Blending Home and School

Michael Q. McShane

Current Issue

The 2019-2020 school year will be remembered as the year we all became home schoolers. As Covid-19 spread across the country, schools shuttered in-person instruction and moved to remote learning. Without warning, millions of working Americans were drafted as de facto educators and classroom managers.

If your only information about this sudden transition came from social media, it would be easy to conclude that the move to home schooling was an unmitigated disaster. Not long after school closures took effect, calls for teachers to be paid a billion dollars a week began "trending" on Twitter, while memes about parents searching desperately for child-care alternatives flooded Americans' Facebook feeds. To many, it seemed as if the switch to home schooling was nothing less than a waking nightmare.

But polling data collected over these last few months paint a very different picture. According to a national EdChoice survey conducted in April, only 8% of American parents said their experience during Covid-19 had made them "much less favorable" toward home schooling. In contrast, 28% said it had made them "much more favorable" toward the idea. Combined with those who were only "somewhat" more or less favorable, a total of 52% of respondents were more favorable and only 26% were less favorable.

These figures track well with previous polling EdChoice has conducted on Americans' views of home schooling. In the annual Schooling in America survey, EdChoice asks a representative sample of American families where they would send their children to school if money and logistics were no object. Though the number is nowhere near the pandemic-era majority that has warmed up to the arrangement, around one in 10 American families consistently report that they would prefer home schooling over private-, public-, or charter-school options.

Indeed, pandemic or not, Americans have long possessed a surprising affinity for home schooling. Unfortunately, our education system isn't designed to support the families who prefer home schooling over more conventional education options: While 10% of American parents would like to homeschool their children, only 3% actually do.

The reasons for this disparity are myriad, but fiscal and logistical challenges are commonly cited obstacles for would-be home-school families. Few are able to take on the financial burdens of full-time at-home instruction, which generally demands that at least one parent forgo significant income and stay home with the children. Even among the small number of families that can readily afford to homeschool, many feel uncomfortable teaching as their children grow older and begin to tackle increasingly complex subjects.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a small group of home-schooling parents in suburban Dallas set out to address these obstacles. Their solution was Grace Preparatory Academy — a "hybrid home school." Grace Prep currently enrolls 500 students, and even though it caps elementary-school classes at 12 to 14 students and high-school classes at 18, it charges just two-thirds of the tuition charged by private schools in the area. According to Chris Harper, the head of the school, it has a waiting list in almost every one of its grades.

Building on the success of Grace Prep, the hybrid model has since been replicated in both public and private schools around the country. And, like the home-schooling movement at large — which doubled in size from 1999 to 2016 — these hybrid programs are poised to grow dramatically in the coming years as the millions of families who would prefer to homeschool their children but are unable to do so discover these programs and test them out.

Given their record of success and the likely growth they'll enjoy in the near future, it's time for voters, educators, and policymakers alike to acquaint themselves with this emergent, innovative, and under-examined education movement — and to arrange public policy in ways that accommodate, rather than alienate, home-schooling families.

WHAT IS HYBRID HOME SCHOOLING?

Over the years, American educators have developed a variety of options to serve the nation's K-12 population. Traditional home schooling is one of those options, where children are taught full time in the home or other non-school environment by a parent or tutor. As of 2015-2016, around 3.3% of school-aged children in the United States were homeschooled.

Another 10% of students attend the nation's private schools, which receive little if any public funding and operate independently from public-school districts. Though not all are religious, the majority of American private schools are operated by religious institutions and organizations.

Publicly funded magnet schools, named for the way they attract students from beyond traditional school-district boundaries, represent a third option. These schools offer specialized curricula and serve distinct populations of students — often those deemed "gifted" or otherwise talented. Admission to these schools is typically offered on a competitive basis.

One of the newest alternatives to traditional public education — the charter school — is funded by taxpayers but governed by a non-government group or entity under a legislative contract. These schools are granted greater flexibility and autonomy than traditional public schools, but in exchange, they must meet certain accountability standards. Since Minnesota passed the first charter-school statute in 1991, enrollment in charter schools nationwide has grown to 3.1 million students.

Despite such varied alternatives, all too often, families are left out of the school-choice marketplace. These families may live in districts where public schools are of poor quality or are working at cross-purposes with the child-rearing approach parents are using at home. Yet traditional home schooling requires a commitment of time and resources that many families lack. Private schools that reflect their values and desires are expensive, while magnet schools may be academically out of reach. And for all their promise, not all states authorize charter schools, and the schools themselves remain sparsely spread.

The folks who populate this hole in the market — "middle-income pedagogues," as I call them — are hungry for alternatives to mainstream public education. Hybrid home-schooling models are cropping up across the country to serve them.

This category of schools is characterized largely by scheduling. Hybrid home-schooled children attend formal classes for part of the week and are homeschooled for the remaining days. At Grace Prep, students in kindergarten through sixth grade spend two days per week at school and then are homeschooled the remaining three days. For students in grades seven through 12, the scheduling is reversed. This hybrid approach allows Grace Prep to operate while keeping tuition costs at a fraction of those charged by local private schools.

The Regina Caeli network of Catholic hybrid home schools offers another successful example of this model. Students attend school in a classroom setting for two days per week and then are homeschooled for the rest of the week. For the 2020-2021 school year, the cost of full enrollment at Regina Caeli for two days per week, along with a program of instruction for the home-school days, is $3,500 for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, $4,000 for those in grades seven through eight, and $4,500 for those in grades nine through 12. Tuition is capped at four children per family; any additional children attend for free. This is between one-half and one-third of the average rates charged by American private schools.

Kari Beckman founded Regina Caeli to "teach the mind to train the character of the soul." Students learn through Socratic discussions that are "led by the students, not by the tutor or the teacher," which allows students to "develop leadership skills," cultivate "an ability to more clearly articulate thoughts and ideas," and develop "good logical arguments." Parents who opt to send their children to Regina Caeli — which now teaches approximately 1,100 students in more than a dozen cities across the country — often find this mission much more aligned with their values than those of the local public schools.

Similarly, the Augustine Academy is a Christian hybrid home school operating in Wisconsin that subscribes to the Ambleside method — a classical-adjacent philosophy popularized by the English educator Charlotte Mason at the turn of the 20th century. It encourages a collaborative approach between teachers and students as they read great works of literature. As Jeremiah Behling, a parent and board member told me, the school sees children as more than "empty brains to be filled, but as people needing character development, needing habit formation, formation of the will, formation of the mind, through interaction with the text." The method focuses on enabling children to build critical-reading skills, as gauged by their ability to narrate information about the texts they've read. It also emphasizes the need for children to spend significant time outdoors.

The hybrid home-schooling model isn't just for traditionalists. Though many middle-income pedagogues are unified in their frustration with the mainstream education system, their preferred alternatives are manifold, and the hybrid home schools available to them cater to religious conservatives, secular progressives, and everything in between.

The Mountain Phoenix Community School, for instance, is a charter school operated by the Jefferson County school district on the western side of Denver. It offers students a standard five-day model of schooling, but it also provides for a hybrid home-school experience.

Mountain Phoenix is a Waldorf school, meaning it uses the progressive pedagogical model developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Students learn via song, dance, and music. They are taught "practical arts" like sewing, knitting, and cooking, and to express themselves through acting, poetry, and storytelling. Lynn Pollitt, who directs the Lively Arts Homeschool Program at Mountain Phoenix, says the main selling point for the school is that "there are no textbooks, there are no computers until [students] get into middle school, so there is this slow, lovely approach to education that a lot of parents are seeking for their kids."

More than 1,200 Waldorf schools are scattered throughout the world, but unfortunately for middle-income pedagogues, many in the United States operate as expensive private schools. Mountain Phoenix's model, by contrast, allows home-schooled students to attend classes at the standard school one day per week at no cost to their families. This is largely thanks to Colorado's flexible part-time enrollment statute, which permits children to enroll in schools for part of the week. The school receives funds for these students at a fraction of the typical rate it would otherwise receive per pupil. For parents who would like to predominately homeschool their children but still give them a Waldorf experience, Mountain Phoenix offers a perfect solution.

Indeed, for many middle-income pedagogues, hybrid home schooling represents an ideal balance of home and school life at an affordable price. Many are able to homeschool their children on a single income. Others are able to work part time and homeschool part time around their child's school calendar. All are able to spend more quality time with their children in an environment that reinforces, rather than undermines, the lessons they are teaching at home.

Hybrid home schools can be viewed as a response to another familiar problem: Traditional schools, particularly those for high-achieving students, are often out of sync with family life. Students' days are scheduled from the time their alarm clock goes off in the morning to the time their head hits the pillow at night: Wake up. Slam down breakfast. Head to school. Shuffle from class to class. Slam down lunch. Attend more classes. Head to practice or rehearsal after the final bell rings. Come home. Slam down dinner. Do homework. Go to sleep. Repeat.

Hybrid home schools disrupt this cycle. On school days, students attend classes as usual, but after their day of school and activity is over, they are finished. Homework is often completed during the home-school days, so students have all evening for quality time with their parents and siblings. On home-school days, students are usually able to finish their work by the early afternoon, freeing them up to pursue other endeavors. As Pollitt observes, "we've over-scheduled our children and we are in a rush, so there is this loveliness about the model that I think is very appealing to parents."

"We're trying to give families time back and get kids reconnected with their parents," Principal Ron Lawlor of Christ Preparatory Academy — a hybrid home school in Lenexa, Kansas — tells me during a conversation in his office.

"So what do they do after their work is done?" I asked a hybrid home-schooling parent in Christ Prep's foyer. "Whatever they want!" she replied. "Climb trees, find frogs. We have a creek that runs through our neighborhood. They [can] go and do that. When they are 14, I require that they have jobs because they can — at Culver's. They can work in the dining room and stuff like that."

Hybrid home-schooling families refer to this as "the gift of time." It's time for families to pray together, spend time outside, and connect with one another. It's an opportunity for children to learn, participate in sports, act in plays, sing in choirs, perform in bands, and still have time to pursue personal hobbies, enjoy the outdoors, work, and unwind.

Thanks in part to this more relaxed pace, spending a day at a hybrid home school evinces a sense of calm. Home-schooled children are children — they laugh and joke with one another in the hallways. But when class begins, students are focused and able to cover a substantial amount of material. I observed a college-level algebra class at Christ Prep with 13 high-school students working through arithmetic sequences. They fired through them one by one; I struggled to keep up. The notes I took as I sat in the classroom included observations like: "relaxed environment, students attentive and well-behaved," "caring interaction between teacher and students," "joyful," and "kids laughing." I noticed the students felt "free to correct the teacher when he mixed up a positive/negative sign."

After that class, I sat in on a British literature course that was guiding students through both the Canterbury Tales and A Tale of Two Cities. Despite the peaceful atmosphere and reduced time spent in classrooms, Christ Prep students were not merely keeping up with their peers in conventional schools, but meaningfully exceeding them.

"Full-time schools waste a lot of time," the math teacher told me after class when I expressed my astonishment at the speed at which the students operated. Students had ample time to complete the homework to be ready for class, and when the class began, they were ready to go. I observed the school on a Wednesday, which meant that the students had not gone to class the previous day and knew they would not be returning until Friday. This awareness seemed to release much of the pressure that students and educators traditionally operate under, allowing them to make the most of, and even enjoy, one another's company.

FROM HOME SCHOOLING TO HOME BUILDING

For years, sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox has been documenting how the family serves as the foundation for economic and social prosperity in modern America. The statistics are clear: States that have higher percentages of children raised in intact families see large boosts in their per-capita gross domestic product, more upward mobility, less child poverty, and higher median family income. Marriage — and particularly fatherhood in marriage — motivates men to work more hours and earn more money than single men, and any economic losses experienced by married mothers are more than compensated for by these gains. Children in married households benefit, too: They experience less abuse and neglect, and are more likely to graduate from high school, to earn college degrees, and to be employed than their peers raised in broken homes. In short, robust family life is the institutional bedrock of society.

Unfortunately, as Wilcox's research also makes clear, the American family is an institution in dire need of support. Rates of family formation are resting at historic lows, as marriage and birth rates are in steady decline. As awareness of America's "crisis of the family" has risen, a growing number of concerned policymakers are scrambling to find ways to repair this most essential social institution.

Though addressing a social crisis of this magnitude will require a host of strategies and policy approaches, hybrid home schools have an underappreciated role to play as family-strengthening institutions. Hybrid home schools, after all, are organized for the sake of bringing families together in the project of living out their family-centric values. By enmeshing them in a community of like-minded and encouraging families, these schools provide crucial support and guidance to the families who join them. As one Augustine Academy father put it:

It's not so much about the schedule...but the overall process of doing life and school this way. It's not just about the kid growing...it's about the parents growing as well. We find that as much as we're trying to teach our children good habits, we're learning those same things — how to be intentional with our kids, talking with other parents about what's working and what's not. It forces us to be in community and feel more vulnerable with other people. It teaches us patience. It teaches us to be more disciplined with our time....Our kids start calling us out on some of those same things. So, it's a whole lifestyle to sign up for that is really rewarding.

As America's family crisis deepens, carrying with it all the negative consequences Wilcox has outlined, policymakers should be aiming to support institutions that function in precisely this way — hybrid home schools included. More than just centers for academic learning, hybrid home schools can function as powerful tools for developing and maintaining the strong families that undergird societal health and prosperity.

Beyond their direct impact on the families involved, hybrid home schools can also serve as templates for their more conventional counterparts. They remind us of the role schools have traditionally played as community organizers, with the power to shape the behavior and attitudes of children as well as adults. By making parents part of the decision-making process, deeply integrating them into their child's education, and putting them in community with other parents who want to be intentional about raising their children in similar ways, hybrid home schools model the practices by which even conventional schools could become agents of family and community development.

Hybrid home schools' capacity to act as catalysts of community involvement also demonstrates their potential to address another social problem: the rise of tribalism in American culture and politics. Though strong differences of opinion have been a common feature of America's liberal-democratic society since its inception, politicians, pundits, and social scientists have noted a surge in distrust and anger between different cultural and social groups in recent years. Beyond the many ways hyper-partisanship makes life less pleasant, the divisiveness in our culture is increasingly being recognized as a threat to our political institutions — grounded, as they are, in a democratic willingness to compromise and share power.

More than other civil institutions, the traditional public-school system has a tendency to highlight and exacerbate value differences between citizens. Because there is only one set of academic standards and 180 days of instruction, decisions must be made as to what will and will not be taught in classrooms. For this decision-making process to work well, parents and educators need to come to the table with a shared set of values and priorities. In the absence of such solidarity, fights over school structures and curricula can become fierce, adding fuel to the fire of broader social and cultural animosities. The ongoing debates over the teaching of American history in public schools are only the latest incarnation of this long-standing problem.

Some conservatives argue that school districts are the exact places where these discussions and debates should take place, and that we should respect the will of the local community when it makes a decision. Yet local school districts lack a key element that undercuts this argument: They are not voluntary. American parents have no choice as to where their local property-tax dollars go. If a family cannot afford private schooling and has no access to a school-choice program, it must send its children to the local public school or risk being punished under truancy laws. If the family happens to be of a minority viewpoint — either because of its cultural background or its religious or philosophical beliefs — it is simply out of luck. Public schools may be local organizations, but they are certainly not pluralistic ones.

In his book Confident Pluralism, John Inazu, professor of law and religion at Washington University in St. Louis, offers a framework through which Americans could more productively mediate the sincere value differences that exist between themselves and their fellow Americans in schools and elsewhere. Arguing for a set of "constitutional commitments" and "civic practices" that allow people "to be steadfast in [their] personal convictions" while "making room for the cacophony that may ensue when others disagree with [them]," Inazu contends that people should be more free to form voluntary groups, to restrict membership in those groups to like-minded people, and to allow public funding to flow to those groups regardless of their viewpoint or ideological leanings.

As confidently pluralistic institutions in the mold Inazu describes, hybrid home schools offer us a way around the national values debates that plague our education system as well as our culture at large. Whether grounded in the secular-humanist tradition of the Waldorf movement or the classical Christian tradition that informs Christ Prep, hybrid home schools function as tools for building communities committed to living out their particular values. By giving families alternatives to their local districts, these schools also help to lower the stakes — and, in turn, the temperature — of curriculum battles. As Christy Wilson of Alliance Christian Academy, a hybrid home school in Fort Worth, Texas, told me:

We feel like our job is to start with like-minded families, and I use that term loosely because...we're a non-denominational Bible-teaching facility and we have many differences....But because we're dealing with supporting parents and because we're dealing with the hearts of these kids, it's really important that we start from a common place.

In her book Pluralism and American Public Education, Ashley Rogers Berner observes, "[e]ducational pluralism helps citizens maintain an awareness of the role that belief plays in education, which in turn creates space for discussion and compromise." This space is sorely missing in much of American public life, and its absence is driving much of the anger and dysfunction that has come to characterize our politics. By building alternative educational systems around schools with strong philosophies and strong communities, we are not only benefiting the families involved, we're improving American society writ large.

HOME SCHOOLING AS SCHOOL CHOICE

State-level policy will ultimately determine whether the hybrid home-school model becomes a viable option for most American families. The flexibility of home-school regulations, the vigor of private-school regulations, and the strictness of competency-based standards, seat-time requirements, and part-time enrollment statutes can make or break the nascent hybrid home-school movement. All of these issues are typically decided at the state level.

The Home School Legal Defense Association keeps a running compendium of state home-schooling laws that demonstrates their immense variability. States like Texas take a more relaxed approach toward home schooling. So long as parents are able to demonstrate they are using a written curriculum that teaches math, reading, spelling, grammar, and good citizenship, they are free to homeschool their children without any requirement to notify the local public-school district or state authorities.

In other states, home schooling is more tightly regulated. In Kansas, for instance, home schools function as non-accredited private schools. State law requires parents to be registered, prove that they are "competent," plan and schedule instruction, teach their children for at least 186 days, and periodically test them. In Minnesota, parents must file an annual letter of intent to homeschool, teach required subjects, keep records indicating that these subjects are being taught, and administer annual standardized tests.

The strictest home-school regimes in the nation can be found in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. In the latter, home-schooling parents must have at least a high-school diploma, file a notarized affidavit with detailed information about the course of study their children will follow, teach certain required subjects for at least 900 hours for elementary-school students and 990 hours for secondary-school students, arrange for a proctor to administer standardized tests, keep a portfolio of student work, and have that portfolio evaluated by a qualified educator every year. This level of regulation is obviously a non-starter for many prospective hybrid home-school families.

In addition, state prescriptions involving subject matter can chafe against non-traditional educational models that teach subjects in an integrated fashion, or those that incorporate them into courses like logic and rhetoric (as in the case of classical schools) or movement and integrated arts (as in the case of Waldorf and other progressive models). In-class seat-time requirements can likewise render most hybrid home-school models untenable.

Fortunately for hybrid home-schooling advocates, many policy reforms that would make such models possible would be beneficial for the education system as a whole. Isolating subject matter and requiring specifically denoted time per subject, for example, might not be the best way for children to learn. Seat-time requirements, too, are increasingly regarded as an outdated way to ensure that students are receiving an adequate education. This is significant insofar as hybrid home-schooling advocates are likely to find allies as they push for statutory changes essential to their survival.

That said, many people are hesitant to relax home-school regulations. This past spring, for instance, law professor Elizabeth Bartholet set off a firestorm with an article about home schooling in the Arizona Law Review and a promotional piece in Harvard Magazine. In both, Bartholet argued that there should be a presumptive ban on home schooling because there are home-schooling parents who "are either uninterested in educating their children or incapable of doing so," or who "subject them to serious abuse and neglect." In defense of this last claim, Bartholet marshalled anecdotes detailing horrific mistreatment that had occurred in home schools.

Though her rhetoric and prescriptions are more extreme than most, Bartholet's underlying concerns are quite common among policymakers and have been the source of significant friction between school districts and home-schooling families for decades. Several school districts have responded to fears of abuse in home schools by passing draconian attendance laws and hauling otherwise responsible home-schooling parents to court for their refusal to comply. In response, some home-schooling advocates have taken to demonizing local school districts and attacking even good-faith efforts by public officials to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Home-schooling advocates seeking reform are also likely to face hostility from the education establishment. The same special-interest forces that have tried for years to snuff out charter schools and private school-choice programs are equally committed to quashing what could be a vibrant home-schooling movement. The National Education Association, for instance, has repeatedly stated that home schooling "cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience." In keeping with that stance, it advocates a slate of regulations that would eliminate most of the autonomy hybrid home-schooling families currently enjoy — and, as the nation's largest teachers' union, it has the political clout to see it adopted.

Against the backdrop of this looming threat, home-schooling advocates of all stripes — hybrid home-schooling families included — need to begin seeking out political alliances with those who share their commitment to parental agency and school choice. The school-choice movement — which has historically fought for parents' rights to choose between charter-, private-, and public-school options — would seem like a natural ally of home-schooling parents. Unfortunately, home-schooling advocates have historically eschewed membership in the broader school-choice movement. These families have been skeptical of, and at times outright hostile toward, school-choice advocates' efforts to promote school vouchers, charter schooling, or other forms of state-supported school choice, fearing that such programs may be used to justify regulatory expansions that would restrict their autonomy.

Such concerns are not entirely unfounded. Yet unless home-schooling advocates can form partnerships with others who respect the rights of parents to make choices for their children, policymakers may not respect their autonomy for long. Home-schooling families would thus be wise to join a coalition of advocates who are, however imperfectly, already committed to parental choice. By situating themselves and their priorities within the broader array of groups and causes that comprise the school-choice movement, home-schooling advocates can gain the leverage they need to influence public policy in their favor.

At the same time, school-choice activists could do more to assuage the concerns of home-schooling advocates who may be amenable to joining the movement if it better accommodated their interests. For instance, private school-choice programs could be better designed to protect parent autonomy and flexibility. Tuition tax-credit scholarships — which grant tax credits to those who contribute to scholarship-granting organizations — provide one such model. Education savings accounts, which decentralize funding and offer parents a wide range of spending options, would also be enticing to both hybrid home-schooling advocates and members of the school-choice movement. Both policies establish a kind of funding buffer between schools and the state, creating the space parents need to exercise more autonomy over their children's education.

By more aggressively pursuing an agenda that meets the needs of home-schooling families, school-choice advocates could add several million families to their coalition. Similarly, by joining the broader school-choice movement, home-schooling advocates could gain like-minded allies in pursuit of their policy goals. In the uphill battle to defend parental agency and choice within the education system, such collaboration could mean the difference between success and failure — and ultimately the survival of home schooling as an option for American families.

HYBRID HOME SCHOOLING AS A SOLUTION

Despite the mounting tension between public officials and home-schooling families in their districts, a handful of innovative leaders have come up with arrangements that point the way toward de-escalation, mutual trust, and even constructive partnership between the two. Notably, these arrangements are often based on hybrid home-schooling models.

Fleming County, Kentucky, for example, has a substantial population of home-schooling families. Rather than seeing these families as enemies, a group of school-district officials sought to draw them into greater cooperation with the district. Brian Creasman, the district's superintendent, described their strategy this way:

We really tried to find the barriers or the obstacles that prevented students from enrolling. And then we asked, "how could we assist the many home-school families here in Fleming County?" Because at the end of the day, I think we still view those children as our students, and thus it is still essential that they develop the skills necessary to make our community even stronger. So if we could help them in any way, we needed to do so.

In keeping with this approach, Fleming County avoided putting pressure on home-schooling families to conform. Instead, the district listened to what the home-schooling families needed and then responded with an offer to help.

The result was the Fleming County Performance Academy, a district-run program that operates as either a full-time virtual program, in which students follow a district-driven curriculum from home, or as a hybrid home-school program, in which students spend some time in local schools and some time at home. Home-schooling families are free to join as they see fit.

Because the program is actually responsive to their needs, and because the district's outreach built up trust and goodwill among those in the home-schooling community, many of the county's home-schooling families signed up. The hybrid home-school option not only strengthened the position of Fleming County's public schools, it allowed the district to improve public oversight without resorting to the kinds of coercive tactics that ultimately push home-schooling families further "off the grid" and beyond the reach of public officials.

Public-school leaders in Michigan have been implementing a similar hybrid approach to great effect. Though the state has some of the most permissive home-schooling laws in the nation and no legal requirement for families to notify public schools of their decision to homeschool, it also has one of the most extensive registries of home-schooled students in the country.

This seeming paradox is explained by the state's parent-partnership laws, which allow home-schooled students to enroll in non-core enrichment courses at local schools at no cost to them. Many school districts have created programs specifically catering to home-schooling families. Others operate in partnership with organizations in the community, like music studios and gyms, that can grant home-schooled students credit for their work. There is no pressure on home-schooling families to join these programs, but if they see value in them, they can do so. And thousands have.

A teacher from one Michigan hybrid home-school program believes they work because they are "run by people that understand the home-school community and really respect how home-school families want it to go rather than trying to push the school's agenda on them." In fact, many administrators and teachers involved are former home-school students themselves, so they have an innate understanding of what other home-schooling families are looking for.

These models offer a way out of the cat-and-mouse games that anti-home-schooling officials play with home-schooling families. Instead of trying to use the mechanisms of the state to force home-schooling parents to teach certain subjects in particular ways or to track progress according to externally developed metrics, districts can create programs for home-schooling families that bring them into the fold without threatening their autonomy. If more districts sought to support hybrid home schools — which are already designed to mediate the tension between the freedom of true home schooling and the constraints of conventional education — they could ease much of the tension that exists between school districts and home-schooling families.

MAKING THEIR CASE

Hybrid home schooling is unquestionably diverse — it includes religious and secular schools, public and private schools, urban and rural schools, and more. Yet hybrid home-schooling advocates are united in their desire to empower parents and communities to take a more active role in their children's education.

This unifying objective, however, is divisive within the broader culture, and winning over a skeptical public — and an even more skeptical education establishment — is a daunting task. The willingness of hybrid home-schooling advocates to unite with one another, and with the school-choice movement more generally, will play a determinative role in whether the movement succeeds. Thus, despite their many differences, it is time for the friends and advocates of hybrid home schooling to begin to understand themselves as part of a broader whole.

Fortunately, hybrid home-schooling advocates and families have several compelling arguments in their favor. Most significant is the fact that these schools are not merely good for the families and children directly involved with them, but for the people and communities around them, too. A system with more hybrid home schools will likely be one that has stronger families, a more pluralistic and tolerant approach to public policy, and tighter-knit communities that provide greater support to their members.

In this age of fragmentation and alienation, the case for hybrid home schools is remarkably strong. But it remains to be seen whether hybrid home-schooling advocates will step up to make it.

Michael Q. McShane is director of national research at EdChoice.


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