The last year and a half hasn’t been easy on American school children. Between COVID-19 restrictions and fierce battles over curriculum, schools have become embroiled in political conflict as the future of education has been thrust into uncertainty.
It should come as no surprise that homeschooling has dramatically spiked since the onset of COVID-19 and the lockdowns that followed. Census data reveals that by the fall of the 2020-2021 school year, 11.1 percent of households with school-aged children reported homeschooling, double the amount of the previous year. Then, by May 2021, the percentage was 19.5.
While some reasons for this sudden uptick are self-evident, The Federalist reached out to homeschooling individuals and organizations to understand what’s motivating parents to switch. While reasons for homeschooling of course vary, some of the biggest concerns include overbearing COVID restrictions, politically motivated curriculum, and what some perceive as the overall decline in the quality of education their children are receiving in government-run schools.
Maria Murray is the founder and academic director of a homeschooling community in Northern Virginia. She told The Federalist the community surged from 8 to 50 students in the last calendar year alone.
When asked some of the main concerns she’s hearing from parents, she responded, “The concerns I hear from inquiring families are things like requiring masks all day, the redefining of morality, and mostly wanting to be a part of a homeschooling community that primarily focuses on what education used to mean, which is reading, writing, arithmetic, a homeschooling environment where families can work together to focus on the basics.”
Murray said she commonly hears concerns about the quality of education in government-run schools, saying many parents remark that even when their children pass a class, they “don’t see the knowledge” that was gained, leading some to conclude “the standards are dropping.” She also explained why she started the group in 2017, telling The Federalist that government schools weren’t “really in line with our morals and our faith that we were trying to raise our children in.”
Murray grew up in and graduated from school in Soviet Russia. She described the education system in the USSR as “agenda-driven,” and noted that in America “I’m starting to see … things that are reminding me of that kind of system of control. It’s not something that I want my children to participate in.”
Elizabeth Dickinson is from Loudoun County, Virginia, and has homeschooled her seven children. Now fellow parents are asking her for guidance as they consider transitioning to homeschooling. Dickinson told The Federalist that these parents considering homeschooling have a few main concerns, saying “masks are a big one,” as many think making children wear masks at school is “ridiculous.”
Parents are also appalled by the declining quality of government education, she says, due to both the elimination of advanced classes and the transition to virtual classes. Dickinson explained that some parents had to make up for the lackluster education, with some concluding, “If I can teach them everything that they’ve missed from the public school, I can just teach them, like, I don’t have to send them off for eight hours and then undo it.”
Loudoun County has been the site of a struggle between local parents and the school board over issues like critical race theory, COVID restrictions, and policies related to transgenderism, the latter of which Dickinson said has driven away families who oppose men competing in women’s sports and men sharing bathrooms with women.
Homeschooling has dramatically risen nationwide. A press release from the Texas Homeschool Coalition reports that “interest in homeschooling is already outpacing the all-time records set by the enormous homeschool increase from 2020,” before going on to note that “during the 2020 surge, THSC’s weekly call and email volume exploded from families interested in homeschooling” and reached an all-time high, but then the organization’s call volume last week surpassed “the weekly record set in 2020 by nearly a factor of five.”
The president of the Texas Home School Coalition, Tim Lambert, said, “We are literally inundated with calls and emails from thousands upon thousands of families asking how they can begin homeschooling this fall.”
Jeremy Newman is the Texas Homeschool Coalition’s director of public policy. He told The Federalist, “I think that the immediate motivation for most people is COVID related,” continuing to say that parents are “concerned about having to comply with requirements that they see as overly stringent” while others worry of the risk of another round of lockdowns.
Now, Newman says, parents who were compelled to homeschool because of COVID-19 are “continuing to homeschool because it worked well for them.” While Newman said that worries about COVID restrictions were, in his experience, the leading cause of the spike in homeschooling, he also noted that concerns about critical race theory and left-wing gender theory were becoming “a much bigger thing in Texas recently.”
Sam Milliken of Tennessee decided to begin homeschooling her children so her family could spend more time together and enjoy the versatility of educating her children on her own time, but added that the restrictions and challenges of COVID “definitely helped my decision.” Rather than opt for online learning and have her children “sit in front of the computer all day,” Milliken decided to start homeschooling and “take it at our own pace.”
Stacy Cavanough also lives in Tennessee and began homeschooling her children after the onset of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdowns. She explained that over the last summer “our school had not laid out what the plan was going to be” for the upcoming school year. Homeschooling gave the Cavanough family the chance to avoid burdensome COVID restrictions during the school year while they sought out and eventually found a different school where such restrictions weren’t an issue, she said.
Cavanough went into detail about her family’s motivations to start homeschooling, saying, “It was not my dream to wake up one day and be a homeschool mom,” but that she wanted to make the best decisions for her children: “My child will not pay the price of all this craziness, and I will not put them on the front line … with all this nonsense.”