I-TEAM: What homeschooling looks like in Arkansas

Published: Aug. 20, 2023 at 10:40 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - While some kids get on buses again and parents start taking them to school, others consider their home the classroom.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education, over 30,000 kids in Arkansas were homeschooled in the 2021-2022 school year.

Jamie Almond homeschools her kindergarten daughter and teaches her younger child a little bit. While it can be tough to educate from home, Almond wouldn’t have it any other way.

“There are days where they don’t want to stop learning,” Almond said. “They’re like, can we do more.”

The decision to homeschool her kids took some time and research, but it came down to a couple of things.

“Tailoring the needs of my child, being able to really see when something clicks with her, and really just teaching her how to love learning,” she explained.

Along with finding teaching resources, Almond is part of a homeschooling co-op called Northeast Arkansas Christian Home Educators, where parents help each other.

Kara Northcutt is also a part of the group. She has three kids, including a second grader she homeschools. She said the day typically starts with reading for about 30 minutes, then history or science for about 30 minutes, spelling or poetry for another 30 minutes, a lunch break, and then arithmetic or language arts.

Northcutt said the co-op has been a great resource.

“One day a week, we get together and take classes that range anywhere from a STEM experiment class to foreign languages to farm-to-table classes,” Northcutt said.

While there hasn’t been a huge jump in homeschoolers in Arkansas in the past couple of years, there was a huge jump of about 8,000 kids between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.

When it comes to the state’s requirements for parents, Arkansas really only has one requirement: a letter of intent.

“That can be done online, in-person or by mail. It’s just a form sent to your school district that your child lives in,” Northcutt said.

Angela Grimberg is the executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, and she said it’s concerning for her that there isn’t more guidance from the state on homeschooling.

“There is no record keeping, no bookkeeping, no minimum number of hours to homeschool,” Grimberg said. “There is no parent qualifications.”

The coalition is also concerned with how the instruction will change as children get older. That’s why her organization advocates for parents to have an open conversation about possible needs for additional resources, help, or getting out of homeschooling if it’s becoming too much to handle.

Almond said she likes the flexibility of taking learning into her own hands.

“I’m pretty happy with how it is because, with all the resources we have. If you pick a curriculum, it’s going to kind of tell you everything your child needs to know within those times,” Almond said.

Northcutt and Almond plan on educating their children through their senior year.

“To say that I’m not nervous about doing that, I’d be lying. Because algebra and stuff like that is hard for me, but there’s so many resources now as far as online that we could have the tools to do that,” Almond said.

While Almond said homeschooling was the best choice for her family, she added it may not be for everyone. She recommended it for those hesitant about it but really want to homeschool to try it out for a year. Send them back into the school system if it doesn’t work out.

According to Grimberg, homeschooling has been shown to have particularly positive outcomes for kids who are bullied, have a disability, or face any discrimination.

She wants to make sure homeschool teachers have all the resources they need to give their kids the best education possible.

“It’s important that if you decide to homeschool that you have the time and you can allocate enough resources for your child’s education,” Grimberg said. “Then, policies need to be in place to make sure that accountability is there for homeschooling parents as well.”

Grimberg said 20% of homeschooling families enroll their children part-time in public or charter schools. That and homeschooling resources from school districts can be helpful tools in homeschool education.

She said co-ops are also tools many parents utilize.

While there can be some stress that comes with homeschooling, Northcutt and Almond said for them, it’s been worth it.

“We valued her education, and we respected and honored it. We wanted to be a part of it and involved from the very beginning,” Northcutt said.

For Almond, she loves getting to be with her kids each day.

“I think more than anything, the quality time that you’re going to receive with your children is worth it all,” she said.