The number of Florida’s homeschooled students has increased by 7,000 — the largest recorded increase in ten years — as online and blended learning programs provide more flexibility to families.
Duval County is leading the trend in Florida with 6,106 homeschooled learners. Across the state, 9,459 students are being homeschooled. The rise is partly the result of blended learning opportunities that technology has made possible in the form of virtual classes and online schools.
Karen Harmon, Chairwoman of Home Education Resources and Information, believes the shift has been encouraged by the implementation of Common Core. She says that according to parent feedback she gets, Common Core doesn’t allow students to shine because it’s dumbing down the school system.
Religion, under-performing local schools, bullying and school violence, and dissatisfaction with government-run schools are among the reasons that are pushing parents toward homeschooling.
As convention coordinator Shari Sleeper says, in Jacksonville, where she home-schools her three children, most home-schooled students are Christian.
Denise Smith Amos of Jacksonville.com reports that Sleeper felt her ADHD-diagnosed daughter couldn’t get the support she needed at school. The school “didn’t want to deal with a bouncy child,” Sleeper said.
The rise of virtual learning opportunities is one key reason why homeschooling has become an attractive alternative for many families in Florida and beyond.
Parents can choose online classes or enroll their students in full-time virtual charter schools. The flexibility and many options online education offers is what makes it easier for parents to provide their children with blended learning education in which they combine traditional, classroom-based classes with tech-driven activities and projects.
According to a piece by Kathryn W. Foster of the Miami Herald, blended learning is a convenient and effective solution for students such as gymnast Tyler Harriman, who starts his day at 6 a.m. and has two hours of online classes before heading to practice. Harriman is a full-time student at the Miami-Dade Online Academy with 299 other students who have the opportunity to attend online, virtual classes from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
It is still hard to measure the effectiveness of blended learning in student performance even two years after such a program is being implemented despite the evident potential of the new learning approach, Julie Landry Laviolette reports in the Miami Herald.
At iPreparatory Academy in Florida, known as iPrep, students have school-provided laptops and receive a mix of online lessons in a significantly tech-driven environment. Students will listen to online math lectures while the instructor serves more as a guide rather than an educator, ensuring that students can work at their own pace and have someone to explain material to them as needed.
Lisa Hauser, a teacher at iPrep, says that in isolation both online learning and conventional classroom based instruction have their limitations. The former lacks the human factor and the latter the immediacy between instructor and learner. Following an expected adjustment period, the blended learning option seems to be a viable, successful alternative:
“In the blended learning environment, students who are advanced can work ahead, and the student who struggles has the opportunity to go back and learn a little bit slower, without falling behind,” she said.
It is estimated that the homeschooling market is a $1 billion per year business with many education providers offering homeschooling custom packages for improving and expanding on the learning experience for home-schooled students.