During the pandemic, nearly every American schoolchild has experienced some kind of mixture of home-based and school-based learning. What many may not realize is that this phenomenon was happening even before the pandemic. Mike McShane, the director of national research at EdChoice, spent a year talking to parents and educators involved in this kind of learning for his new book, Hybrid Homeschooling: A Guide to the Future of Education. I recently spoke with Mike about the realities of hybrid home schooling, what it looks like when done well, and why he calls it the future of education.
Rick: All right, so what is hybrid home schooling?
Mike: Put simply, hybrid home schools enroll children in a traditional brick-and-mortar school for part of the week, and students learn from home for part of the week. Ultimately, though, hybrid home schooling is an umbrella term that describes the temporal arrangement of schooling, and there are a lot of ways that it plays out. Some schools have two days at home and three days at school, others do three and two, one and four, or four and one. Some schools take more control of curriculum and prescribe what students do when they are at home, while others leave home days more in the hands of parents. For younger children, parents tend to take a much larger role in the actual instruction. As children age, they tend to work more independently.
Rick: That sounds pretty similar to what many families have experienced over the past twelve months. Is it the same thing?
Mike: Sort of. The big difference is that the schools I profile were built from the ground up to operate on a hybrid schedule while most schools went hybrid on the fly this year. That makes a huge difference for the buy-in of children and families, trust and expectations, and the community that supports the school.
Rick: So, before the pandemic, how many families or schools were doing this?
Mike: My honest answer? I have no idea. There is no national database that tracks hybrid home schooling, and many schools operate independently. What’s more, most hybrid home schools don’t identify as such in their name! You frequently have to go through multiple tabs on a school’s website to find out what their schedule looks like. So I don’t know how many such schools existed before the pandemic, and in a way I’m glad I didn’t torture myself trying to count all of them, because the pandemic altered the landscape so completely.
Rick: Why might families or educators choose hybrid home schooling?
Mike: I kept hearing the same phrase from parents over and over again: “The Gift of Time.” Families who participate in hybrid home schooling want to spend more time with their children and feel like the traditional school schedule and calendar are out of sync with the rhythms of their family’s life. But it isn’t just that. Many families find themselves getting the best of home schooling—for instance, the personalized attention, the supportive environment, more control over what is learned—and the best of traditional schooling—community, socialization, expertise, extracurriculars, and so on. As far as educators go, many I spoke to enjoy the partnership that they have with parents, working with them rather than against them in educating their children. It takes some relationship management, but when teachers and parents trust and support each other, wonderful things can happen.
Rick: It seems like it might be tough to judge if a hybrid home school is doing well—is it?
Mike: It is and it isn’t. Terrific hybrid home schools have the same trappings as terrific traditional schools. That means families and teachers that support and reinforce each other, engaging curriculum, and more. But it is particularly important for parents and teachers to work together in a hybrid home school, as they are trading off jobs and need to be on the same page.
Rick: What kind of accountability applies to hybrid home schooling? What do we know about how students fare?
Mike: Well, there are some hybrid home schools in the traditional public and public charter sectors that are subject to the same accountability rules and regulations as public schools. But more broadly, every hybrid home school I profile is a school of choice, so ultimately they are accountable to the parents who choose to send their children to them. As far as longer-term outcomes, there really isn’t great, reliable performance data on hybrid home schools, as any careful causal research would pretty quickly run into serious selection bias problems.
Rick: There’s a lot of options out there for parents right now—how is hybrid home schooling distinct from other options they may be considering, like online schooling, pandemic pods, or microschools?
Mike: I think it is helpful to think of schooling on a spectrum driven by three key variables, which I borrow from the home schooling literature: funding, control, and location. Home-schooled students have an education that is funded by their parents, controlled by their parents, and located in their home. Students in traditional public schools have an education that is not funded by their parents, not controlled by their parents, and not located in their home. All of those options you bring up sit somewhere in between. Online schooling is located in the home but controlled—and often funded—outside of it. Microschools and pods are often located outside of the home and controlled by educators that families have hired. Hybrid home schooling is located both in and outside of the home, is controlled both by parents and educators, and frequently combines parent funding and outside funding.
Rick: OK, so what’s it look like for parents or principals to actually do this? What’s required to get started?
Mike: Many hybrid home schools start as groups of home schooling families that come together when they realize there are certain things that they might be better able to do together. For example, parents might not be comfortable teaching higher-level math and science or want to get students together to discuss novels with other children who are reading them. So, they start a small school—though it depends on state home schooling and private schooling rules and regulations as to exactly what that can look like—in a rented or donated space and get to work.
Rick: How does funding for hybrid home schooling work?
Mike: Private hybrid home schools are usually tuition-driven and frequently cost between one-third and one-half of local private school tuition. Public charter and traditional public school districts who participate in hybrid home schooling models are usually reimbursed based on state law, with some states like Colorado providing 50 percent funding for students who are enrolled part time, and other states reimbursing on a course-by-course or instructional hour-by-instructional-hour basis.
Rick: What kinds of families opt for hybrid home schooling?
Mike: When I asked a hybrid home school leader this question, he asked me if I had seen that social-media meme that circulates at back-to-school time that has crying children with their backpacks on in the foreground and parents high-fiving and jumping for joy in the background. As he told me, hybrid home schooling parents are not likely to be the ones sharing it. Hybrid home schooling parents are people who want to spend more time with their children, who want to have a school schedule and calendar that syncs with the rhythms of their family life, who want their child to have more individualized attention and support, and who are looking for a community of like-minded adults to work with while they raise their kids. They are all across the country, in urban and rural communities, on the East and West coast and all parts in between. They are religious and they are secular. They are rich and they are poor. It’s a big mix of folks.
Rick: OK, if I’m a parent or educator who finds this intriguing, what resources are out there for me to learn more about joining or launching a hybrid home school?
Mike: There are organizations like UMSI—University-Model Schools International—that support a network of hybrid home schools, but for many of the folks that I spoke with, social media was a huge help. Families and educators connected via Facebook groups for home schoolers, those interested in religious schools, or those with a particular pedagogical model.
Rick: Is there any evidence parents will want more of this after the pandemic?
Mike: Our public-opinion polling at EdChoice says yes. North of 40 percent of parents that we have surveyed have said that they would like some kind of school schedule that has a mix of at-home and in-school instruction. The question now is whether or not there will be opportunities for families to express these preferences. I’m hoping supply rises to meet demand.
Rick: You’ve called hybrid home schooling “the future of education”—do you really think every child is going to a hybrid home school in the future?
Mike: It was kind of a cheeky subtitle that I wrote before the pandemic. The argument that I make in the book is that while I don’t think that every child in the future will attend a hybrid home school, the questions that hybrid home schooling causes us to ask about schools—about how they use time, how they get parents and teachers to work together, how they build community—will shape all schools going forward. But then the pandemic hit, and the future became the present. So who knows!?!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.