Advocates tout home education as number of homeschooled kids rises in Southern Utah

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As homeschooling expands in Southern Utah and the rest of the state, advocates of home education say it is a viable option for parents and students of all backgrounds.

Over a 10-year stretch, the population of those involved in home education in Utah increased by about 1,000 students. In the last four years, however, the population almost doubled in size. 

During the 2012-2013 school year, the number of homeschooled students in Utah was just below 9,000. The latest numbers from 2016 show homeschooling encompassing over 16,000 students.

In Southern Utah, the Washington County School District had an increase of about 200 students over a one-year period, reporting 508 homeschooled students as of the 2015-2016 school year. Southern Utah has maintained the general statewide trend of increased home education enrollment since the 2010-2011 school year.

Utah Home Education Association President Erik Hansen said there are a number of different explanations for the increase in home education students. 

“Everytime the public school system at a federal level starts mandating things, it causes frustrations and grievances, depending on what the particular issue is,” he explained.

One complaint parents switching to home education have had is public education’s push for common core, Hansen said. Another concern that leads to parents pulling their children from public schools is bullying.

However, Hansen said the biggest reason parents are transitioning their kids from public school classrooms to home education is because they feel they don’t have any power over what their kids are doing in school. The primary difference between home education and traditional schooling is the direction of the learning by the parent instead of a professional.

“Whatever your reasoning for homeschooling, the parents are in the driver’s seat,” he said.

Hansen said home education allows for each curriculum to be tailored to a particular child’s needs. He said children have unique needs and learning styles, and homeschooling can offer more than a “one size fits all approach.”

Hansen said he believes the No. 1 thing keeping people from pursuing home education is the need to compare their children to other children. He said the current school system is built on the practice of evaluating children on the basis of how they perform based on their peers.

“If you can get away from that thinking, it empowers people to take the leap and try homeschooling,” Hansen said.

Utah’s legislation regarding home education is quite general, and those involved in participating in home education need only submit a signed affidavit. Nina Wolf, Utah Home Education Association chairman of the board, said it’s important for parents looking into homeschooling to start with the affidavit because “the first step is ensuring this is being done legally.”

This affidavit simply alerts the state to an exemption in compulsory attendance to avoid sending a truancy officer to the home of a student who is not mandated to attend school. 

“Utah law recognizes that the liberty interests in a child’s education and welfare rests with the parents,” Wolf said.

Hansen said there are quite a few resources online for parents who are looking into home education, but in the beginning, parents should decide what kind of program they will be utilizing and how it benefits their child.

Due to the lack of state regulation, the formatting and benefits of home education vary between each case. However, Wolf said one benefit remains across all cases: flexibility. 

“Kids are not cookie-cutter models,” she said. “Every child is different, their learning styles are different and their strengths and weaknesses are different.”

With the freedom to create their own curriculum, parents can take however long they need to help their students fully grasp a concept. Students also have a say in aspects of their education.

Wolf recalled designing what she described as a colorful and fun curriculum for her daughter when she was learning grammar, only to have her 7-year-old daughter explain that it was too distracting. Wolf went out the next day to find a more straightforward curriculum and found her daughter understood the content better. 

Wolf said this would not have happened if her daughter were enrolled in public school.

“Because I was homeschooling, I had the freedom to take what was happening and change it and find a way to make it work for her,” she said. “If she had been in school and that was just the curriculum, there’s not much I could do about it.”

Wolf said many parents might homeschool their children until high school “to give them more time to be kids” but then enroll students in high school to socialize and learn important life and job skills.

Parents might choose to homeschool their children for many different reasons, including religious, medical and emotional considerations, Hansen said.

Wolf said whatever the reason, the cost of homeschooling is a factor that can discourage home education.

“There are significant sacrifices involved,” she said.

In the state of Utah, public schools are funded by income taxes, which everyone pays into. Parents who are involved in home-based education are responsible for supplying their learning materials on top of paying into public schools. Parents must also put in the time investment to learn the curriculum themselves before teaching it to their children.

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