What We Learned about Homeschools & Independent Study Schools
The Learning Collective recently evaluated four charter homeschool / independent study schools. It was interesting and illuminating work. The student body of homeschools varies greatly – from affluent suburban kids to world-class athletes to young people in and out of incarceration.
Here is some of what we at The Learning Collective learned …
Some of the best practices:
- In-person monthly meetings between teachers-of-record and the students (often also accompanied by their parents) can be intensive and represent more one-on-one time than most students would get with a teacher in a traditional classroom.
- Teachers-of-record engage families as partners in raising student learning through in depth conversations, and establishing relationships, with parents during in-person meetings.
- Teachers-of-record often receive sufficient support and guidance from the school’s instructional leader/s.
- Teachers-of-record at homeschools don’t want to leave. All of the school’s programs have exceptionally high teacher retention rates.
- When working with teachers in classroom or in-person settings with a teacher, most students are on-task and work diligently to complete the proscribed learning activity. Several families noted that their children were severely disengaged in learning in their previous school but at the homeschool they are significantly more enthusiastic about and interested in their learning.
- Teachers use assessment results to meet students’ needs by providing individualized support and intervention.
- Schools often employ a group of educators to develop specific plans, targets and timelines for the most at-risk students and diligently track student progress to meeting those targets.
- Schools serving some of the most at-risk students spend considerable time with each student conducting an academic diagnostic as well as learning about the student’s home and personal life to identify the academic and social-emotional needs of the student.
Some practices that could be improved:
- Schools often do not adequately train parents on how to be home educators or home facilitators of learning.
- There is no systematic process to ensure and track that the home learning facilitated by parents or vendors is aligned to, and meets all of, the state standards. This is notable because most of the students at the school conduct in-person learning at the home or with vendors.
- Some students are off-task during online learning classes, at times more focused on digital “chatting” with fellow students rather than responding to teachers’ questions about the academic material … likely wanting social interaction with other students.
- Students are not consistently challenged to develop higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills. Observed lessons and reviewed student work tend to be appropriate for students’ grade levels. However, much of the content is narrowly defined and limited to worksheets (with multiple choice, true/false and short answer). In observed learning sessions, teachers ask many questions of students that required them to display their conceptual knowledge and teachers ask probing questions to prompt additional detail. However, teachers usually do not engage in robust discussions with students to extend their higher order thinking.
- English language learning students tend to be under-represented.
- Student attrition rates can be high.
- Students at the reviewed schools tend to underperform on state tests as compared to their peers in traditional schools.