As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic response in school districts across the state, 22 percent of Alaska’s students have shifted to homeschooling.
These new homeschool families are not the ones using the distance learning offered by their local schools. Instead, they are in some other public correspondence program, such as IDEA, Raven, or even one from out of state, such as Calvert.
The number of Alaska students now enrolled in homeschooling has nearly doubled since last year, from 14,161 to 27,702.
Juneau, for example, has lost 11% of its enrolled students, as parents shopped for programs that fit their children better than the distance learning being offered in their local schools with their local teachers. Some Juneau students are using Homebridge, Juneau’s homeschool program. Last year, the program had 35 students, but this year over 400 are enrolled in the homeschool program, which is different than distant learning with a classroom teacher.
In Anchorage, where enrollment is also down 11%, the homeschool programs run by the district are not only full, there are waiting lists. Frontier Charter School, PAIDEIA, and Family Partnership Charter School are all at what is considered over-capacity and have been since summer.
Students who are enrolled in these homeschool programs are not considered “in the district” for counting purposes, but their curriculums are Anchorage School District compliant.
The preliminary enrollment in Alaska schools is 127,262, down from 132,257 last year, a loss of about 5,000 students in the enrollment that is calculated each October.
This fall, parents had a choice to either enroll their children in local classes, but have them taught by their local teachers online, or leave the district for another program.
After unsatisfying experiences from March through the end of the 2020 school year, many left the distance programs. The question is, will they return to brick-and-mortar in the same numbers when the pandemic eases and teachers unions are willing to return staff to the classrooms?
Parents have learned that their students can get through the basic curriculum in about three hours a day, but that leaves several hours a day of what many experience as boredom and loneliness, something that every student and family has addressed in a different way.
The State Department of Education signed an agreement with Florida virtual to train 50 teachers around Alaska on remote teaching skills, and since last winter has trained nearly 200. There are thousands of Alaska students now using the Florida Virtual curriculum, which was roundly criticized by Democrats in the Legislature and teachers unions and administrators.
“The ‘4th quarter solution’ that is suggested through the purchase of this Florida version of distance delivery is seen as an insult to most, if not all, teachers in the state who have been supporting their students,” Juneau Schools Superintendent Bridget Weiss wrote at the time.
But today, the program is being chosen by many Alaska families as an alternative that works for them with the nearly 200 courses offered by Florida Virtual, which offer advanced placement classes as well as remedial classes. The Alaska contract with Florida Virtual ends in February, 2021.