Please Think Twice Before You Pull Your Kids From Public School

by Kim Hildenbrand
Originally Published: 
Children board a school bus in a line
Scary Mommy and SDI Productions/Getty

If you’re on social media these days, you’re likely seeing a whole spectrum of sentiments about public education. Teachers are underpaid heroes! Teachers are lazy and want to stay home while receiving paychecks. Public schools are doing their best! We deserve a refund on our tax dollars because public schools did a terrible job last spring!

I’m also seeing posts from people who just want to opt out of the madness entirely. They often go something like this: Hey mamas, I’m planning to homeschool this year because [in-person school isn’t safe and/or our school’s distance learning last fall was horrible]. Feel free to share suggestions about curriculum or link me to more info.

We’re a public school family, but I believe homeschooling can be a terrific option for many families for a variety of reasons, such as desiring more flexibility with the schedule or wanting to meet a child’s specific learning needs. I see it firsthand with my homeschooling friends!

However, I don’t think independent homeschooling is necessarily the best option for a parent who is angry at their public school because they’re not reopening in person or because last spring’s distance learning was a nightmare or because they are just so tired of vague messages from the district that don’t give any concrete plans about what will happen this fall.

We need to make clear the distinction among homeschooling, planned distance learning, and COVID-prompted crisis learning.

We also need to stop arguing and hurling accusations and judging one another’s choices and instead engage in productive conversations.

I understand why many homeschoolers may feel defensive these days. I, too, posted a photo of my child last spring at the kitchen table working on a school assignment with a caption mentioning “homeschooling.” That wasn’t homeschooling. I saw posts last spring about homeschooling and the teacher’s swearing or drinking wine, homeschooling and wanting a substitute, homeschooling and trying to get a student assigned to a different class. Jokes, yes—but that wasn’t homeschooling.

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To homeschool families, keep doing what you’re doing! I know I’m not alone in admiring you and your dedication, expertise, and desire to meet your children’s needs.

Public school families, hear me out. Are you thinking of opting out of public school because for a while now you’ve been excited to try homeschooling, to dig into innovative curriculum and go on educational adventures when things open back up? Are you opting out because you think public schools “indoctrinate” your kids and this is a great opportunity to get away from government control, controversial sex-ed, and the lack of religion? Or maybe a bit of both? Either way, enjoy your new adventure! (You can stop reading now.)

But … are you a public school family who plans to temporarily leave public school because you’re frustrated or disappointed?

Maybe you’re annoyed because last spring’s distance learning was crummy or because your district refuses to even consider opening in person or because your kid’s teacher didn’t do a great job with distance crisis learning. Perhaps you just want to ride out the pandemic by homeschooling and come back when it’s safe. Or maybe you’re thinking about joining one of those “pods” where you pool your funds with friends to hire a teacher. You are the ones I’m talking to.

Please think twice. If a whole lot of people unenroll their kids in public school, that will only exacerbate the funding crisis. With a mass exodus, the kids we’ll hurt are the kids who need public school the most: students of color, students in special education, students who qualify for free/reduced lunch, and other vulnerable populations.

Consider this: Within a public school, there’s a vast spectrum between adhering to every aspect of your public school program and opting out entirely to independently homeschool.

Does your district have a parent partnership program that offers curriculum options and the support of certified teachers while the parent serves as the primary teacher? Check it out! It could be the best of both worlds.

Do you have some ideas for supplementing your school’s distance or hybrid learning options? Start brainstorming! Talk with your kids about the stuff they miss most—math manipulatives, music, science experiments, cursive practice?—and go from there. If you really want to be in a pod, could you join forces with a few other families to tackle your school’s distance learning together (and perhaps, if it’s safe to do so, consider including a student who lacks access or resources)?

Next fall, my kids will stay enrolled in public school (likely distance learning), but I’m planning to take what works and leave what doesn’t. We will appreciate the familiarity of beloved teachers and their knowledge of standards-based education and the creative projects they come up with. I’m hopeful that distance learning will be better this fall when it’s not just crisis learning.

But I don’t want my kids sitting in front of a computer all day or doing work that’s not appropriate for their needs or getting stuck for 20 minutes retyping a non-editable worksheet before completing it or struggling to resize a text box.

So we’ll take what works. We’ll also take breaks. We’ll read. We might try some of those inexpensive supplemental courses that are always popping up on my FB feed. We’ll nurture some passions: My 13-year-old will keep writing her novel, my 10-year-old will keep learning to cook, my 7-year-old will play LEGO and Minecraft and maybe learn some coding. Maybe we’ll even do a few science experiments at the kitchen table.

Public school is not all or nothing. Take what works. Let’s not let a pandemic decimate a service that families rely on. When COVID-19 is under control, our kids deserve public schools that are worth coming back to.

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