It seems homeschooling has become more and more popular over the last few years. The number of families choosing to educate their children at home has grown more in the last 10 years than it has over the last 40. In fact, their numbers have doubled and homeschooling is more popular now than ever.
What’s the draw? What could cause such exponential growth in a community?
A sudden increase in numbers is not completely unheard of in communities and is sometimes looked at as a precursor to some kind of change or maturity, but there are several outside factors also influencing this change. I’m going to call your attention to five homeschooling trends to watch that could be a result (or cause) of the growth seen in the homeschool community and give you my predictions for 2017.
Families Leaving Public Schools
One trend I see occurring in homeschooling is the rise in the number of families leaving public schools for reasons other than religious conviction. Homeschooling has traditionally been the choice of families concerned with how a public school’s environment or culture may affect their children, but newcomers to homeschooling site a variety of reasons for their decision to home educate their kids.
Safety is always a key concern for families – and rightly so. Bullying has become an epidemic in some cities and the public schools don’t have an answer. The helping hands of teachers and schools stretch above and beyond the call of their profession, but the root of many of their problems lay outside the classroom.
Along with social concerns, comes the scrutiny of academic standards. Parents are seeing their school’s academic standards slide to grades lower than what they see on their student’s report card and oftentimes that is all it takes to consider the change.
The gap is also seen with homeschoolers achieving higher-than-average scores on standardized exams. There is a widening gap in performance on standardized test scores among public school and homeschool students. This gap is greatest among Black students. The contrast between the type of attention received at home and the type of attention received at school is a big reason for the increase in the number of minority families choosing to homeschool.
Being a product of public school myself, I appreciate the structure and discipline the classroom environment brings. Some of my fondest memories are of recess, the lunch room (good and bad) and the bus stop. These things are institutions, but today are being threatened by campus violence and administrative bureaucracy that puts undue responsibilities upon an over-worked teaching staff. An environment has been created where kids must struggle to learn and teachers must struggle to teach.
Families Leaving Private Schools
Another trend is the influx of students from private schools. Many reasons families choose a private education for their children are the same reasons they might also choose to homeschool. Among those, culture and academics rank near the top. Private school is expensive, though. And a student’s persistence through graduation may sometimes be a function of a family’s economic ability.
Homeschool communities are filled with students who have previously attended private school. As private school attendance across the nation falls, don’t look to public schools to take up the slack. The culture and academic standards families have become accustomed to at private schools may not be as easily found in their local school district. My prediction is that the number of homeschoolers will approach that of private school students as enrollment continues to drop.
The freedom of choosing a particular academic focus for their student is also seen as essential, rather than optional, for some, and the access to current and challenging curriculum allows parents to tailor the education content relevant to their child’s future. Arts, music, sports and other special interests are vanishing from schools because of the lack of resources and low demand.
More Homeschool Groups
Look for new homeschool groups to emerge, perhaps as rapidly as the growth in the community itself has grown. Local homeschool communities are thriving and producing some high-achieving graduates and leaders.
Do they have a secret? Yes, they do. And I have sworn never to tell it.
But, I’ll tell you.
It’s community. Their secret is community. That’s probably not what you think of when you think of homeschooling. It’s not what came to my mind before my wife and I began homeschooling over eight years ago. I thought of a “Little House on the Prairie” episode with Ma writing on a chalkboard and Pa outside mending a fence or something.
Most might think of isolation rather than community when thinking of homeschoolers, but it’s the small groups of families sharing common academic and cultural interests that are the strength of their community.
These small groups of 100-150 are ideal sizes for the development (or incubation) of social culture. Students in a homeschool group that focuses on engineering, for example, might make curriculum choices based on that focus as well as collaborate with other students in the group on projects or competitions. Engineer parents often become robotics team mentors. Attorney parents sometimes become the speech and debate coaches. And so on.
The trend to look for here is the development of a new and separate academic culture. It will be interesting to see how these homeschool graduates emerge and influence popular culture at large.
Growth in Online High Schools
Major shifts in education have come with the advent of online high schools. In giving students flexibility to attend school from home or virtually anywhere, the unintended benefit of this has been new methods of teaching, like blended learning, which is having a big impact in high schools.
As teaching technologies change and develop, it is expected that certain teaching methods also change and new ones emerge. Homeschoolers have always been among first adopters of new curriculum and teaching technologies. As the homeschool community grows in numbers, look for companies to seize upon opportunities to develop new resources for this growing consumer sector. It is often the unseen innovation that changes everything and disrupts industries. We all hope that the public schools will adopt change quickly enough.
Bigger Homeschool Conventions
Prominent and sometimes influential cultures can sometimes emerge from communities that maintain smaller social circles. The ability to choose specialized elective and even specialized core curriculum allows for a creative collaboration that can turn student study groups into entrepreneurial teams. It has not been uncommon to see vendor halls at homeschool conventions, filled with young entrepreneurs showing off their latest inventions. However, with the increased access to technology like free computer modeling software and 3D printers, their projects and business designs are becoming more and more elaborate.
I remember winning third place in my fifth grade science fair for an electromagnet. If kids now were learning the same thing I learned all those years ago, we would be in trouble. Homeschool conventions are quickly becoming showcases for new ideas and meetup places for tomorrow’s innovators and business leaders.
Homeschoolers are an educational community that have the ability to quickly adapt to changes in teaching methods and this has never been as much to their advantage as it has become today. As new technologies develop, they are quick to get plugged in. The importance of teaching content that will be relevant to their children’s future is creating consumer demand –and curriculum designers are responding. The “what” to learn is progressing even faster than the “how” to learn it. The ability to keep up is becoming more and more difficult, and students are getting left behind.
Getting caught behind a technological learning curve, vanishing resources and threats on our playgrounds are all putting into jeopardy one of our most precious institutions. These factors are heavily influencing the rapid growth in the homeschool community. As these trends continue to converge, look for the rate at which this community grows.
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More About Daniel Cruz:
Daniel Cruz is a senior manager of academic alliances at Grand Canyon University. His focused goal is to serve the homeschool and charter school communities by connecting them with educational enrichment programs and events. Daniel’s experience as a U.S. Marine and a missionary in Latin America has seasoned his eight years of service at GCU. He received his education at the University of Phoenix and is currently enrolled at GCU. Daniel also leads the Honors College on a summer mission to the Dominican Republic. He resides in Phoenix with his wife, Alicia, where they homeschool their four children.