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Distance learning spurs surprising change: More parents consider home schooling

While some parents are praying for the return of schools, the past months have made others decide they can do it better themselves.
/ Source: TODAY

When distance learning started, Tena Moore Crock put up a white board and posted a daily schedule for her 8-year-old son Miles. At first, the Ohio mom followed every assignment to the letter. But after time, she noticed some things in the traditional school structure simply didn’t work, and she found creative ways to play to her son's strengths.

Now she's considering home-schooling... for good.

She's part of a small but growing number of parents who say that despite the frustrations of distance learning, teaching their kids during the coronavirus pandemic has inspired them to keep home-schooling in the fall. Some have seen the ways in which traditional schooling isn't working for their children; others prefer the consistency of home-schooling to the possibility of off-and-on school schedules in the fall; still others are concerned about coronavirus and the safety of schools for their kids. Whatever the reason, more parents are ready to take the plunge into home schooling.

“I’m probably not the best teacher as being a mom. We struggled a little bit,” Moore Crock, 41, a business owner in Kent, Ohio, told TODAY Parents. “But it was really great for us because a lot of the things that the teachers had shared with us... we got to experience.”

In an Ipsos/USA Today poll, more than half of parents said they were "very or somewhat likely" to consider home-schooling their children next year.

Miles' second-grade teachers required several weekly online meetings and offered a few optional ones. Moore Crock insisted that Miles attend them all, but soon realized forcing him to attend the sessions made him unhappy and less productive. She figured out more effective ways of teaching. When he had to write a poem, for example, she allowed him to use the computer, which he enjoyed more than the original assignment of hand-writing (though he worried about it being wrong).

When Tena Moore Crock learned her son, Miles, 8, performed better at school when she tailored the assignments for him, she started to consider home schooling permanently. Tena Moore Crock

The freedom of home schooling

Miles has undergone heart surgery for a congenital heart defect and is at higher risk for flu (and now coronavirus) — so he's used to doing school from home at times. And, he’s an introvert who loves solitary activities. These are all reasons why Moore Crock and her husband, Joe, are considering home schooling next year.

“I’ve been picking and choosing what part of the assignments I require,” she said. “Having the freedom and flexibility to know we can do that is huge.”

Moore Crock told Miles he won’t be going back to school the first month, so they can see if home schooling works. They’re still exploring their options. They’re not alone. As parents consider how the pandemic will shape the school year, more are considering home or virtual schooling.

Miles, 8, is an introvert, his mom says, and he hasn't really missed seeing his classmates. He did ask about summer camp this year as a chance to see some friends. Tena Moore Crock

“Never in my life did I think I'd see the nation's entire school system 100% move online essentially overnight,” Jamie Candee, president and chief executive officer of Edmentum, an online learning company, told TODAY Parents. “(We’re learning) what is working and not working.”

Virtual and home schooling 'isn't for everyone'

A recent USA Today/Ipsos online poll found that more than half of parents surveyed said they were "very or somewhat likely" to consider home-schooling their children next year if school buildings open up in the fall. Already Edmentum's virtual school, EdOptions Academy, is surging in popularity. It experienced almost a 40% increase in enrollments this year. Even though parents and children have struggled with distance learning, many see school at home as a smart option — especially before a vaccine becomes available.

That's one reason why Samantha Taylor, 40, of Longwood, Florida, is rethinking traditional school next year for her three children, Joey, 15, Aaron, 12, and Billie, 6. While she believes her district is doing a wonderful job of navigating distance learning, she wonders if virtual school might be better, considering the pandemic.

“I don't have a crystal ball,” the magazine editor and publisher told TODAY Parents. “But my gut tells me that even if changes are made in school, they are going to be open and closed throughout the year … Assuming that is going to be the case, I would rather just have the consistency for my kids.”

Taylor does not want to teach her children, so she’s thinking about virtual school. Joey is already in a hybrid school with some virtual courses and he enjoys it. But she faces challenges with teaching Billie kindergarten classes and locating Aaron’s coursework.

“His frustrations have come from having to go on a scavenger hunt to find his assignments because each of the seven teachers are posting them somewhere else,” she explained. “We make a list of everything he needs to do in the classes and then he is self-sufficient.”

Samantha Taylor worries that her daughter, Billie, 6, isn't learning as much as her middle and high school sons. Kindergarten doesn't seem to lend itself as well to distance learning as the older grades, even though Taylor knows the teachers and schools are trying hard to help. the Taylor family

Surprising trend: Some parents like it

Candee says the COVID-19 pandemic spurred some emerging trends. First, schools realized they need to offer virtual schooling to parents, like Taylor, who worry about sending their children to school.

But the other trend surprises many others: Some families enjoy it.

“In many cases, kids are preferring it or parents believe that their school system hasn’t served them well,” Candee said. “So they’re seeking enrollment options into virtual schools.”

Some parents feel that home or virtual schooling will provide their children with a stability that traditional schools cannot during the pandemic.

“The learning loss like what we experienced this spring will be quite serious,” she said. “If we do not have strong continuity and learning plans in place across this country, we are going to see very, very real challenges in terms of (children) being able to perform at grade level.”

For many, school looks a lot like it does at the Taylor household right now. Courtesy of the Taylor family

Distance learning v. home schooling

Distance learning as a temporary measure during a crisis is not the same as home schooling, and some parents would much prefer the latter.

Katie Kuras home-schooled her children up until this year when her 10-year-old twins, Abby and Brady, started a performing arts middle school. Even though Kuras has a master’s degree in education, worked as a teacher and home-schooled her twins and 9-year old Claire, the family has struggled with distance learning.

“It’s not something any of us have enjoyed. It’s extremely frustrating,” the 38-year-old from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, told TODAY Parents. “This distance learning, you cannot really compare it to home schooling. It's completely different.”

Katie Kuras had home schooled her children up until this year. After COVID-19 resulted in school closures, she plans to go back to home schooling next year. Courtesy of Katie Kuras

She said some teachers make distance learning fun but other teachers haven’t even reached out. There’s little overall coordination and sometimes her children have to be in two classes at once. Her kids feel bad missing out and the chaos of distance learning is taking a toll.

“He went from having all A's and B's to not doing so well,” Kuras said of her son. “That has been frustrating.”

Plus, virtual band and choir just aren't the same. So the family is going back to home schooling.

“It’s not for everyone,” she said. “Home schooling has afforded us so much freedom and opportunity and my kids have really thrived.”

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