THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS homeschooling has more than doubled this year as families feared the impact of COVID-19 and many schools switched to distance learning.
According to new Numbers published by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there were 17,127 homeschooled students in Massachusetts in the 2020-2021 school year, as of January 1. This compares to 7,802 homeschooled children in 2019-2020, and similar numbers in the previous two years. .
In the state’s most populous cities, Boston reported 252 homeschoolers, Worcester 339, and Springfield 221. While statewide, homeschoolers made up 1.7 percent of students, in some small communities, homeschooling students accounted for up to 5 percent of the student body. In Sandwich, for example, there were 160 children at home out of 3,071 students in the district. In Uxbridge, there were 103 children at home out of 2,034 students. In Agawam, 179 out of 3,707 students were homeschooled.
Home schooling was expected to increase. But this is the first time that DESE has quantified the size of the total number. Previous data released by DESE revealed that 37,000 students left the public school system this year, although many are kindergarten and preschool students. These data estimated that about 7,200 students had left the public school system to be homeschooled, compared to about 800 transfers in a typical year.
While, anecdotally, private and parish schools have seen an influx of interest, the numbers do not seem to reflect it, with around 66,200 students enrolled as attending private and public parish schools, up from 68,000 last year. .
A major question emerging from the data is what students will do next year, when schools are expected to return to full-time in-person learning. Bill Heuer, director of the Massachusetts Home Learning Association, said he expected the number of children at home to decline. “A lot of parents have to go back to work,” he said. “Whether or not they enjoy homeschooling during a pandemic, there will be economic and family reasons why they simply cannot continue to do so.
Natasha Ushomirsky, state director for Massachusetts at the Education Trust, which advocates for poor students and students of color, said the data was not unexpected, as it was evident many parents were choosing not to sending their children to school because of distance learning or health problems. She said it was too early to know what the parents would do next year. While some children will likely return to public schools, it’s also possible that parents have found other options this year that have worked better for them and their children.
“I think this year has fundamentally changed the relationship between families and schools, because over the past year parents, grandparents and caregivers have literally looked over the shoulders of their children, ”Ushomirsky said. “They got unprecedented insight into children’s learning experiences.”
Davina Owens, a lawyer from Stoughton, homeschooled her third and eighth graders this year, after feeling they weren’t getting enough education during distance learning last spring.
She has decided to send her eldest son to an agricultural technical school next fall. She has not yet decided whether she will send her youngest son to school or keep him at home. She said she needed more information on consistency in education next year and whether her son would be likely to end up in quarantine or stay home. She wants to know if the students will need to be vaccinated.
For one thing, Owens had the stress of home school while working. On the other hand, she said that her children had benefited from the individual education. With more activities opening up, they took field trips, like taking a whale watching after a marine biology lesson.
“If I didn’t have other time commitments and all things being equal, I think I would continue homeschooling forever,” Owens said.