Number of homeschoolers more than doubles
Amid pandemic, 17,100 kids were homeschooled this year
THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS being homeschooled more than doubled this year, as families feared the impact of COVID-19 and many schools switched to remote learning.
According to new numbers released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there were 17,127 students homeschooled in Massachusetts during the 2020-2021 school year, as of January 1. That compares to 7,802 children who were homeschooled in 2019-2020, and similar numbers the prior two years.
In the state’s most populous cities, Boston reported 252 homeschoolers, Worcester had 339, and Springfield 221. While statewide, homeschoolers accounted for 1.7 percent of students, in some smaller communities, homeschooling students represented as much as 5 percent of the student population. In Sandwich, for example, there were 160 homeschoolers out of 3,071 students in the district. In Uxbridge, there were 103 homeschoolers out of 2,034 students. In Agawam, 179 out of 3,707 students were being homeschooled.
The boost in homeschooling was expected. But this is the first time DESE has quantified how large the total number was. Earlier data released by DESE found that 37,000 students left the public school system this year, although many were students in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. That data estimated that around 7,200 students had transferred out of the public school system to be homeschooled, compared to around 800 transfers in a typical year.
One major question that arises from the data is what students will do next year, when schools are expected to return to full-time in-person learning. Bill Heuer, director of the Massachusetts Home Learning Association, said he anticipates the number of homeschoolers will shrink. “A lot of parents have to go back to work,” he said. “Whether they like homeschooling or not during a pandemic, there will be economic and family reasons they just can’t continue to do it.”
Natasha Ushomirsky, state director for Massachusetts at the Education Trust, which advocates for poor students and students of color, said the data is not unexpected, as it was obvious that many parents were choosing not to send their children to school due to remote learning or health concerns. She said it is too early to know what parents will do next year. While some children will likely return to public schools, it is also possible parents found other options this year that worked better for them and their children.
“I do think this year has fundamentally shifted the relationship between families and schools, because for the past year parents, grandparents, caregivers have literally been looking over their kids’ shoulders,” Ushomirsky said. “They’ve had an unprecedented glimpse into kids’ learning experiences.”
Davina Owens, an attorney from Stoughton, homeschooled her third and eighth grade sons this year, after she felt they were not getting a sufficient education during remote learning last spring.
She has decided to send her older son to an agricultural technical school next fall. She has not yet decided whether she will send her younger son back to school or keep him at home. She said she needs more information about the consistency of education next year, and whether her son will be likely to end up quarantined or having to stay home. She wants to know whether students will be required to be vaccinated.On one hand, Owens had the stress of homeschooling while working. On the other hand, she said her kids benefitted from the one-on-one education. With more activities opening up, they have taken field trips, like doing a whale watch after a lesson on marine biology.
“If I had no other time commitments and all things being equal, I think I’d continue homeschooling forever,” Owens said.