Frustrated by the excessive quiz-and-test strategy found in Common Core State Standards a few years ago in public schools, and with the too-high price tag found in private education, many Tennessee parents defected to homeschooling. The mass exodus continues today with nods to the pandemic, forced vaccinations and masking and the question of what’s actually being taught in schools today.
Parents Are Stepping Up
“We’re heading up our kids’ education,” says Jessica Brown, a mom of three, ages 11, 9 and 6. Brown home educated her two oldest last year and is turning in an “Intent to Homeschool” for her kindergartener this fall, as well. Like many parents of school-age kids, Brown grew dissatisfied with the content of instruction in public schools and in trying to make sense of it all. Making the switch to homeschool wasn’t easy.
“I went through a kind of values-based soul searching,” Brown says. “What do I want? What do I want for my kids? I have to admit, I was scared. Would I be able to be a meaningful teacher? Could I do the math, or would I need to get outside help? And what about sports teams for the boys? While I know public schools are supposed to allow home-school kids to play sports with them, would they really? Or would they let them try out and then quietly cut them? Plus my husband and I both work — how on earth would we do this?” she fretted. The hand twisting continued into the school year.
“In 2020, I dreaded sending my kids back to school — and our school has great people in it! Great teachers. It would have been so much more convenient to just keep doing what we were doing,” she says.
A Scary Moment
By Christmas, the Browns had finally had enough, and Jessica took her cue from her sons.
“The boys were tired and hapless about school — what a loss! They never talked about anything they were learning, they didn’t want to read. It was nights of flashcards. If I could sum up their education at that point, I would say it was all about flash cards,” Brown says.
They decided the boys would not return after Christmas break. Instead of delivering the kids to their brick-and-mortar school one brisk January day, Brown walked into the school office and delivered the “Intent to Homeschool” forms.
“It was the scariest moment,” Brown says. “I was really stepping out and putting myself on the line. But it also was one of the bravest moments I’ve had,” she adds.
She was taking a leap of faith with a determination to manage her boys’ education with her husband, sharing the teaching duties and getting closer to their sons. How much had their boys retained of their educations so far? They needed to know what the boys needed and where they should start. They felt alone at first, but it didn’t last long.
“Support came really fast,” Brown says. “I easily connected with other home-school moms who congratulated me on taking back my kids and who were eager to help me be successful. It was astonishing, actually.”
“My boys are both really smart,” Brown says. “But they had been slogging through their days when they were enrolled at school. When we told them that we were going to homeschool them they were shocked — and thrilled.”
Numbers Don’t Lie
Today, as many as 2.5 million of the nation’s 77 million school-age kids are home educated, and the number is growing. There has been a significant increase in those figures from 2019 to 2021.
One of the highest concentrations of home-schooling families is in the South, and the number of them is growing as more and more parents choose to take education into their own hands. These parents want control to teach what they want. They want to take time with their kids, helping them embrace hands-on learning for real without the derailing influences of whatever is going on in the U.S. politically.
The long-ago assumption that home-schooling is somehow weird and different has evolved into home-schooled kids are lucky and advanced. The truth is, homeschoolers get into top-ranked colleges and graduate at higher rates. Plus, study results from the National Home Education Research Institute show that home-schooled children perform better on academic tests than public school children.
How Parents Do It
Some home-schooling parents put together personalized education programs themselves, while others purchase curriculum and other resources. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, some parents take the traditional approach using textbooks and workbooks to teach writing, grammar and spelling through repetition. There’s also the “classical” approach model which emphasizes grammar and logic through the study of great works of Western literature.
“We definitely were not completely ready,” says Brown. “At first — as I tried to figure out my teaching process — I wrote two weeks’ worth of lesson plans from sourcing books at the library. That got a bit time consuming! Then I settled on the Robinson Curriculum, and it’s been fantastic,” she adds.
“I do think it’s hard if one of you is not a stay-at-home parent,” Brown says. “Luckily, I have flexibility with my job and can work from home, so I work in the morning from 7 to 10 and then often at night, too. The boys have work they can do without me and then we check in. Lots of times we go to the park just to get out, and I take them on field trips all of the time. We talk about it all,” she says. “I find ways to get my work done, and so far it’s worked out.”
But what about sports teams and that little thing known as socializing?
“My older boys both play travel soccer, so they have a lot of friends from that. My boys have plenty of friends, that’s not anything I ever really worry about, and I invite kids over a lot because that’s how I get my breaks!”
Questions and Answers
Many parents want to homeschool their kids but doubt they have the patience or skill to do it. That’s where tutorial schools and co-ops can play a role. The Middle Tennessee Home Education Association’s (MTHEA) website lists them, and they exist to partner with parents in education. These options provide support and resources such as mom-to-mom support meetings and mentors, academic support and competitions, daily opportunities for home-schooling families and more.
“My biggest concern was about my boys’ records and making sure they are at grade-level or higher,” Brown says. “I decided to sign up with an umbrella school since that’s how they help,” she adds. MTHEA lists numerous umbrella schools, including Home Life Academy which guides home-schooling parents with record keeping, transcripts, grade reporting and more.”