COVID-19 is a catalyst for families who were already skeptical of the traditional school system—and are now thinking about leaving it for good. The problem is that in the chaos of the pandemic, it’s not clear how much common good any kind of school is doing.
COVID-19 has created a strange natural experiment in American education: Families who would have never otherwise considered taking their kids out of school feel desperate enough to try it. Reopening has been chaotic: In New York City, the start of school has been pushed back to late September, as teachers and principals scramble to prepare for a semester split between online and in-person learning, fighting to secure the extra staffing and testing needed to safely bring kids back to class.
Homeschooling organizations and consultants have faced a deluge of panicked parents frantic to find alternatives to regular school. Some families hate the idea of their kids sitting on Zoom for hours at a time. Others worry about exposing family members to the coronavirus or seeing schools close suddenly after a surge in cases. Although some of these parents will likely put their kids back in school once the pandemic is under control, homeschooling advocates see this period as an unlikely opportunity to evangelize their way of life, which they describe as more flexible, creative, and adaptable to each student than traditional school. Homeschooling families, which included roughly 3 percent of school-age children in the United States in 2016, have lots of different reasons for wanting to educate their own kids. But they’re united in a common assessment: They want out of the traditional system.