Pandemic sparks growth of homeschooling, ‘A viable education alternative’ | Education

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

Already on the rise, the ranks of homeschooled students in Louisiana is getting another boost because of families disgruntled with how public schools are operating during the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of homeschooled students is 33,001 as of Oct. 1, a 4% increase over the previous year and a 10% hike for homeschooled students who hope to qualify for college scholarships. The number of students taught at home has grown by 23% in the past five years and 76% in the past decade.

They make up 5% of the state’s student population, and the classroom upheaval sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, including inconsistent virtual education, is one of the reasons.

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“There are so many who have pulled their kids out of school because of COVID,” said Christopher Chin, president of Homeschool Louisiana, a networking group for parents and students.

Classrooms were closed in March during the first wave of the pandemic, forcing educators to rely on virtual education, with mixed results.

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Chin said some families have opted for homeschooling because of what he called the lack of planning by school officials and the pitfalls for those who rely on distance learning.

“I mean, these kids are getting written up because they turned their camera off,” Chin said, a reference to interruptions in virtual classes.

Louisiana has two forms of homeschooling, both of which requires families to sign up with the state Department of Education and to renew annually.

Both are separate from students who are enrolled in public schools but temporarily learning from home because of the pandemic.

One is called the BESE-approved Home Study program, which means it is endorsed by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

It allows families to independently educate their children, including which curriculum they use and what grade their child is in.

The curriculum is supposed to mirror the quality of public schools.

Parents pay all the costs and even create the high school diploma their child receives.

Students in grades 11 and 12 have to be enrolled in the BESE-approved program to qualify for the Taylor Opportunity Program For Students and meet other requirements.

Parents can also opt to have their children undergo state tests in math, English/language arts, social studies and science through their local school board.

The ranks of that program rose from 13,672 in 2019 to 15,107 in 2020, one of the largest such hikes in the past 20 years.

Between 2019 and 2020, students pursuing the BESE-approved method of homeschooling rose from 124 to 373 in Orleans Parish; 464 to 604 in Jefferson Parish; 216 to 871 in Lafayette Parish; and 820 to 1,113 in St. Tammany Parish, according to figures kept by the state Department of Education.

“They are realizing that homeschool is a viable education alternative,” said Chin, whose groups includes about 1,200 families statewide.

The other home school program is the registered nonpublic school track not seeking state approval, which had nearly 18,000 students at last count.

Parents of those students also pick their own curriculum.

Ty Salvant, owner and founder of NOLA Homeschoolers, said her roster of about 300 families has grown by 15% to 20% in the past year.

“It can be anything from a particular school is not working out for their child or their child may have some additional needs that are not being met or a schedule that makes it challenging to follow the traditional model,” Salvant said.

The uptick in homeschooling in Louisiana is part of a national trend.

“Solid evidence shows that homeschool numbers across the U.S. have risen by 50% to 100% since spring of 2020,” Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, said in an email.

“This is a giant one-year increase compared to growth over the past several years,” Ray said.

Ray’s group says there are between 4 million and 5 million homeschooled students nationwide.

Associations have sprung up across Louisiana to help families navigate homeschooling and to give students social outlets, including the Ascension Parish Homeschoolers, Baton Rouge Homeschool Athletic Association, New Orleans Homeschool Morning Playgroup and the Roman Catholic Homeschool Association of Louisiana.

State Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, whose three sons were homeschooled, said the number of families opting for homeschool is rising nationally because of the erratic nature of public school operations and because virtual education is not practical for some families.

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“All of a sudden because of contact tracing, you have to stay home for four days, five days,” Amedee said of public school students.

About the author

Mamie M. Arndt