MARY REICHARD, HOST: Up next: the explosion of home schooling in America.
The start of a new school year does not necessarily mean heading back to the classroom. A growing number of families have opted to keep their kids at home in recent years.
NICK EICHER, HOST: The pandemic, of course, played a role in that trend. And many assumed as schools started reopening, that more and more students would be catching the bus back to school.
But as it’s turning out, what once was a necessity is now the ideal.
Joining us now to talk about it is Jim Mason. He is president of the Home School Legal Defense Association.
REICHARD: Jim, good morning!
JIM MASON, GUEST: Good morning.
REICHARD: First of all, when we use the term “homeschooling,” how do you define that? If a student is temporarily learning from home online using the curriculum from their local school, is that home schooling or is that a different category?
MASON: That would be a different category, from our perspective. So homeschooling is a private option that parents choose to educate their own children, pursuing their own educational goals rather than being done in partnership with the public schools. Homeschooling isn't just about proximity. It's about who's in charge and what's being taught.
REICHARD: Okay. So what increase have you observed in actual homeschooling since the pandemic began and has that trend slowed at all?
MASON: When public school closures started happening, there was a big explosion in interest and actual homeschooling across America. Millions more children began homeschooling. The Census Bureau started keeping track of it as the pandemic wore on, and concluded that homeschooling may have doubled or even tripled. It's a little hard to keep track of, but the numbers were definitely up a lot. And our experience here at Home School Legal Defense Association, the number of contacts and members that we have also increased dramatically.
REICHARD: What are the prevailing reasons why more parents are choosing to home school?
MASON: Yeah, there's a lot of theories about that. And you know, anecdotally, I would say that possibly one of the biggest things is a lot of people were on the cusp of thinking about homeschooling, and just never kind of got over the finish line. But then the pandemic provided them with a really good reason to start homeschooling. And then once they started, they discovered the joy of homeschooling and stuck with it. And then another thing happened where public schools tried to stay open with classrooms being taught through the Zoom window. And people who may not have thought about homeschooling, nevertheless had their children at home and we're watching through the Zoom window what was happening in the public schools and that changed their opinions about where their children might best be educated. So a lot of those folks may not have thought about homeschooling, but they stuck with it after the pandemic.
REICHARD: I’m sure you’ve heard reports about a new federal study showing that math and reading scores for America's 9-year-olds fell sharply during the pandemic when many students were learning, at least part of the time, from home.
Some might see that as a black eye for homeschooling. What’s your response to that?
MASON: Well, those studies were conducted on the public school classrooms. Homeschool students, I can speak from personal experience during the pandemic—my oldest child was still being homeschooled, and we’re really plugged into the homeschooling community—and the pandemic really didn't hardly affect the ongoing education of homeschool students at all. And studies for years have shown that homeschooled students do at least as well, but often much better than their counterparts in the public school. So those studies I don't think have much relationship to the actual homeschooling experience.
REICHARD: Jim, where are the most important battles being fought right now for parental and homeschooling rights in your view?
MASON: Right now, what’s in the public eye most is what’s going on in the public schools. And so from a parental rights perspective, parents are demanding to have a lot more access and involvement into what's happening in the public schools. From a homeschooling perspective, the tremendous growth of homeschooling has led to a lot of new and innovative ways that parents are kind of banding together to teach their children. You may have heard of things called pods and micro schools and those sorts of things. So they're sort of challenging the boundaries of the traditional homeschooling laws in many of the states. Many states' homeschooling laws date back to the late 80s and early 90s before we had email or the internet. So a lot of these new models are stretching and straining the resources of public school districts. And we're working pretty hard to expand the boundaries of liberty for parents to choose what's best for their children.
REICHARD: Jim Mason is president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Jim, thanks so much!
MASON: Oh, you’re very welcome. Thank you.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.