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Parents choosing new forms of education in uncertain school year

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(The Center Square) – Some parents are pursuing new forms of education after frustration that districts aren’t offering their preferred teaching methods.

A June survey of the Midwest found that one-third of parents were uncertain of sending at least one child back to school.

The Lansing School District, Grand Rapids School District, and Ann Arbor Public Schools plan to start the year online.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s education plan links in-person classes with the state’s reopening phase.

The state must stay in phase four or above for students to attend in-person classes, but even then, it’s up to the local district to decide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for in-person education recommends reopening.

The CDC cites social, emotional, and academic harm to children associated with closed schools, which disproportionately harms low-income and minority students who are less likely to tap into private tutors, food programs and counseling services.

State Superintendent Michael Rice on Tuesday proposed a year-freeze in enrollment count so parents couldn’t transfer their kids, and their per-pupil funding, to another district with a preferred education method.

“If we start doing fresh counts in 2021, we are going to exacerbate the instability in the environment that already exists,” Rice testified. “We will create even more instability by unleashing this competition around in-person versus at a distance, and I do not think it will benefit our children.”

Parents are already choosing homeschool co-ops and other opportunities.

Traditional schools may be scrambling to gather online material, but for Highpoint Virtual Academy, it’s “business as usual,” Head of School Mary Moorman said.

In July, Moorman has seen about 1,000 enrollments, up from about 200 during this time last year for the K-12 school.

The tuition-free public charter school academy is in its fifth year of cyberschool, while Moorman has been teaching online for 13 years.

The school’s teachers are all licensed by the state of Michigan and are solely dedicated to online education.

The work is divided by online work with teachers and children working with a parent or guardian.

“It’s a good balance of structure and independence,” Moorman said.

Families get a “tried and true” curriculum in the mail, including a computer, printer and textbooks, Moorman said.

The school also recently kicked off a dual enrollment program through which students can stay for a “13th” year to earn an associate degree from Baker College or Davenport University at no cost.

Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, said interest in homeschooling has increased by at least 10 times.

Coleman’s group developed an Introduction to Home Education course for first-time home-schoolers, partially due to COVID-19-induced demand, and suggested parents base education on public education’s return reassessment.

Ben DeGrow, director of Education Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said that many parents are choosing new educational opportunities after frustration with traditional education.

“Despite the disruption, students will benefit from having parents take a more active role in directing their education. But many others will be harmed by not having enough quality options, including in-person learning, that they can access. This challenging season for parents is also becoming most clarifying,” DeGrow told The Center Square in an email.

“The more they see powerful organizations and officials bent on protecting the system at all costs, even if it means denying opportunities to their children, the stronger the case grows for putting families in charge of education funds,” DeGrow continued. “This can especially help give less privileged students a fairer chance to succeed.”

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