“Hi, my 7th grader is in need of a computer and internet. She is currently doing zoom classes via smartphone. This is not fully sustainable.”- An Oakland parent
This from an Oakland parent struggling with distance learning. We have “Oakland Undivided” the City’s program to provide free internet and devices to Oakland families that need them. But as I learned when I talked to this parent some more, there was no answer for them. They had fallen between the cracks, of a system that wasn’t designed for them. Even though they should qualify for free support, they seemingly didn’t, because they home schooled their child.
On a local level we need to pay attention to these design flaws and fix the cracks in the support system as we discover them. But on a larger level we can’t forget about or exclude these millions of students as we address the digital divide.
All needs to mean all. So, alongside a friendly nudge to Oakland Undivided, I wanted to speak to a Tillie Elvrum a national advocate and leader on homeschooling and homeschooler herself. She has an extensive resume in the area and currently runs Parent Support for Online Learning which was established to provide guidance and resources to new online and homeschool families.
Q: Who are home schoolers? How many children home school, what are some of the reasons that families choose home school—what do you hear from families
A: There are approximately 2.5 million homeschoolers in the U.S. according to the National Home Educators Research Institute.
Prior to COVID-19, 32 states supported full time online schools enrolling 375,000 students.
Due to COVID-19 school closures, interest in homeschooling has increased and enrollment in full-time online programs has increased.
Parents choose traditional homeschooling and online schooling for a variety of reasons. Some parents choose home-based learning to be more involved in their student’s day-to-day learning – this is helpful to parents of students with learning disabilities and advanced learners. Parents may want to provide an education that is aligned with their values. Families also choose homeschooling or online learning so students can pursue interests that require flexible schedules like acting, the arts, and sports. And families utilize home-based learning options for students with special needs and medical issues. Home-based learning appeals to all types of families no matter their race, income, or zip code.
Q: Home schooling has a had a major online component for some time, can you tell me about your work with the digital divide, even if it was not called that at the time you started
A: I made my first trip to Capitol Hill over a decade ago to advocate for broadband investment in our cities and rural areas. The online education community advocated alongside rural communities, farmers and ranchers, and the medical community. We all understood the importance of connected communities for education and the economy.
Q: How has COVID affected homeschoolers, what are you hearing from families
A: In some ways it was business as usual for our homeschooling and online school communities. Families had continuity in education during COVID-19 school closures – established homeschool families already had the resources and expertise to learn at home, and our online school families had the technology and resources to maintain their studies. But that does not mean they haven’t been impacted by this crisis. Even full-time online families must deal with increased demands on their home internet connections with students and parents working/schooling remotely. We also have many new families who opted for homeschooling or full-time online schools after experiencing poor remote learning last spring – they had to figure out internet and device access and adjust to a new learning environment that is quite different than the remote learning they experienced through their tradition school systems.
Q: What, if any lessons, can the traditional school system learn from homeschooling
A: One of the benefits of homeschooling and online learning is students can learn at their own pace. Learning can happen outside of traditional school hours and students can learn anywhere. The flexibility of homeschooling or online learning allows students to gain competency and build foundational skills before moving on to new material.
Q: It seems like a lot of funding is being put into making sure that families in traditional schools are connected, how are these programs serving home schoolers, if at all
A: Right now, traditional homeschoolers are largely left out of the education funding conversation and historically online students have not been funded equitably with their traditional public school peers. Regardless the educational model a student uses, this crisis has shown us that far too many families lack the resources they need to fully participate in online learning.
Q: What supports do you all provide, how can families connect with you
A: The Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families has been working with online and blended learning families since 2004. You can find us at http://www.coloradocyberfamilies.org/ and Parent Support for Online Learning was established to provide guidance and resources to new online and homeschool families. You can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/SupportforOnlineLearning.
Tillie Elvrum is an education advocacy pioneer with experience at the state and national level. She founded Elvrum Consulting after two decades of education reform and school choice advocacy.
With a background in communications, early childhood education, and personal experience as a parent advocate, Tillie specializes in grassroots organizing, parent engagement, school choice policy, and innovative education models.
Tillie previously served as President of the National Coalition for Public School Options Board of Directors where she led a network of advocates in 30 states. She worked to advance policies that would increase educational opportunity for students in statehouses across the country and on Capitol Hill. She currently serves as President of the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families Board of Directors and leads the Parent Support for Online Learning initiative. She previously served as a board member for the Ohio Coalition of E-School Families and as board treasurer for Ohio Connections Academy. Additionally, she serves as an advisor to Spark Mindset, Inc. – a social enterprise company for cybersecurity education and training.
Tillie is a Colorado native and currently resides in Colorado Springs with her family.