Commentary by Lance Izumi originally published at RealClearEducation.
Terry McAuliffe sank his Virginia gubernatorial bid with his condescension toward parents, typified in his claim that experts, not parents, were the only ones qualified to choose school curricula.
“I love Billy and Jack McAuliffe, my parents, but they should not have been picking my math and science book,” McAuliffe told NBC’s Meet the Press. “We have experts who actually do that.”
McAuliffe’s response was not only tone-deaf – given the grassroots parent revolt against curricula chosen by experts – but it also ignored the reality that millions of homeschool parents in Virginia and across the country are picking curricula for their kids, with outstanding academic results.
In Virginia, the number of homeschooled students in 2020–21 rose to nearly 60,000, from a little more than 38,000 the year before. Curriculum was a big factor in this growth, and not just because of the highly publicized fights over critical race theory.
Before the election, a local ABC-TV affiliate interviewed Virginia parent Tera Thomas, who said that her kids were falling behind in fundamental skills and were having trouble getting through a one-size-fits-all curriculum in a public school. Her children’s teachers were unable to address their individual needs. Like many other parents over the past year or so, Thomas decided to homeschool.
The Census Bureau reports that from spring to fall of 2020, the proportion of homeschooling households more than doubled, from 5 percent to 11 percent, with the proportion of African-American households choosing to homeschool skyrocketing fivefold, from 3 percent to 16 percent.
Steven Duvall, research director for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, says that the number of homeschooled children nationwide could be upwards of 8 million. Parents of these homeschooled children are choosing the curriculum that best fits their kids’ learning needs.
Take, for example, Demetria Zinga, who has been cited as one of the country’s top black homeschool bloggers and YouTubers. Zinga notes that homeschooling allows parents to choose and discard a curriculum depending on whether it is working for their child. “So,” she says, “we might try something for a season and then realize that’s not necessarily our style and then try something different.”
Her oldest daughter, Nyomi, learned best with a more structured program, so Zinga chose Classical Conversations, a curriculum that emphasizes skills of recitation, logical thinking, and persuasive rhetoric. Nyomi said that the curriculum required lots of reading and writing, but “it was helpful to make me a better writer.” She graduated from the Classical Conversations program with honors.
By contrast, Zinga’s younger daughter, Zoe, is artsy, theatrical, and entrepreneurial, so she used a different program for her.
To meet the varying demands of homeschool parents like Zinga, hundreds of curriculum choices are now in the marketplace. Parents also have tools to make informed decisions as to what will work best for their children.
For instance, homeschoolers have long relied on curriculum expert Cathy Duffy and her website for reviews of materials. Her book “102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum” is a much-used guide for homeschool parents.
In addition, homeschool academies at charter schools stock a wide array of curricula from which parents can choose. Alicia Carter, head of a homeschool academy at Natomas Charter School in Sacramento, says that parents can also request a curriculum not stocked at the academy. As long as it meets certain requirements, she says, “then we order it and sometimes we add it to the selection for everyone.”
With a curriculum better suited for their needs, homeschooled children generally do better academically than their public school peers. According to Heritage Foundation education director Lindsey Burke, most research shows “homeschoolers largely outperforming their non-homeschooled counterparts.”
So who is the “expert” when it comes to curriculum? It is not Terry McAuliffe’s experts, but the parents at whom he scoffed. And that’s why America is seeing a homeschool boom.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the new book The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities.