The Secrets of the Semi-Homeschoolers: Post Pandemic, Will DIY Education Continue?

From the newsletter:

After years of beating my head against the wall trying to get the public schools to provide academics AND therapy for my twice exceptional child, I gave up. I treated everything that happened at school between 8:30 and 3 as a time where my kid could be around typical kids and get some socializing in, but I did not expect my son to learn much there. His education really started when he got home. 

After school, he went to Kumon twice a week for math lessons, to the YMCA for exercise. We maxed out the insurance for speech therapy and psychology services. I networked like crazy to find clubs, groups or activities within a 40 miles radius of the house. I started a Facebook page for other special ed parents in town (almost 600 members now), so I could help facilitate the gossip. We took lessons in his areas of strength, including music and computers. We took trips every weekend to museums or ballfields, anything to get the kid out of the house. 

Sandra Lee, the celebrity chef and Andrew Cuomo’s ex-girlfriend, made a fortune providing tips on cooking semi-homemade meals. A typical meal might involve mixing the spice packet from a bag of ramen with hamburger meat and an onion to craft a unique meatloaf. Her formula was to take something off-the-shelf and combine it with something fresh to make something better. Parents have been doing that all year with their schooling – part public, part home, part private – to make something better. Will that continue, post-pandemic? 

***

Our situation is a little extreme, because my kid has autism, but it’s not that unusual. Families with typical kids have always done a lighter version of semi-homeschooling. Here, they pay a lot of taxes to live in a town based on the school’s reputation, but the vast majority of parents rely on some private services after school to supplement everything from academics to mental health to athletics to college counseling. Does semi-homeschooling exasperate inequalities? Hell yeah, but you can’t pass a law criminalizing Kumon worksheets, so that’s how things roll. 

For the past year and a half, more parents than ever have been semi-homeschooling their kids. Families from Manhattan and Brooklyn relocated to quaint little upstate New York towns, driving up the price of real estate and creating new opportunities for boutique hotels and breweries. This month, we visited two of those towns — Hudsonand Roscoe. Until CEOs are able to force workers into the office, those families are staying up there, along with an army of private tutors and online options to support them. Their schools in the city — the besieged elite public schools and hyper-woke private schools — aren’t looking too appealing at the moment. 

Like those uber-wealthy rural gentrifiers, many minority parents say that want remote education to continue, too, though for different reasons. 

For the thirty years, whenever a polling operation asked parents about their views on school choice. Black and Latino parents were always far, far more sympathetic to charter schools and vouchers than white parents. Why? Advocates in those communities explained to me that their schools are terrible, and they will take any other option out there. 

I assume that there is a similar dynamic going on now with remote education. While remote education isn’t great, parents in Newark and Camden and Philadelphia are just happy that their kids aren’t in violent, crazy classrooms. Their kids weren’t learning much in the brick and mortar school either. With remote education, they know their kids are safe and are available to help with caretaking responsibilities. 

On our last two trips to upstate New York, we met entrepreneurs creating everything from artisan beef jerky to breweries with vegan burgers to meet the needs of the city families. I wonder if the wealthy families out in their upstate New York retreats will give rise to educational entrepreneurs with new tools and approaches, which will later benefit urban families. I also wonder if special ed kids, like mine, can benefit from change. 

Our masks are off, even though it feels really odd to expose our noses and mouths to other people again. It’s like being the American on a topless beach in Ibiza. We’re actually going to the movie theater tomorrow to see Into the Heights. Woot! But the disruption still exists. Lifestyles, locations, work, school are still in flux. I’m feeling more optimistic about these changes lately, because disruption benefits those who have nothing less to lose.

22 thoughts on “The Secrets of the Semi-Homeschoolers: Post Pandemic, Will DIY Education Continue?

  1. I’m pretty sure that what I could call supplemental enrichment (and not home schooling) has always been a part of many families lives. My own, immigrant and very middle class family signed us up for theater, gymnastics, swimming in community centers, private music lessons, summer classes at the university, . . . . True, there’s more now, more available, more knowledge, and more demand.

    But, in the high SES hot house, a primary purpose of supplemental activity is to differentiate one child from the rest of their classmates, and, thus, the supplemental activity isn’t particularly dependent on what the school offers. Some supplements predate the pandemic (tutoring — and I always wonder whether tutoring means having someone else do your work– to participate in the elite classes at elite HS, for example).

    Like

    1. I have my kids in tutoring and it’s definitely not about the elite essay completion. It’s mostly because a) our math curriculum got messed up and our local school never recovered, b) one of my children hates words and so anyone who can help him overcome the issue that sharing thoughts involves written words is helpful, and the other has no problem expressing himself but considers grammar and spelling creative pursuits and c) neither of my children will believe my husband or I for a moment when we express our “opinions” about, say, the proper use of punctuation despite one of us being a -professional editor- but if a 24 year old recently minted B.Ed grad says so, they listen.

      I honestly pay the money in part because it means less arguing, and with two busy jobs, neither of us has it together to get through the arguing. I’m not sure this is the right reason, but there it is.

      Like

      1. “neither of my children will believe my husband or I for a moment when we express our “opinions” about, say, the proper use of punctuation despite one of us being a -professional editor- but if a 24 year old recently minted B.Ed grad says so, they listen. ”

        This is *so* true for me as well. It doesn’t matter that I have a masters in Information Science – *I* can’t teach Mr 13 how to research a topic; but if the tutor says he ‘has to do it this way’, he’ll listen.

        Anecdotally, I hear this from parents from all professions – their kids are unwilling to actively learn from them in their areas of expertise (including a maths teacher who ended up paying for private maths tuition for her son – even though she could do a better job herself!).
        [I remember Mr 8 arguing with me that 5+3 was not the same as 3+5 (!) with the words: “You’re not a maths teacher!]

        There are a few who seem to have kids willing to learn academic subjects from parents – I don’t know what drug they’re using….

        Interestingly, plenty of kids are happy to learn technical, hands-on stuff or sports & outdoor activity skills – it’s just the academic subjects that are the ‘parents are idiots’ zones.

        And, I absolutely agree that limiting the areas for argument is only beneficial – now we only fight over chores and laundry!

        Like

  2. What changed with the pandemic and what will remain? In my personal educational life, not much. Kiddo’s sports disappeared and he spent his time thinking about the election and catching up on “famous books” from the first half of the 20th century. Eventually sports came back. He did, I think, have more time. But, we didn’t move to Hawaii to home school (we suggested it, but he refused). Friends have made more use of their second homes, some have used the school day to ski (or to fly a plane to another city for fun). Will some of this remain? My kiddo is hoping for a no school Wednesday (it is already a short day, and he’d love for it to be free, leaving it to do homework or other activities). It would be good for him, but I don’t know if it would be good in general.

    We knew a family who had pulled their children from school pre-pandemic and were planning on a 6 month world tour (they’d done nearly a year before). They came home from London in the early pandemic. They will do that again, potentially. But they are not more likely to do it now.

    Like

    1. Somebody my relatives in WA know apparently took a gap year and did ski instructing instead.

      Oh, man that sounds amazing.

      (I know a lot of us were wondering, if a kid takes the year off, what do they do instead?)

      Like

  3. On the bigger question, my family’s glad to send our kids back to regular, in-person, public school. I am crossing my fingers that we have a safe and effective vaccine for the kids by around then.

    Like

  4. Our youngest was having some reading, math and handwriting issues in fall 2019 in 1st grade. I had a fairly serious home remediation program for her by winter break, but 1st grade involved so many uncomfortable communications with school, that I was semi-thrilled to have school close for COVID in spring 2020. We had kid tested by an educational psychologist in May 2020 and he said that her results in math and reading were average to above average–I guess her 1st grade teacher was having trouble getting her best work out of her. During the summer of 2020 we sent her to therapy 3 mornings a week, despite the fact that the therapy center kept having COVID exposures. I kept up a home remediation program through summer 2020 (some math and some reading every day), with extra reading and math workbook on Saturdays and through breaks if she didn’t have anything else going on. Nothing heavy duty, just a required 3-4 pages of math workbooks and 20 minutes of reading every day. Result: our youngest had mostly very solid grades throughout 2nd grade, with the exception of a failed attempt at a new ADHD med. Oh, yeah, and she had a private aide coming in several days a week, too during 2nd grade. The combination of morning Ritalin, aide, and home education program was very successful for 2nd grade.

    We haven’t gotten back to the homeschooling since the end of school, but we’ll probably start soon. The plan for this summer for her is one week of travel to WA (done), two weeks of camps (zoo and art), and then therapy 3 mornings a week for the remainder of the summer. We’ve also got passes and memberships for the zoo, the children’s museum, the water park and an indoor trampoline place, and I should put together some plans for us to go with friends. (Indoor entertainment is essential during the summer in our climate.) I’ll only have her do the full “homeschool” schedule on the days that she doesn’t have a lot of plans.

    Our youngest went to a classmate’s pool party this afternoon, which was probably the first time she’s been to a birthday party in over 15 months. It was super fun! I was talking to some moms at the party and we were talking about how, even though our kids were in school for 2020-2021 and ostensibly had a pretty normal year, there are odd gaps in their skills, due to the pandemic. One of the moms had a kid forget how to swim.

    My teens are much less scheduled than their baby sister. The college student will be taking an online math course and reading from a reading list (she’s reading Tacitus right now). The highschooler will be volunteering a little at a nearby lab, doing SAT prep, and doing some preliminary work for an AP course in the fall. He’s surprisingly interested in getting a job, too, which a number of his classmates seem to have done, but I’m not sure if that will happen. He’s also really interested in learning to drive, but due to insurance issues, we’ll wait until next year (age 17) to start that process.

    Like

    1. Now is not a bad time for job hunting for teens. My niece who just finished 10th grade and is on the golf team in her high school got a job at a golf course attached to a fancy country club. Since the golf course has always hired teens the pay, which is pretty good, is less than jobs in some other areas of the club. Now some other managers there have tried to poach her to work at the spa and the caterers for more money. (She’s said no because she gets some free time on the course and the manager who hired her is also a coach and periodically give coaching to the kids he hires.)

      I’m considering showing her the movie Caddyshack, but my sister might not approve.

      Like

  5. For the thirty years, whenever a polling operation asked parents about their views on school choice. Black and Latino parents were always far, far more sympathetic to charter schools and vouchers than white parents.

    I don’t think this is true. At all. For instance, this article (published by school-privatizing fanatic Betsy Devos, no less) indicates that support for charter schools among whites and Latinos is about the same, with support among blacks slightly (not “far, far”) higher. This is only one poll, granted, but it is consonant with all the other numbers I’ve seen.

    What *is* true is that support for charter schools is much higher among black *Democrats* than white *Democrats*. This is because the majority of white charter school supporters are on the right, whereas somewhere between 85-95 percent of blacks consistently vote Democratic. This, then, is less a commentary on support for charter schools, but rather another illustration of the fact that blacks have a diversity of political opinions just like everyone else and many would vote Republican if not for the fact that all but a trivial number of Republicans are either stone-cold racists or else just have no substantive problem being in a political coalition with racists. Until the Republicans come to terms with the fact that those non-racist Republicans are perfectly happy to look the other way regarding the racists in their company we will have this dissonance between the voting patterns of blacks and their actual political views.

    Like

    1. Jay said, “This, then, is less a commentary on support for charter schools, but rather another illustration of the fact that blacks have a diversity of political opinions just like everyone else and many would vote Republican if not for the fact that all but a trivial number of Republicans are either stone-cold racists or else just have no substantive problem being in a political coalition with racists.”

      And, conversely, Democrats seem really comfortable being the party that justified looting and burning billions of dollars of US cities, raised murder rates to levels unseen in nearly three decades, closed schools for a year and made urban life intolerable for ordinary people.

      There isn’t a “racist” organization operating in the US today that could dream of doing as much damage to minorities as Democrats did over the past 15 months.

      Like

      1. You vastly underestimate the damage caused by decades of institutional racism in lending, insurance, voting rights, farmer supports, schools, health care while overestimating any direct effects of policy in the protests against racism.

        The Democratic party is against racism, but has no position in favor of looting and burning.

        An unwillingness to fight racism, to advocate for censoring history, to include straight out racists in the party (combined with an unwillingness to propose policy) is damaging to the country — as Jay notes, it would be useful if different solutions could be discussed in the public forum by those who are trying to work together find solutions (and not win supreme court justices and kick out party members who do not toe the party line with appropriate obeisance to an unhinged leader).

        Like

      2. What exactly did Democratic politicians do to raise the murder rate? It’s not easy to influence such a thing. Interestingly, I was at a party with one of my theater groups and a paramedic was telling us how he thinks the crack down on opiate prescriptions has created a surge in demand for illicit opiates. He’s take care of more than one person who got sick from illegal pills they bought after they got cut off by their doctors. I have absolutely no idea how right or not he is.

        Like

      3. I’ve got to hand it to you. You could not have made my point more clearly if I had paid you to be my foil.

        Like

    2. Honestly, Jay, I’m right. I did a dissertation on this. White suburbanites don’t need charter schools or vouchers. They might say they are theoretically in favor of vouchers, but they never ever support voucher bills. Black folks in cities do. I have interviewed black education advocates. They hate their schools. They’ll take anything as an alternative. They’ll take a ham sandwich over the the school down the block.

      Like

      1. I think there is a serious reluctance among non-black progressives to acknowledge the multiplicity of views of black Democrats on a variety of issues, including schools. Sometimes the progressives are condescending, sometimes they think they are working for the long term (but individual kids don’t have a long term) but sometimes legitimately raising the failures of the alternatives. There are public schools that are so terrible that nothing might be worse, but there are plentiful failures in the alternatives.

        I follow the New Orleans story (all charter schools) off and on because it is an experiment and I like experiments. I think there can be ideological politics with schools, but I try to be non-ideology bound about what works (try is operative, it’s not easy to do).

        Reading at the public level, it seems the bottom line is that school scores have increased with their new system (especially in the beginning, though since the 10+ years, there is stalling). Some analyses attribute the initial improvement to the closure of low performing schools. And, the system is (still, I think) under a consent decree for failures in serving children with IEPs (though note, other schools — LAUSD was under a consent decree from 1996-2019!).

        “Reforms yielded large and positive effects on a wide variety of metrics: test scores, high school graduation rates, college-going, achievement/opportunity gaps, and parent satisfaction” and “closing and taking over low-performing schools was the factor above all others, that explains the improved student outcomes,”: From “Charter School City” by Douglass Harris

        On NOLA’s special ed consent decree: https://thelensnola.org/2020/10/15/judge-orders-state-district-to-set-proactive-compliance-before-exiting-landmark-special-education-settlement/ (things do seem btter now than they were 5 years ago).

        And, a personal piece by a resident & charter school board member: https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/what-new-orleans-tells-us-about-the-perils-of-putting-schools-on-the-free-market

        Like

      2. Honestly, Jay, I’m right. I did a dissertation on this. White suburbanites don’t need charter schools or vouchers. They might say they are theoretically in favor of vouchers, but they never ever support voucher bills. Black folks in cities do.

        Well, sure, OK. I can’t dispute your research. But I am still not understanding how the qualitative data I linked to points to a big disparity in support between blacks and whites on this issue. The published survey said that 48% of people overall supported charter schools with the breakdown being 47% of white respondents supporting, 51% of Latinos, and 55% of blacks. This does not indicate a wide disparity in support, but rather a narrow one. I’ve seen similar numbers in the past so this does not seem to be an unrepresentative survey, nor does their methodology seem suspect.

        I do have to say that I have some skepticism for drawing broad conclusions based off of qualitative research. With an issue where 48% of the country feels one way and 52% feels the other, one can find any number of interview subjects that will support anything at all. You can find any number of white suburbanites like me who will fight to the literal death to oppose privatizing education but there are others who are charter and voucher supporters because they like their parochial schools and segregation academies and want them to be further subsidized.

        I think qualitative surveys are good because they indicate *why* people support the things that they do. It seems to me that blacks and whites support charters and vouchers for different reasons. Blacks clearly support them because the schools in high poverty areas are disasters and they will try anything to make things better whereas most of the whites I’ve seen supporting charters and vouchers do so because they want to finance their otherwise untenable parochial school or want to be subsidized to get their kids away from their darker-skinned fellows. I may be hugely sympathetic to one group and contemptuous of the other but when you look at actual numbers they look the same in the 47/51/55 split.

        Like

      3. Jay, one of the things which is kind of challenging about a lot of your remarks is that you seem confident that you can discern the motivations of people who don’t share your policy views – and, quelle surprise! they are generally bad motivations. Now, this mother would have a real interest in vouchers, or charters, or any goddamn thing to get her kid away from Randi Weingarten and her henches, right? https://nypost.com/2021/06/16/troubled-nyc-school-told-mom-to-pull-her-smart-son-out/ and my kids are aged out of school (splendid suburban schools, lovely education they got thank you) so you can’t plausibly assert any kind of dark motivation to my support for vouchers, right? Or can you invent something?

        Like

      4. bj said,

        “Reading at the public level, it seems the bottom line is that school scores have increased with their new system (especially in the beginning, though since the 10+ years, there is stalling).”

        I don’t know if this is a factor that was considered, but there was a big exodus from New Orleans after Katrina, so the NO population pre and post-Katrina is not identical.

        Like

      5. Jay said, ” You can find any number of white suburbanites like me who will fight to the literal death to oppose privatizing education but there are others who are charter and voucher supporters because they like their parochial schools and segregation academies and want them to be further subsidized.”

        I’m pretty sure I couldn’t afford to live in your “public” suburban school system and I’m even more sure that 80% of Americans can’t afford it, either.

        Interestingly, I’ve probably been less of a charter school supporter now after having been a private school parent for 14 years. Some reasons for that:

        –realizing that family support and inputs are really important for kid success and that a “good” school is usually just a school with “good” kids and “good” parents,
        –realizing that family buy-in to school approach is very important–school can only go so far if parents are unwilling to cooperate with attendance, homework, school policies, etc, and aren’t good team players.
        –realizing that some families are going to be sending expensive-to-educate kids to school
        –understanding that it’s really hard to run a school year in, year out.

        However, the last year has probably tipped the scale back for me in the direction of charter support, especially for those districts that were closed for over a year. There was a minimal responsibility (provide reasonably safe place for kids to go for most of the working day) that schools were supposed to provide, and they didn’t do it, to say nothing of the failure to educate.

        Like

      6. I can’t even at the idea that private schools are automatically racist (“segregation academies”) while public suburban schools are automatically virtuous.

        As Megan McArdle has said, “Memo to suburban parents who oppose voucher programs: You’re actually sending your kid to private school. You’re just confused because the school came bundled with granite countertops.”

        She was responding to Alan Cole, who wrote, “There’s a whole strand of boomer liberalism that is ostensibly like “yay, public goods and government!” but then when you actually look closer it’s just a private club with a membership fee.”

        Yeah.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s