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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Popularity soars

by Mike Masterson | July 25, 2021 at 1:46 a.m.

Thinking about teaching your children at home? Join the crowd.

The mainstream popularity of homeschooling, largely fueled by covid disruption, growing parental concerns over politicized public school curricula and perceived attempts to socially indoctrinate students rather than focusing strictly on formal education, is steadily increasing.

A survey shows Arkansas ranks among the nation's leaders in the number of homeschooled students.

Spring of 2019 listed about 2.5 million U.S. homeschooled students, which represented between 3 and 4 percent of school-age children. The population had been swelling at an estimated 2 to 8 percent annually over the past several years, but grew drastically during 2019-2020 to 2020-2021, one report found.

The upward trend is no surprise to me since it's become evident changes in the direction of public education have concerned and alienated increasing numbers of American parents. Covid-19 classroom restrictions that forced most parents into homeschooling also plays a role.

Although totals vary with different reports, homeschooling in Arkansas recently has taken flight, reportedly far outpacing public school enrollment.

Data from Arkansas' Division of Elementary and Secondary Education show there were 21,959 homeschooled students in the state in the 2018-19 school year, an 8 percent increase from 2017-18.

When covid-19 forced many parents into working from home in 2020, it brought with it the challenges of balancing homeschooling with employment responsibilities.

Having their kids at home as students also became preferable for many to sending them into the ideological, environmental and intellectual quagmire many see in public education today.

Homeschooled children have the same access to online learning, friendships, and extracurricular activities as typical public school students--but without many of the drawbacks, like standardized lessons and bullying.

I see no reason why homeschooling percentages shouldn't continue growing, particularly if the public system deviates into social engineering and politics.

A 2018 Business Insider report referred to research suggesting home-schooled children tend to do better on standardized tests, stick around longer in college, and do better once enrolled. A 2009 study showed the proportion of homeschoolers who graduated from college reached about 67 percent, while among public school students that rate was 59 percent. Students from Catholic and private schools fell even lower in college graduation rates, with 54 and 51 percent of kids, respectively, completing all four years.

I've also read that many parents who'd like to homeschool wonder if they can afford it. While homeschooling certainly has costs, in some ways it's often only as expensive as one allows it to be, considering various forms of available assistance.

One homeschooling mother said she uses homeschooling classified ads to purchase her curriculum. She called it an enormous marketplace where prices are usually affordable. You can also find curricula for sale on blogs, eBay or among local homeschooling friends. She said her kids learn science, Bible, and history together, which saves considerably.

She also said she saves every teacher's guide and textbook for future use. She said she's borrowed textbooks from fellow homeschooling parents but only when she's confident their books won't be damaged. There are free materials, such as Easy Peasy, which she called a great resource for homeschooling families. She recommends Rod and Staff for families on a tight budget. And, of course, the local library.

When it comes to public financing for homeschooling, the options are few. However, some organizations may be able to help, like the Homeschool Foundation, which offers grants to help low-income families with homeschooling needs.

Some state organizations also offer assistance. Arkansas' state homeschooling organization knows plenty about homeschool grants and scholarships for individual situations.

The Home School Legal Defense Association is another group that knows the ropes and helps interested parents get started. The association writes that Arkansas law allows parents to homeschool without complications, such as having to have more than a high school diploma, or dictating state-mandated subjects.

A Notice of Intent to Home School in Arkansas is a required annual registration form. Since state law says a minor must be enrolled in school, this notice provides legal protection for parents and their students.

As an alternative to traditional public school, parents also can check out the Arkansas Virtual Academy either online (arva.k12.com) or at (866) 339-4951. It also can provide a personalized K-12 education online.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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