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Homeschooling During and After Quarantine

With schools across the country closed in response to coronavirus, parents, teachers, and children are becoming subjects in an unofficial homeschooling experiment. Although only 3.3 percent of American students were homeschooled in 2016, most American students are temporarily homeschooled today.

Of course, homeschooling during quarantine is quite different from homeschooling under ordinary circumstances. For example, many parents are unexpectedly adjusting work schedules to accommodate their new child care needs. A recent Bipartisan Policy Center survey found that, to care for their children, 34 percent of parents working remotely are alternating work hours with someone else at home, and 21 percent of parents working in-person are cutting their hours.

Additionally, some of the perks of homeschooling, such as greater flexibility, less adherence to a fixed schedule, and the ability to explore museums, libraries, and other community amenities, don’t apply for families balancing other obligations and ordered to stay at home. Parents’ surprise trial as teachers hardly provides a perfect test of “normal” homeschooling.

Nevertheless, as parents adjust to the new routine, it’s plausible some will come to appreciate the ability to customize education around their families’ values and circumstances and will wish to continue homeschooling even after schools reopen. Indeed, a survey from EdChoice and Morning Consult found that the majority of parents have a more favorable opinion of homeschooling as a result of the coronavirus, with over a quarter having a “much more favorable” opinion. In that case, policymakers should be considering ways to support homeschooling for those who want it.

To be sure, any speculation about what the compulsory, temporary homeschooling during quarantine means for the American education system long-term is just that. It’s equally easy to imagine a scenario in which parents come to value previous schooling arrangements more than before.

But rather than supporting the case for the status quo, this uncertainty about how parents will respond strengthens the case for supporting a variety of educational options. Policymakers don’t know how people’s preferences will change, so they should prioritize flexibility and permit a range of choices. That way parents with different perspectives, values, and goals for their children can pursue what’s best for them. In other words, the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus illustrates the importance of “educational pluralism,” which recognizes the variability of families’ needs and circumstances and seeks to combine choice with accountability.

The Social Capital Project’s recent paper “Multiple Choice: Increasing Pluralism in the American Education System” considers a number of ways in which “a pluralist approach to education policy” could support homeschooling. For example, 529 savings accounts could be expanded to cover educational materials for homeschooling parents, and states including Utah and Washington have experimented with increasing homeschooled children’s access to coursework and opportunities provided through the school district.

In addition to more active strategies to support homeschooling, policymakers should avoid inhibiting entrepreneurial efforts from nonprofits or businesses to provide resources for homeschoolers. For example, the nonprofit Common Sense Media has created a new website curating online educational content to help parents and children under quarantine. In light of recent calls for a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling, lawmakers should avoid taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education. 

Homeschooling was, and is likely to remain, a niche approach to educating school-age children. But the pandemic may convince some parents that it’s the right one for them. By taking a pluralistic approach to education and letting a thousand flowers bloom, policymakers can make homeschooling a viable alternative for parents who desire it.

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