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Editorial: Monitor results of home-schooling

There is a lot more happening in public education unseen by the public these days, largely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With much more work being done remotely and office hours becoming more flexible, many parents are discovering they can home-school their children, an option once unavailable due to scheduling conflicts.

This can be a positive development for parents who are interested in — and prepared for — what’s involved in educating their children themselves.

Unfortunately, though, many may be taking this route primarily to protect their children from the risk of COVID-19 infection, and without the support of useful and widely available distance-learning programs. The effect of this classroom hiatus will be uneven at best.

Less responsible parents may deem a minimal level of teaching to be good enough for their keiki, but that doesn’t absolve the state of its responsibility to see that children are learning.

And beyond the primary educational considerations, questions are raised when children are disenrolled from school to be taught at home, and trouble later arises. That was an issue with the school withdrawal and later disappearance of 6-year-old Isabella Kalua in Waimanalo, a still-unsettled case.

In rare but tragic cases, children pulled from public schools can be at risk in a private setting, without oversight by caring adults.

They stand as a reminder that school environments function as safe spaces, too.

Over the past year, nearly 3,300 parents submitted the “notification of intent to home school” that is required to get an exemption from the state’s compulsory attendance laws. State Department of Education records also show that this compounds the more than 6,000 parents in 2020 who gave notice that they were withdrawing their child from public school to home-school them.

This aligns with a national trend that’s clearly fueled by the pandemic: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a steady rate of about 3.3% of students being home-schooled had already risen to 11.1% nationally by the fall 2020 academic year.

What’s less clear, at least in Hawaii, is how prepared public educators are for this change, assuming it persists beyond the current crisis.

For example, once school-age children all become eligible for vaccination — anticipated to happen before year’s end — some of the new home-schooling parents should begin to feel safer about returning children to campus.

Teachers will need to establish how well those students have kept pace with the curriculum and, if they haven’t, do their best to catch them up. And this is on top of the existing challenges. Teachers must remedy the learning loss from the previous year of distance learning, as well as tracking students being sent home now on quarantine.

During the 2020-21 academic year, the state missed an opportunity to develop a more permanent distance-learning infrastructure. Even if it couldn’t possibly support distance learning for everyone, it would at least offer educational enrichment for home-schoolers, as well as for more isolated neighbor island students.

Hawaii’s home-schooling is more regulated than in some states. Parents do have to submit an annual progress report on the student’s achievement. Students are required to do standardized tests at grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 and have the opportunity of taking other tests at the local school.

But now it’s time for the state’s education leaders to review how effectively those rules bolster learning success for home-schooled students. Their population growth may not be just a passing phase.

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