The rise of hybrid homeschooling

It’s a new year, time for new intentions, resolutions, and oh yes, predictions. Last week I came upon an article that predicted four major education trends in 2020. One of them is “hybrid homeschooling.” It could just as easily be called “part-time school.”

“For many families, the costs and obligations related to homeschooling are simply too burdensome. Some parents don’t have the confidence in their own abilities to teach every subject to their children. Others cannot devote themselves to homeschooling full-time. Perhaps most of all, many homeschooling families want their children to socialise with other children to learn how to share, cooperate and get along with others,” says Mike McShane of  EdChoice. A friend of mine remarked that based on McShane’s quote, we seem to have utterly failed in conveying an understanding of how homeschooling works.

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For one thing, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. For another, parents don’t “teach” everything,  nor do they need to “teach” in a didactic, school-like manner. One of the points of homeschooling, after all, is to opt out of the system and do something different. Support groups can provide community that offers parents help in the form of cooperative projects like book clubs and math groups, child care swaps, playgroups, and more. Socialization? Spare me. Homeschoolers have been saying for decades, again and again, that they can get socialized just fine. There’s also the question of whether the socialization kids get in school, and the idea of socialization itself, is overrated.

In addition to students splitting their time between home and a more traditional school environment, centers offering a non-instructional environment for part-time or full-time enrollment are trending. Kids can go to these centers one to five days a week and choose how to spend their time based on the resources and culture of the center, rather than the wider world, which is where we found our homeschooling legs.

Hybrid programs, how ever they are structured, certainly offer parents more options, and that can be a very good thing. They also seem to be contributing to a structural change in homeschooling that’s transforming its very core. One of the reasons this may be likely to continue is that, as my friend opined, it is difficult for people to wrap their brains around homeschooling, and even harder for them to get unschooling (or slow homeschooling, as I now call it).

Like so many other homeschooling parents I know, it took time in the trenches for me to figure out homeschooling. When I started almost thirty years ago, I had every intention of replicating school at home. It was only through the experience of watching my kids, reading John Holt and other authors, talking to other homeschooling parents, and observing other young people and families that I began to understand that my kids did not need me to stand over them with textbooks, worksheets, or math curriculum. What they did need was time with their family, friends, and themselves, exposure to books, nature, and the world at large, and lots of love and security. I learned that my role was to help, support, and guide — to follow, rather than lead their learning. Over time, I found that pursuing this lifestyle offered rewards I could not have predicted or imagined. Hybrid homeschooling or other structured programs may not have given me the time or space to make these discoveries.

New homeschooling parents are often insecure. As McShane pointed out in his prediction, they worry about whether they can do a good enough job at educating their children. They worry about socialization. And in an increasingly complex and financially difficult modern world, they worry about the economic impacts of homeschooling. I get it. I worried about those things, too. If learning centers or other hybrid programs had been around when I started homeschooling, if I could have afforded them I know I would have jumped on board. Things might have turned out fine, but it would not have been homeschooling as I and so many other families experienced it.

In addition to insecurities and uncertainties, new homeschooling parents may be attracted to hybrid programs for other reasons. The practical reality is that whenever a structured program for homeschoolers pops up, the integrity of grass roots support groups diminishes. That means families have to look elsewhere for community and connection. They may find some form of it at hybrid programs, but in hindsight, I’m grateful to have had to engage in organic community building with other homeschooling families.

Hybrid homeschooling also addresses concerns and agendas of disparate groups. Those who believe homeschooling is under-regulated are happy to know that homeschoolers may be observed by adults outside the family one or more days a week. Those operating particular kinds of learning centers and other programs see hybrid homeschooling as a way to spread the gospel of “self-directed education.” Education activists looking to stem the tide of homeschooling may see hybrid programs as a way to pull homeschoolers back into the system. The common thread in these disparate interests is the rejection of family as the educational and decision-making center of children’s lives.

Change is inevitable, of course, but I think it’s important to keep talking about slow homeschooling. One thing we still don’t know is how the legal ramifications of the changes we are seeing will pan out. Compulsory attendance laws, for the most part, don’t allow for part-time school, so education reformers look increasingly to homeschooling to try out their latest ideas, often using homeschooling laws in ways they were not intended to be used. Homeschoolers are large enough in number now that they’ve become a market, so there’s that, too. Still, there will always be families that would like to embrace slow homeschooling, either for philosophical reasons, or because like me, life shows them the value of it. Keeping it part of the discussion can help ensure that it remains an option for those who choose it.



5 thoughts on “The rise of hybrid homeschooling

  1. A lot of my friends are starting to send their kids to classical schools or university model schools. It’s not for me, but I don’t think their decision is quite captured by the reasons you’ve outlined here.

    (1) All of them are looking for a religious environment for their kids. Any homeschooler can provide an education comparable to an elite private school if they wanted. They could even purchase the same curriculum that private schools use outright if they wanted. But what they are getting with hybrid schools is a happy compromise for them – more time with their kids than at a traditional school, free time for extracurricular activities or internships, but a highly organized community of people who share their values. Their kids get to go to prep school football games and have a pool of peers to date (again with the same values). That’s not quite something you get with a co-op or park days.

    (2) It frees up the mother to work all week long. Many companies now offer flex-time arrangements, where you can work outside the office for some days and report to work other days. A woman can have a normal career with a hybrid arrangement if she wanted, which is a big deal. I have watched so many women who try homeschooling, but their family can’t make it work financially, and that’s not only about the cost of books. I watch them try out financially predatory multi-level marketing schemes (homeschooling blogs and social media groups are full of them), tutoring programs like VIP Kid, all of it, and then they just end up putting their kids back in school. A hybrid school is a better education than a traditional school, the opportunity for home education, without those problems.

    At any rate, the model isn’t popular because people are unaware of their options. And a lot of these people simply will never be unschoolers. They *like* structure. They like raising kids in an environment to build a lot of personal connections. Particularly in southern states, these are relationships the kids may carry with them all their lives.


  2. Thanks for the comment! I agree with much of what you say. People who choose hybrid programs are often looking for something different than traditional public school, and they may not be looking to homeschool at all. I am in favor of options, so I think that’s great! I stand by my assertion that homeschoolers sometimes sign up for programs because they’re the only game in town — if the critical mass of homeschoolers is signed up, and you want community, you sign up. I also think it’s impossible to know whether some of these families would turn out to embrace homeschooling, or even unschooling — I don’t think I would have found my way to it if I’d had a hybrid program to sign up for. That said, if the programs are working for families, all well and good. My main concern is that homeschooling itself, without hybrid programs or e-schools or other requirements or additions, remain an option for those who choose it. With hybrid programs infiltrating homeschooling (because the legalities are easier to get around than compulsory attendance laws), and the various special interests looking to redefine what homeschooling is and how it’s regulated, I will continue to try and be a voice for independent homeschooling.


  3. It’s a real problem all the arrangements that are getting conflated with homeschooling these days. Here in Florida, there is a massive group (incidentally, they call themselves unschoolers, but they aren’t) who set up their own private school that exists only on paper for the sole purpose of evading compulsory attendance laws and the state’s annual evaluation requirements for legitimate homeschoolers. The “private school” exists statewide (every member’s house is a campus, even though these folks don’t even know each other except online) and has tons of families in it. In our county, two couples associated with that group were recently arrested, one for child neglect (that actually made national news) and one for fraudulently using federal benefits for foster children. All over the papers: homeschoolers arrested! And the totally uneducated and unnecessary resentment of homeschoolers expands because bad actors are exploiting a legal loophole and semantics. And when that group as a whole finally gets busted, it will be all about homeschooling in the news too.

    But it’s something of a catch-22: homeschoolers generally do not want to invite the attention of the government to fix broken regulations because the government will probably break some more in ways that negatively impact homeschoolers who are serious about homeschooling. Every regulatory fight brings in people who want to end school choice, not just people who want to tweak things to benefit everyone involved. So nothing gets done about it.

    I have seen a lot of problems with homeschooling meet-ups personally, but I think that is driven mostly by the nature of social media. That’s how some groups come to be perceived as the only game in town. You have someone who starts a group on Facebook, everyone in the county joins, then it comes to be dominated by the personalities and beliefs of the people organizing it and everyone else just melts away. And the gatekeepers want to be perceived as popular, so they let pretty much anyone in. Social media makes interactions path dependent in odd ways.

    When we first moved here, I joined the homeschooling meet-up group for our city and I stopped going altogether fairly quickly. Many of the people I met were not, as you say, homeschooling because they were passionate about homeschooling. Their kids had some kind of problem in public school and their parents pulled them out. Many of those kids were not victims of bullying per se, but kids who have serious behavioral issues themselves and dealing with disciplinary issues became too much for the parents. A not insignificant number of them were anti-vaxxers, who did not care about homeschooling at all but about being forced to get a measles shot. Many members weren’t even homeschoolers, but people who were at one time vaguely interested in homeschooling or tried it and stopped (but remained in the group so they could rant about public schools).

    It’s hard to make friends with all of those people inserting themselves into the local activities and homeschooling conversations now. Our daughter has one friend from that group, the rest come from extracurricular activities that involve kids from all kinds of educational backgrounds. It’s really not surprising to me that Catholic and Evangelical homeschoolers (the big players behind hybrid schools) are starting to organize themselves into what are essentially co-ops with endowments in this context.

    I think, in general, as homeschooling becomes a more philosophically and demographically diverse group that’s getting inundated with younger generations who are merely experimenting, you are going to see a lot of people splitting off and forming more exclusive arrangements that work for them in some way or another and letting the others do their thing. That’s pretty much how every counterculture works. over time.

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