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Cynthia Allen: Want to avoid another chaotic school year? Try home schooling

Driving home after our first day of co-op schooling last month, I felt overwhelmingly grateful.

Many of my friends have spent the last weeks consumed by the battle over school mask mandates.

They are steeling themselves for the inevitable return to virtual school, the tumult it will bring to their households and the learning loss their kids will endure as a result.

Some friends already have disappointed kids quarantined at home, not due to sickness but to “exposure” to covid-19.

My family will avoid the quarantines, the consternation and the chaos baked into yet another school year, because our kids will be learning at home — not by default but by design.

And we are far from alone in this decision.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 11.1% of families reported home schooling their kids at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. (It’s worth noting that home schooling was distinguished from virtual schooling in the household survey, so as not to conflate the two very different models.)

It’s an increase of 5.6 percentage points and means twice as many U.S. households home schooled compared to the prior year.

The increase was even greater among minority households, where the proportion of home-schooling families increased by five times for Black families. The rate rose from 3.3% in the spring of 2020 to 16.1% in the fall.

In Texas, the ranks of all home-schooled children have similarly exploded from 4.5% to 12.3% over the same period.

The Texas Homeschool Coalition says that means that well over 750,000 students in Texas were home schooled during the last school year.

The advocacy group doesn’t yet have a concrete estimate of how many Texas students will be home schooled during the school year just begun, but it reports that many families are seeking its guidance and resources.

Given the school year’s already rocky start, it won’t be surprising if the number grows.

While it’s undeniable that much of the dramatic increase in home education is the direct result of the pandemic, the reasons why parents are choosing to home school vary greatly.

A sizable group wants to avoid exposure to covid-19. But a second, probably similarly-sized group, is choosing to home school to protect kids from virus-mitigation efforts they find draconian, psychologically damaging and rooted in politics instead of science.

Bethany Mandel, a writer and home-school mom of five I spoke with, says there is a third category of pandemic home-schoolers — those who were already “home school-curious,” tried it and realized how much it dramatically improved family life.

Mandel says she’s spoken with a surprising number of home-school families who fall into this category and it’s these students for whom home-school is likely to continue, regardless of the state of the pandemic.

For many (if not all) of the families I’ve spoken with, home schooling was always the plan, although the impetus behind the decision is seldom identical. Some choose to home school for cultural or religious reasons. Others find the scheduling, convenience and pace of life is vastly improved by in-home education. For others still, home schooling just “feels right.”

Still, educating one’s own children isn’t always easy. It requires discipline and sacrifice and a certain willingness to be counter-cultural.

But every home-school family I’ve talked to says the flexibility and dynamism it provides makes the challenges worth the effort.

And every family I’ve talked with says the chaos of pandemic schooling, not to mention the ongoing cultural battles (from gender ideology to critical race theory) for which our schools have become flash points, only justify the decision to home educate.

We simply don’t know if home schooling will decline when the pandemic eventually subsides, but it’s clear that parents everywhere are recognizing that home schooling isn’t only a viable option, it’s a really good one.

And there’s no better time to give it a try.

Cynthia Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.