Over the past two decades, the number of homeschoolers in Mississippi – and in America – has more than doubled as this education choice has moved from the fringes of society to a practice that is legal in every state.
But even with that growth, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, homeschoolers represent just three percent of the student population. However, that was before the coronavirus pandemic shut down more than 100,000 schools for over 55 million children last spring.
Even if it was government led with government curriculum, every family in Mississippi had a taste of homeschooling. Some sarcastically quipped that would end homeschooling. But then polling started to tell us otherwise. Almost overnight, homeschooling favorability rose. Twenty, 30, even 40 percent said they wouldn’t be sending their kids back to school in the fall.
While the strongest advocates of homeschooling know that we probably won’t see numbers like that, we are all expecting a large departure from both public schools, and potentially from private schools as well. Why? There’s an interesting mix of parents who feel that sending their children into a large school setting isn’t safe, while another large group doesn’t like the restrictions that will be coming, limiting interaction with friends, while requiring face masks in many (or perhaps all) school settings.
Fortunately, it is easy to get started homeschooling in Mississippi. For a state that has generally shown little interest in education freedom, the freedom to homeschool is broadly supported and protected by law. The one thing a parent must do is file an annual certificate of enrollment with your local school district’s school attendance officer. All you need on the form is your child’s name, address, phone number, and a simple description of the program such as, “age appropriate curriculum.”
When you do that, your child and you are now exempt from the state’s punitive compulsory education laws. There are no requirements on curriculum or testing or who can teach. Parents, instead, have the freedom to choose the educational system, style, and setting that works best for them and their children.
The Department of Education “recommends” parents review state curriculum guidelines and maintain a portfolio of their child’s work, though that is not required. As opposed to following a government curriculum that tells your child what he or she must learn at what age, homeschooling allows you to let your child learn at their own pace.
That means a child who is excelling can move forward at a quicker pace, cover additional topics, or take in material at a deeper level. If a child is struggling, you can slow down, switch your teaching style, or bring in new materials. If your child has a unique interest, the world is literally at their fingertips with scores of free, online training materials. Yes, YouTube is filled with funny cat videos. But it also provides a library of instruction on virtually any topic you can think of.
Thanks to today’s technology, a quick Google search can help you get more comfortable with homeschooling. There is an abundance of homeschool Facebook groups with veterans who are willing to share their ideas on getting started, curriculum, extracurricular activities, maintaining your sanity, and much more. Connection to these groups is also a venue to plan an endless variety of outings and field trips. It won’t take long to realize your child will receive as much “socialization” as you would like.
There are also options such as co-ops, where families gather together and share teaching responsibilities among parents. Similarly, we have seen the emergence of microschools this year in which a small group of parents pool their resources together to hire a teacher.
If you’re on the fence about homeschooling, worried about what homeschool might look like in your family, or just not sure you can do it, at least take a closer look. Fill out the necessary forms, do your research, and talk with other homeschool families.
You might find what many homeschool families did long ago: Giving children time and freedom to pursue their individual interests while utilizing a curriculum consistent with the values of your family, rather than following forced government mandates created by faceless bureaucrats, tends to produce very positive results.
Brett Kittredge is the Director of Marketing & Communications of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the state’s non-partisan, free-market think tank.