Looking Back On A Year Of Mass Homeschooling

Kerry McDonald


In March, I published an article here about the world’s homeschooling moment, noting that hundreds of millions of students worldwide were suddenly displaced from their classrooms and learning at home due to the Covid-19 response. At its peak, that number reached nearly 1.3 billion children learning at home, with varying degrees of remote connection to their school or district.

Those of us who homeschooled our kids prior to the school shutdowns were quick to point out that pandemic homeschooling was nothing like the real thing, forcibly separated as we all were from the people, places and things of our communities. It was hard on everyone. Despite this inauspicious introduction to homeschooling, millions of parents and students decided that it was an education model worth seriously considering in 2020. They left traditional schooling in droves this year, disrupting conventional education and triggering learning innovations that will long outlast the pandemic.

One of the earliest signals that 2020 would be a year of mass homeschooling appeared in an April survey of parents conducted by EdChoice. It asked a variety of questions about how families were coping with school shutdowns and revealed that more than half of the respondents had a more favorable view of homeschooling as a result of the school closures. I remember thinking at the time that if families thought homeschooling was tolerable during the springtime tumult and isolation, then they would find it far more fulfilling under ordinary circumstances when they could actually gather with others, visit libraries and museums, attend classes and so on.

In May, a RealClear Opinion Research survey confirmed that many parents were more satisfied with at-home learning than expected, with 40 percent saying they were more likely to choose homeschooling or virtual learning even after lockdowns ended. Around the same time, a USA Today/Ipsos poll found that 60 percent of parents surveyed said they would likely choose at-home learning in the fall rather than send their children to school even if the schools reopened for in-person learning.

As summer began, parent actions reflected pollster predictions. Many parents began pulling their children out of school and registering them as independent homeschoolers. During the first week of July, so many parents in North Carolina submitted their online intent to homeschool forms that it crashed the state’s nonpublic education website. Homeschool applications were up 21 percent in Nebraska in July, and 75 percent in Vermont, while grassroots homeschooling networks and local Facebook homeschooling groups reported record increases in new members.