Homeschooling is booming in New York as the pandemic drags on | Wender Mind Kids

Homeschooling is booming in New York as the pandemic drags on

The pandemic prompted a quiet revolution in traditional K-12 public education: More than 20,000 children in New York have dropped out of public school since 2019-2020 and are now being homeschooled, according to the state Department of Education.

In the capital region, school districts have lost more than 1,400 students to homeschooling since the pandemic began, a 70 percent increase, according to Times Union research. Many districts now have twice as many homeschoolers as they did two years ago.

For most school districts, the start of 2020-2021 came amid virtual schools and half-day classes at many schools.

However, there was another spike in early 2021-2022, something that happened at the same time as children were returning to the classroom but with mask requirements – a factor that contributed to the decision of some parents not to let their children back into the classroom send to public school.

“I feel like we as citizens have been forced into this situation,” said Michelle Fantauzzi, from Galway, who withdrew her first and second graders towards the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

The Times Union surveyed capital region counties to determine how many children were homeschooled before the pandemic and how many remained in that designation for the 2021-2022 school year. Data from counties and the state Department of Education also showed a 70 percent increase, from 2,027 homeschoolers in September 2019 to 3,446 homeschoolers two years later.

Nationwide data on home schooling show a similar increase. At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, before the pandemic, there were 26,805 homeschoolers. At the end of the following year, when the schools were closed, there were 33,013 homeschoolers. There are now 54,414 homeschoolers statewide, a 65 percent increase since the 2019-2020 school year.

School officials had said back in 2020 that they expected many students to return after a year; It is now clear that homeschooling has become an attractive permanent educational alternative for thousands of parents.

Some school district leaders are concerned about larger numbers of children transitioning to homeschooling — in part because smaller districts receive less state aid as enrollment falls, and fear ill-prepared children will return to school years later and need expensive additional help.

But the Alliance for Quality Education, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring quality public education for all, said the exodus sent a message to school districts that parents weren’t happy.

“I think it’s a criticism of the process. I think the parents really felt unheard,” said Executive Director Jasmine Gripper. “When you know your child’s school is overcrowded in a typical year, they say oh we’re going to have social distancing, the parents say, ‘how? Schools have not done a good job of answering these questions for parents.”

Likewise, she said, school districts need to invest in sound educational practices that parents say they want, such as: B. Outdoor education, practical science and more teaching about racism.

“If parents say, ‘This is what I want,’ why don’t districts show they will invest in them, too?” Gripper said. “School districts cannot continue to function as if parents were not part of the decision-making process. If you don’t treat parents as stakeholders, you lose the kids from the system.”

leaving public school

Michelle Fantauzzi made the decision to homeschool three weeks before the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The students had a field day. It was 90 degrees outside and they were competing with masks, Fantauzzi said.

At the time, a COVID-19 vaccine was available for teachers but not for children. Some of the teachers weren’t wearing masks, which Fantauzzi said didn’t seem fair.

“Our daughter, who is 7 years old, has asthma and it’s difficult to breathe with the mask on,” Fantauzzi said. “We then decided to just pull them.”

She never expected that – especially not with a toddler at home, a baby on the way and also while working from home.

But it was an incredible experience, she said.

“Without a doubt, it was the best decision we made for our children’s education,” she said. “Our classroom had no walls. Being able to integrate nature and farming and farming… They’re practical and that’s what I think is most lacking (in public school).”

They took workbooks to local parks, grew lettuce in their own backyard, and made a volcano in the snow. They designed signs for “no masks” protests they attended, something Fantauzzi believes helped them learn about democracy and freedom of expression.

Fantauzzi said if school districts require students to get a COVID-19 vaccine next year, she plans to continue homeschooling.

Other parents chose to teach their own children because they felt they could give them a better education.

“For me, it’s freedom of creativity, not sitting at a desk, not suppression of individuality,” said Caitlin Butkereit from East Greenbush, adding that her husband thought her 5-year-old would do better at home.

“He’s very ambitious and loves the home school option because your child can have an education tailored to them, they’re the only student and they have so many opportunities to excel,” she said.

They were also concerned that their children would not learn the full story of racism and US history.

Schenectady City School District: 148 more homeschoolers, for a total of 304

Albany City School District: 124 more homeschoolers, for a total of 202

Queensbury Central School District: 84 more homeschoolers, for a total of 118

Shenendehowa Central School District: 82 more homeschoolers, for a total of 292

Schuylerville Central School District: 80 more homeschoolers, for a total of 173

Source: Individual school districts

“I want to teach it from a point of view that hasn’t been manipulated by the government, which doesn’t paint ‘Disney’ versions of historical events and offers more current history,” she said.

Because of this problem, they considered home schooling before the pandemic, but the idea of ​​virtual classes and other restrictions was the last straw.

“We were already on the fence before the pandemic, but I think it solidified things. None of that sounds right,” she said. “Unstructured time outdoors is exactly what they need.”

Assess whether homeschoolers are learning

School districts have attempted to require testing to determine whether homeschoolers are receiving a full education. Parents must submit an annual plan about what they will teach and how they will meet state curriculum requirements, but these plans “vary in detail and depth,” said Sara Schneller, Shenendehowa’s director of learning and data stewardship.

For the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, the Board of Regents waived the state’s requirement for an annual assessment or written assessment, just as Regents examinations for public school students were cancelled.

This year, some districts asked parents to have their students’ work evaluated by a certified teacher. State regulations state that the assessment must be conducted by a New York-certified teacher or “other person (who) must be chosen by the parents with the approval of the superintendent”. Parents have pushed back calls for a certified teacher instead of themselves, and the Home School Legal Defense Association has written letters on their behalf.

So far, school districts appear to have dropped their applications, but some officials are concerned.

“If we’re trying to change our standards (to improve public schooling), the same standards for homeschoolers should be changed,” Schneller said. “How we do it, that’s the tricky part. We need to think about how these students will be evaluated.”

A new associate of Shenendehowa wrote to a homeschooling family asking for the annual test, while it was waived.

“I had a parent write back very quickly, we don’t have to do that, it was waived,” she said. “I think that’s the struggle from a school district perspective to trust what the parents are doing.”

She said there could be problems when a homeschooled student returns to public school and needs a lot of remediation to keep up with their class, but that’s never happened to her. And any student who returns could then be assessed, she noted.

“There’s a certain level of trust,” she said. “Make sure they understand: You take responsibility for your children’s education.”

But sometimes, just like in public school, it all comes down to the student’s willingness to get the job done.

Elizabeth Roundy, from Rotterdam, now 22, said she wasn’t sure home schooling was the best choice for her. She was homeschooled from elementary school.

“It’s a mixed bag. I don’t have a real job and I don’t have a GED,” she said. “But I learned how to draw. I encouraged creativity.”

Now she wants to use her art in video games. There are many graphic designer jobs out there – but she needs to know how to code.

She teaches herself and wishes she had taken math more seriously at home school.

“I had a choice not to do math at a certain point, so I’m catching up on that,” she said. “I think there is a balance that you can have. People need a certain structure to take care of the essentials.”

As a homeschooler, she has learned to study on her own and is not intimidated by the task she now faces. Overall, she said, it’s hard to say whether public school would have been any better.

“It’s not perfect,” she said of homeschooling. “It could be better, but it could be a lot worse.”