How ‘pandemic pods’ could destroy traditional homeschools

  • Homeschool rates are on the rise in the US.
  • Some experienced homeschoolers hope that growing the community could be a positive. Others are worried that new families might disrupt the system that has long worked.
  • One issue is that new families might agree to stricter regulations, which could lead to new and undesirable precedents, said Jenni Mahnaz, a homeschool consultant. 
  • Sign up for our new parenting newsletter Insider Parenting here.

Homeschooling rates in the US are soaring, and while some veteran homeschoolers appreciate the interest, many are worried about how the influx of students could damage their established programs.

One central issue is that the new and wealthier families may be hoarding resources, said Jenn Sutherland-Miller, who homeschooled her four children through high school and now counsels families who are looking for guidance on homeschooling. 

"There is some definite concern over 'resource hoarding,' where families with means absorb more than their share of the available class spots, teachers, or other resources," Sutherland-Miller said. "I've worked with a few families who cannot find the support that they need in their areas because those resources have been maxed out by the new homeschooling communities."

There are also fears that new families could potentially disrupt the systems they've worked to develop, and — in turn — set a new, more rigid precedent for parents who will have to grapple with it for years to come. 

That's an issue that concerns Jenni Mahnaz, a homeschool consultant in New York.

She said she's worried for homeschooling families who live in places where districts are in favor of making current policies and regulations more strict. During any year, local education administrators might ask families to produce extensive amounts of paperwork, outlining every last assignment, worksheet, and reading assignment for the year, even when families aren't required to do so. 

If new families comply with stricter regulations, that could set new precedents 

An experienced homeschooling parent will likely know it's within their rights to decline to share that kind of information. A newer family, who hasn't read through the thick and daunting regulations, might not, Mahnaz told Insider. 

"A new homeschooler may have blind faith in those districts, and they will sometimes provide information that they shouldn't be providing, that is not a part of the regulations," Mahnaz said. "The problem is that it can set a precedent in the district where those demands, in future years, become common demands."

This is a pretty serious issue for homeschoolers who are drawn to the freedom it provides.

A parent might choose a less conventional method to teach a child to read, for example, because it works for them. Another family might devote just two weeks to algebra, because a child is able to pick it up with ease, while another family might decide to devote extra time to the subject, Mahnaz said.

Once a family is accountable for every detail of a program, they start to lose some of those liberties that made homeschooling appealing to them at the start, Mahnaz added. 

"If you're being required to list every single worksheet that you're going to use, you lose flexibility, you lose autonomy for your child. It's busy work," Mahnaz said. "Not even teachers know every single worksheet they're going to use all year."

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At the same time, many veteran homeschoolers are eager to provide information to newbies to help them get started, and to help them step away from their long-held notions about what school should look like. 

"There's definitely still a feeling of: if you're really in it and you want to join us, we welcome you," Mahnaz said.

But in the process, heated debates, which mostly happen on social media, have become more common, experts say. 

"Some veteran homeschoolers are feeling attacked by the new homeschoolers," said Sutherland-Miller.

Newer homeschoolers might criticize experts when they don't agree with their choices or peddle myths about homeschooling, which they may not even realize is hurtful, Mahnaz said. 

"It's feeling a little bit more like a take and less like a give," Mahnaz said. "It's like having four of your own kids, and the oldest is 17. And, someone who's pregnant tells you you've done everything wrong."

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