11.21.22 – Texas Tribune

More Texans turn to home schooling after the pandemic showed them what learning outside of schools could be like”
By Brian Lopez

A group of women sitting at a table writing on paper.

Excerpts from this article:


Christina Hernandez, a mother of two and a former San Antonio theater teacher, knows firsthand how difficult it is to give every student the attention they deserve.

And this school year, as class sizes have gotten bigger amid a statewide teacher shortage exacerbated by the pandemic, she started suspecting her public school district was not meeting her kids’ needs.

So she pulled them out and started home-schooling them…

I know my kids better than anyone, and I know how they learn,” Hernandez said. “Within a week I was like, ‘They're already just more focused.’”

Hernandez and her family are among the Texans who started home schooling when the pandemic hit.

Research suggests home schooling was already growing in popularity before the pandemic, but according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, an effort to examine the impact of COVID-19 on American life, the percentage of Texas families that home-school their children went up in 2020 — from 4.5% at the end of the 2019-20 school year to 12% at the start of the 2020-21 school year. The increase was particularly notable among Black families.

According to data collected by the Texas Homeschool Coalition, a nonprofit that promotes and advocates for home schooling in the state, about 30,000 students across the state withdrew from a public or charter school and switched to home schooling during the spring of 2021, an increase of 40% compared with the previous year. The figure is likely higher because the state does not track withdrawals from public schools below the seventh grade, said Jeremy Newman, the coalition’s deputy director.

Peggy Semingson, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Arlington who tracked home schooling during the pandemic, said the increase can be attributed to a number of factors. Some families were worried about the spread of COVID-19 at schools; others who had been thinking about home schooling finally took the step after remote learning gave them a glimpse of what teaching their kids at home could look like. The Uvalde school shooting on May 24, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed, might have led some parents to switch to home schooling this year, she said.

Differences over how race and sex are taught at schools also played a role. While the topic had stirred tensions between families and educators in the past, they intensified during the pandemic as more public school lessons were transmitted to family computers during lockdown. The debate spilled into last spring’s school board races as conservative groups rallied against critical race theory, a college-level discipline that examines how racism is embedded in laws and culture. Although the approach is not taught in public schools, it became a shorthand to attack how race is discussed in classrooms.

Newman said he’s heard from parents who have chosen to home-school because they don’t like how politicized schools are becoming. That sentiment is coming from both sides of the political spectrum, he said.

Traditionally, Newman said, parents have home-schooled their children to give them a religious education. But that has shifted in recent years, with growing concerns about bullying, drugs and poor academic achievement. For people of color, fears that their children will face racism at school can drive them out, he said.

For Hernandez, the decision to home-school meant she could make sure her kids are safe and that she can talk to them about topics like sex and politics before a stranger does...

Away from schools

Another reason Newman believes there’s an increased interest in home schooling is because the pandemic forced families to spend more time at home and showed them that they can educate their children without being tied to a brick-and-mortar school.

We’re moving into an era now where people are just going to demand that there are more hybrid forms of education,” Newman said. “We build rigid forms of education because we think they’re stable, right? But people have realized that in times of crisis, they are not.”

The Family Educators Alliance of South Texas, a home-school resource center based in San Antonio, has seen an increase in calls from new home-school families asking for help, said Rose Faubush, a resource specialist for the organization. It is getting 30 calls a day; pre-pandemic, it was closer to 10 calls a day.

School districts across Texas are watching the trend closely…

Learning at home

Opting to home-school in Texas is fairly simple and mostly unregulated. If a child is pulled from a public school, the parents must notify their local school district that the child will now be home-schooled. (Parents don’t need to notify the district they live in if their child was never enrolled in a public school.) The only requirements are that the child’s learning must be in a visual format, like workbooks or online courses, and that the curriculum must go over reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and what the state calls “good citizenship.”

Home-schooling parents can either do these courses at home or in co-ops, where home-schooled students get together to learn together in a classroom-like setting...

Jaime Johnson in League City, southeast of Houston, said she started home-schooling four of her kids this school year for religious reasons and to provide them with a better academic setting. Johnson said she felt politics and social issues were playing an oversized role in classrooms, which was distracting to her kids. Things like using people’s correct pronouns and discussing LGBTQ themes went against their family beliefs, she said.

She also said she worried about the unusually high number of teacher vacancies and substitute teachers filling in on her kids’ classes. Safety concerns after the Uvalde shooting also validated her family’s decision to home-school, she said.

We prayed about it and we just left,” Johnson said. “What I feel like would be best for public schools is if we stayed focused on the schoolwork.”

Since starting home schooling, Johnson said she has seen her kids fall in love with learning again. School doesn’t seem like a chore or something that must be done to pass a test.

The biggest change for me is that my kids are not stressed about learning anymore,” Johnson said.