School choice in America typically comes in two main flavors: programs set up by states and cities for poor or needy students (such as limiting private choice to special-needs or foster care students and placing charter schools specifically in underperforming areas), and “natural” choice as wealthy parents can exercise, either by paying tuition or by moving to more desirable public school systems.
The poor in many places and the wealthy everywhere can access choice, but a fairly significant group typically gets left out: the middle 60-80 percent or so of the country, who are too wealthy to access state or local choice programs, but not wealthy enough to write $10,000 (or more) checks to send each of their children to private school. One form of school has been growing around the country to address this niche: “hybrid homeschools.”
“Hybrid homeschools” is a term of art. These schools might be considered more formal versions of homeschool co-ops. Co-ops are groups of homeschooling families who come together to find, say, a tutor to teach all of their students Latin, or chemistry.
A hybrid homeschool typically operates more as a formal school. For two or three days per week, students come together to a building, attend classes with regular teachers, and have classmates, just as at a typical school. The rest of the week, the students work on their own at home. Examples include St. John Bosco Academy outside Atlanta, or all of the schools in the University-Model Schools International network.
What Kind of People Like This Arrangement?
I have done some initial research (with more forthcoming) to determine who exactly these families are. Do they look more like private school parents? Like full-time homeschoolers? Have they used other forms of schooling? Most importantly, why do people choose these schools?
First, these parents are abnormal demographically. In two separate surveys, one in Georgia and another using respondents from five states, 60 percent of responding families had an average annual income of over $100,000. While the tuition these schools charge may make them more accessible to the middle class (more on that below), it is the upper middle class who is enrolling there now. Compared to the average American, these parents are also more likely to be married, more likely to have a college degree, and are more suburban.
Second, these parents come from a variety of previous schooling environments. In my five-state survey, 22.6 percent had mainly used other full-time private schools in the past, 21.7 percent had been full-time homeschoolers, 28 percent had been in public school, and 23.2 percent said they had always used a hybrid homeschool. (Another 4.5 percent named “some other” form of schooling on the survey, typically meaning an online school).
Lastly, what do parents say they value in these schools? In both surveys, parents listed “smaller class sizes,” “religious education,” “better learning environment,” “less time wasted during the school day,” and “more individual attention for my child” as their top reasons for attending a hybrid homeschool.
When asked to state their “most important” reason, parents said “religious education,” “more meaningful opportunities for parent involvement,” or “better learning environment.” Perhaps interestingly, 0 percent of parents listed “better teachers,” “higher test scores,” “less gang activity,” or “supplemental services” as their most important reason, although these are the types of things we typically worry about or build school improvement efforts around and spend extra money on.
Why People Like This
Parents also provided open-ended reasons for why they chose these schools. These included:
Family: Hybrid homeschool parents value the time they get to spend with their children and the influence they are able to maintain over them, while valuing the classroom environment and school culture.
Education Support: These parents like the combination of school work and teacher-led accountability (lesson planning and grading), and the pace of homeschool life on the home days.
Flexibility: If a student only has classes at school Monday and Wednesday, or Tuesday and Thursday, then his family is sometimes able to travel or do more enrichment activities with those longer weekends. Also, several respondents said their children were high-level athletes or performers, and the hybrid schedule gave them more time to train.
Religious/Political: All of the schools in these surveys were Christian, in some form. Many respondents expressed displeasure with the curriculum or culture of public schools (some typical responses: “no state-mandated testing,” and “no Common Core”).
A final noteworthy aspect of these schools is their cost. In the South, especially, with very little history of Catholic schools staffed by nuns, private school tuition is regularly $10,000 or more per student annually. Hybrid homeschools, in contrast, because they typically employ all or nearly all part-time teachers and operate out of part-time rented facilities, are often able to charge annual tuition in the $3,000-$6,000 range. This is well within striking distance of many education savings account program proposals, and several schools are attached to organizations managing state tax-credit programs.
Given that these schools require several components to work—a community with the capacity to run a private school, and someone available to homeschool students a few days per week—hybrid homeschools are likely not an answer for every student in the country. They do seem to be a popular option among the growing number of parents looking for alternative schooling arrangements.