Ari Armstrong, Education, Exclusives, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Colorado families deserve schooling options

When my family decided to homeschool in the Fall of 2019, I didn’t realize how fortuitous our timing was, given the pandemic was about to hit. Sure, our social events took a dive during the pandemic, but our education plan unfolded nicely. We didn’t have to worry about things like trying to move a classroom to Zoom, though we did various activities online.

Although some homeschool families stick to detailed and rigid schedules, my family sets out some general aims and then takes each day as it comes. We don’t even distinguish “school days” from “break days.” We do some hard work every day, including weekends (unless we’re traveling or something), and try to have lots of fun each day. Unlike many students, my child doesn’t hate “school,” so it’s pretty easy to help motivate him to get going. I’m not saying year-round school is the right plan for everyone, but it works well for us.

Encouraged by the economist Bryan Caplan, whose homeschooled children aced several AP tests and published a peer-reviewed history article before they started college, I do push math. My child will be six this summer, which would put him in first grade this Fall. But we’re already halfway through the first-grade level of Dimensions Math and should be well into the second-grade material by the time “regular” school starts. At the rate we’re going I hope to cover around two grade levels per year, but we’ll slow down or speed up as needed.

We also work on reading and writing (of course), read Core Knowledge books about history and science (free in pdf), do simple science experiments, watch science videos and PBS documentaries, go to museums and the zoo, spend time with friends, and read plenty of other fiction and nonfiction books. Favorite storybooks include Zoey and Sassafras and Franny K. Stein.

My kid is learning a lot and having fun doing it, so I count our homeschooling journey a success so far.

That’s not to say everything comes up roses. A half-joke circulated on homeschool social media sites for a while: “When I threaten to send my child to public school, we both know I’m lying.” Sometimes we have some clashes. I have to push a little to do the hard work first and to cut down on junk screen time. Maybe some homeschool parents try to maintain too strict a schedule or push too hard, but typically homeschooling families find a rhythm that works for them.

Of course the big trade-off is time. I haven’t met any homeschooling families in which both parents work full-time away from home. I think it would take a very-involved grandparent or a nanny or some such to make that work. Lots of parents homeschool while working flexible schedules from home or working part-time. My family already made the decision to trade off some income for more family time.

As we emerge from the pandemic, and more people work from home relative to pre-pandemic, I think a lot of families are going to reevaluate how they want to approach the work-home-school balancing act. More families will blend work-from-home with homeschooling, and some families will even move to less-costly places to live to free up more time at home.

Consider this report from Chalkbeat: “The number of children who applied this winter to attend Denver Public Schools preschool and kindergarten this coming fall was down more than 20%, from nearly 10,500 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds last year to about 8,250 this year.” Maybe that shift is temporary, but it seems to indicate that some people are open to making some changes.

Meanwhile, more people are creating quality online content that students actually enjoy. My child has watched all the science videos from Generation Genius, a subscription service, multiple times. A Boulder educator produces weekly Spanish classes on YouTube (Lingua Garden) and runs small online classes. Local science educator Steve Spangler not only produces DIY Sci for television but started offering live online science camps through Outschool (see my recent podcast episode with him). Khan Academy reports that use of its site nearly tripled during the pandemic to an astonishing 90 million minutes per day.

Colorado families already have quite a few educational options. They can go to the local public school, choose another public school in a different neighborhood (if space is available), go to a public charter school, find a private school (if they can afford it), or homeschool.

Yet government still severely restricts families’ choices. Even though my family homeschools, government forces us to help finance the public school down the street that we don’t use. And Democratic-dominated government is increasingly hostile to charter schools, as illustrated by the introduction of House Bill 1295, which would make it harder for charter schools to seek state approval.

My family has found an educational path that works for us despite the government’s intrusions. Not every family has the same flexibility. If government is going to force people to finance education, the least it can do is give people the educational options that work best for their families.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.

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