Desperate parents pay whatever they can to escape online schools
Parents, fearing their kids won’t see the inside of a classroom this fall, are ginning up an alternative familiar to the Home Depot crowd: Do-it-yourself.
Amid the pandemic, enterprising families, especially those with means, are hiring tutors on their own or in groups or joining the already growing movement of home schooling. Their efforts include preschoolers, as well as elementary and beyond.
For five Los Angeles families, that has meant spending $22,500 in the last three months to create what they’re calling a “micro-school” for their pre-school aged kids. They hired an interior designer to build a makeshift classroom with an art pavilion at one of their homes and contracted the services of a local teacher to come three-days-a-week. She creates bespoke lesson plans about age appropriate topics, like the alphabet and human emotions.
“This is healthier for the both of us,” said Jodi Lederman, a single mom who sought out the alternative to her daughter’s preschool in order to keep working as head of global communications for streaming service Pluto TV. Starting in September, the teacher will come Monday through Friday.
Weeks away from the start of the academic year, millions of families across the U.S. still don’t know what school will look like this fall. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said recently it’s not dangerous for children to be in school and threatened to withhold federal funding for districts that don’t fully resume classes in schools. Health officials quickly pushed back, noting the science is murky, especially as COVID-19 surges in parts of the country.
Thus far, cities have taken varying approaches. Some, like Los Angeles, will be online only, while others, such as New York City, will attempt a hybrid model: Students will come in for class up to three days each week and study online for the rest of the time.
Outside the U.S., countries that have reopened schools have had mixed success. Denmark, the first European nation to send kids back to classrooms, hasn’t seen a COVID spike since it resumed in-person learning in April. Israeli public health officials, however, blamed in-person learning for the country’s latest wave of infections.
“Our kids learning remotely is better than our kids sick or dying.”
Back in the U.S., some parents with means aren’t waiting to see what the fall will look like. In the last three months, Weekdays, a Seattle-based company that helps parents set-up in-home daycares and schools, said it has helped organize 100 micro-schools around the country. “We’ve been overwhelmed with inquiries,” Shauna Causey, Weekdays’s founder, said.
The costs vary, but can run into the thousands of dollars each month. Some parents say they pay $100 to $200-an-hour for private tutors. On Weekdays and a similar service called School House, teachers are encouraged to set their own rates, but the organizations say the cost is comparable to daycare.
Parents who can’t afford additional childcare costs will have far fewer options this fall. In addition to the spotty plans for school reopenings, surveys have found that thousands of daycare centers have permanently closed due to the pandemic. A bill introduced to the U.S. Senate to provide $50 billion in grants for childcare providers has stalled.
Educational experts worry these class divides will exacerbate inequalities. In families who can’t afford private child care, “those children are going to miss out on a lot of educational opportunities,” said Simon Workman, director of early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress. “Or, the family is not going to be able to work–and that has a huge financial and economic impact.”
Rather than send her daughter back on-site to Chicago Public Schools for second grade, Jenny Ludwig plans to keep her home for remote learning, which means putting her own career on hold so she can help monitor lessons. She already has a master’s degree in English, but was hoping to go back to school for social work. Her husband is a high school teacher, and what his work-life will look like this fall is unclear.
“Our kids learning remotely is better than our kids sick or dying,” Ludwig said.
Just 3.3% of the 59 million school-aged children in the U.S. were homeschooled in 2016, but the Home School Legal Defense Association says it has seen a jump in membership recent months. HSLDA, which charges $130 a year for access to consultants and curriculum help, now has a record 85,000 members in the U.S.
Nicole De Los Reyes hasn’t decided what she’ll do for her stepchildren, ages 9 and 6, this fall. The project coordinator at a Portland law firm doesn’t know if her family can handle another semester of virtual school for her first and fourth graders. Before the pandemic, De Los Reyes and her husband spent $400 per month for an after school program, for which they also received financial aid. Now, finding a full-time option in her budget is proving difficult.
“My stepdaughter is starting out her educational career really far behind,” De Los Reyes said. “She can’t read and she can’t write yet, and she missed basically half of a year’s worth of instruction.”