Home-schooling: a new factor in the job market
During the pandemic, adults weren’t the only people balancing their workloads at home. Students of all ages began taking classes online, and families had to coordinate the use of shared spaces and resources to meet their needs.
According to the U.S. Census, working mothers took on the brunt of this upheaval. The agency found that employed moms were almost 70 percent more likely to take leave to make it all work.
A 2022 report by the Associated Press sought data from every state to track this change. The 18 responding states revealed a 63 percent increase in home-schooling for the 2020-2021 school year, with that number falling by only 17 percent for 2021-2022, meaning the post-pandemic boom in home-schooling has continued even as schools reopened.
A 2022 U.S. government report found that home-schooling had become an option since the 1990s. They also found it was predominantly used by white families, citing “a concern about school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure” as their biggest reasons for making the shift. This was followed closely by parents choosing home-school out of “a desire to provide moral instruction.”
Utah saw a particularly large jump. Data compiled by Vice News and published in a documentary about the sudden home-schooling popularity showed that Utah towered above other states with a 313 percent increase.
Around the same time, decreased school attendance rates started to have real-world consequences for districts around the state. Granite School District Board of Education closed three elementary schools in December, citing low enrollment. Alpine closed five elementary schools in March, blaming “uneven growth” across the district. Salt Lake City School District was criticized in a state audit for not closing schools despite decreasing enrollment and is currently studying whether to shut some of its schools in 2024.
Home-schooling is not the only factor contributing to these decreasing numbers; Deseret News found last November that a falling birthrate and increasing gentrification in Utah also impacted school districts. This is likely not a short-term problem in the Beehive state because a report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah found school-age students to be the slowest-growing age group in Utah. This age group is predicted to grow by 15 percent between now and 2060, while the state’s population overall is expected to grow by 66 percent.
The question of how these changes will impact schools in Utah looms large, and state officials have started to take action.
Utah’s government, embracing these changes, passed a law in February that provides $8,000 to parents for every home-schooled student they have in the family each year. This law also provided public school teachers with a $6,000 raise.
"A 2022 report by the Associated Press sought data from every state to track this change. The 18 responding states revealed a 63 percent increase in home-schooling for the 2020-2021 school year, with that number falling by only 17 percent for 2021-2022, meaning the post-pandemic boom in home-schooling has continued even as schools reopened."
These developments bring into focus a long-running debate about the effectiveness of home-schooling in the areas of learning, social awareness and preparation for the working world. The topic is fraught with studies focusing on entirely different aspects of education and contradictions depending on which study is being cited.
One academic study, for example, argued in 2016 that home-schooling amounts to “choosing parental rights over children’s interests,” calling it “the most extreme form of privatization of education.” The researchers, two Emory University professors, studied home-schooling’s history and economic context.
The current practice of home-schooling grew in the 1970s as a popular movement among left-wing and conservative parents to reject institutional education. It was prohibited in many states until the 1980s. The authors show that the home-school movement has been largely effective at convincing local governments and courts to deregulate the field. They also point to the opportunity for misinformation and a lack of diverse experiences as “vulnerabilities.” Based on all this, the authors argue home-schooling should be prohibited in the U.S.
Child welfare researcher and former Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet repeated these warnings in a summary of her research to the Harvard Gazette in 2020, arguing that home-schooling often has much to do with “parent rights absolutism” at the expense of student learning.
Other studies, meanwhile, have found success for students. A 2021 study by University of Oklahoma and University of Arkansas professors found many formerly home-schooled adults reported success. Despite mainstream expectations that home-school students struggle socially, students thrived when empowered to decide whether or not to be home-schooled and which social experiences they engaged in.
Concerns about social skills were also a reason for parents to seek home-schooling in the first place. According to a 2020 survey of research, one study found that “67% of homeschool parents identified socialization-related concerns as the primary motivation for their decision to homeschool their children.” The researchers also pointed to limited data pools and the lack of criteria for what would be considered “desirable socialization.”
Meanwhile, other peer-reviewed studies show positive outcomes for home-schooled students. A 2017 study reviewed available literature to conclude that data was only recently beginning to provide insight into the issue, but home-schoolers reported better social experiences than their public school peers did. The researchers called for expanded studies to build on what’s already been compiled.
An emerging opinion is that home-school success depends broadly on the resources involved. A 2021 opinion piece published in USA Today by Economic Policy Institute economists Emma García and Elaine Weiss argued that the pandemic-era conditions many parents were home-schooling under were not conducive to an effective student learning environment.
“Extensive research has established the conditions for highly effective homeschooling,” García and Weiss wrote. “First and foremost, it must be intentional and well-resourced. Homeschooling normally takes place after parents have determined that their child would be better served in a one-on-one environment.”
As for business and workplace implications, studies have broadly focused on college success and social skills. The 2021 study found that as adults, former home-schoolers were typically comfortable adjusting and finding success in their social and professional lives.
Researchers Daniel Hamlin of the University of Oklahoma and Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas wrote, “In adulthood, interviewees were generally well connected in later life and active in mainstream institutions.”