were doing their best trying to figure out what school was and how to teach kids. For some, it came naturally. For some, they just said ‘OK, you’re done for the year,’ and then a lot of people turned to the home schooling community.”

OHEN is a nonprofit volunteer-run organization and resource network for Oregon home-schoolers to connect with each other, get information and follow legislation. They also organize social events for home-schooled students such as proms, costume skate parties and field trips.

Newhouse has been with OHEN for about 15 years and home-schooled her own children – her son, for a few years, and her daughter (who is now in college) all through high school.

“I ran into home schooling almost accidentally, because of various difficulties with the logistics of school, and discovered that there was a whole movement, a community for home-schoolers, and the option for me to develop my own or my kids’ own learning path and work toward their individual strengths and abilities and interests was very exciting for me,” she said.

Home schooling does require the time and resources to be able to stay home with children, so it doesn’t work for everyone.

Newhouse said public school is still a great option for those who want to go, but with the myriad concerns around COVID-19, more families have been considering a switch if they can.

How it works in Oregon

Because Oregon statute allows families to choose their children’s educational path, once they register to home-school they get to decide what and how to teach.

The state does not have graduation requirements for home-schooled students and ESDs do not issue them high school diplomas.

Parents can issue their own home-school diploma, where they determine what the graduation requirements are. Parents also can contact their local high school to see if district policy would allow them to be given a diploma.

Home-schooled students can take the GED tests under certain circumstances, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

Another thing parents who are home schooling need to consider is setting educational goals and tracking what material their child has covered to meet those goals. This is helpful in creating a transcript or records of their student’s coursework.

Home-school records and documentation are not a part of the student’s permanent public school records, and the Oregon Department of Education does not keep home-school records.

Newhouse said many home-schoolers choose at the end of high school to sign up with a dual-enrollment program with a community college. Dual-enrollment classes enable high school students to take classes at a local college and potentially earn college credit.

“There are a lot of home-schoolers who by the time they hit 17 or 18 years old, they’ve already got a year or two’s worth of credits from the community college and can transfer into a four-year college or university with those credits,” she said.

The state does require home-schoolers be tested at the end of grades three, five, eight and 10. It’s a standardized test, but not the same as the state tests that are done every year, Newhouse said.

If a child scores under the 50th percentile, meaning they can hardly answer any questions, Newhouse said, then the ESD may ask that they do another test the following year to see if there’s any improvement. If there’s no improvement, they have another year to test again. If they still test poorly, the state may require that the parents meet with a team to determine if home schooling really is the best way for the child to learn.

Pandemic reinforces the choice

Springfield parent Will Vanlue and his wife already were considering home schooling their children before the pandemic hit. But once it became clear that COVID-19 was not waning, they realized their instinct to home-school was right for them.

“My wife works for a medical group here in town, and since I had the time, I wanted to do that, especially when my kids are younger,” he said. “When (COVID-19) hit, we were really happy that this was our plan all along because in some ways, our routine just stayed the same even during the lockdown.”

Vanlue has two children: Charlie, who is 6, and Ada, who is 3. It made sense for him to become a stay-at-home dad, he said, so he could teach Charlie and not have to worry about finding child care for Ada.

The pandemic made some things more inconvenient and time-consuming as schools tried their best to respond to COVID-19 protocols, Vanlue said, and some of their friends’ kindergartners were having difficulty distance learning.

“Then up until recently, until my older child was vaccinated (for COVID-19). I was really nervous about them being in large groups of other kids,” he said.

Home schooling also has allowed Vanlue new insight into his children’s personalities and how his son learns. Charlie doesn’t like to sit down for long periods of time and has trouble learning things he isn’t interested in.

“So, if he wants to learn about sharks one week, and the lesson was dinosaurs in the classroom, I think he would just zone out and maybe even be a bit of a problem to the teacher,” Vanlue said. “But I can talk to him and I can say, ‘What do we want to learn about this week?’ Or there are some ways I can sneak in lessons that don’t feel like homework, so instead of practicing handwriting on worksheets so to speak, we were able to address packages and write to family.”

They also supplement the regular home schooling with activities such as outdoor school through Whole Earth Nature School’s Coyote Kids program.

“It’s amazing because my 6-year-old now when we go on hikes is like, ‘Hey Dad, that plant’s edible. We can eat the leaves and they taste like cucumber!’” Vanlue said. “He’s identifying plants and animals and things that I don’t know, and that’s really, really cool.”

Eliminating concerns in difficult times

Jennifer Hulberg and her husband, who live in Eugene, know what it’s like to home-school before the pandemic, and now again during it.

They first started with their daughter, Bailee, who is 18. They enrolled her in Baker Web Academy, a free, online charter school. Now, they have a 7-year-old son, Crichton, who is enrolled there as well.

“My husband went to North Eugene High School and he was bullied … and he dreaded school,” she said. “So when we found out I was pregnant, he said, ‘Here’s the deal: I really don’t want her going to school.’”

They had just seen the Thurston High School shooting happen a few years before, Hulberg said, and since he had a good job, she was able to stay home, so they went through with it.

There are some differences between traditional home schooling and online charter schools. Charter schools are still technically public schools, and students have teachers they work with and learn from, along with their parents.

“With my daughter, the way it was, was teachers would come to (the house) every two weeks. You have a homeroom teacher who comes every two weeks and checks on you and gets to talk to the kid and the kid can ask any questions, and they develop a relationship, which is really neat,” Hulberg said.

During the pandemic, Crichton has only met with his homeroom teacher on Zoom, because there was no face-to-face.

“But it still can happen, to have that connection — he’s so excited to have his meetings with her,” she said.

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Being more intentional about social, educational connections

Home schooling and being enrolled in an online charter means students’ individual learning needs can be met on a flexible schedule.

When Crichton was having some trouble learning to read, Hulberg said, she and his teacher were able to spend extra time with him just focused on that. Meanwhile, he excels in math, so he’s already several months ahead.

“His social studies require me doing a lot of reading to him, and we have found he gets bored unless he can play with his trains,” she said. “But interestingly enough, while he plays with his trains, he asks me questions about what I’m reading, so he is getting what we’re talking about.”

They’ve also had the opportunity to do virtual field trips and see areas such as Rome and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Being Jehovah’s Witnesses, the family has also been able to incorporate their faith into their lessons.

Both Hulberg and Vanlue said they’ve also been relieved they haven’t had to worry as much about exposure to COVID-19 or keeping up with the waves of changes the education system has had to undergo the past couple of years. Hulberg is immunocompromised, so being at home has helped ease those concerns.

“Since the lockdown, I’ve just realized that we can be a lot more intentional about the social connections we’re making and the academic connections we’re making,” Vanlue said. “We’re fortunate that we have the time to take care of this and focus on this with the kids and kind of curate that.”

For more information about home schooling, visit OHEN’s website at ohen.org or the state’s at oregon.gov/ode/learning-options/HomeSchool.

Contact reporter Jordyn Brown at jbrown@registerguard.com or 541-246-4264, and follow her on Twitter @thejordynbrown and Instagram @registerguard. Support local journalism, subscribe to The Register-Guard.

Source: https://www.registerguard.com/story/news/2022/01/30/home-schooling-lane-county-pandemic-online-charter-schools-covid-19/6465009001/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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