As home schooling soars in U.S., Catholic schools struggle to recover from pandemic

The uptick in enrollment after the pandemic, Donoghue said, was due in part to “the fact that Catholic schools prioritized a safe reopening.” 

“There was a priority to get kids back on campus and back in class,” she said. “I think that’s why you saw such a strong rebound.” 

“We hope it stabilizes,” Donoghue said of enrollment numbers. “I think long-term, what Catholic schools really need to recognize is the important role they play in forming people — children who will then be adults, with a Catholic worldview.” 

“I think that’s where our opportunity lies,” she said. “I think we need to dig into our own tradition, our treasury of culture, of art, of scientific discoveries, and work to strengthen that, so that when this generation of kids ages into adulthood they will have a sense of vocation and a sense of calling.”

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Catholic home schooling on the rise

The COVID-19 crisis disrupted nearly the entirety of the U.S. education system, with most schools throughout the country shutting down in the early spring of 2020 and reopening with either fully remote or “hybrid” learning setups for many months. 

Amid the protracted chaos of closures and reopenings, many families opted for home schooling, which, according to the Post, “remains elevated well above pre-pandemic levels.”

A growing number of families, meanwhile, are opting to take up specifically Catholic home education programs. Everett Buyarski, the academic services director for the Catholic home school organization Kolbe Academy, said the company has seen “an 11% growth in families this year over last year.”

Kolbe offers what it says is an “authentically Catholic, classical home education” program, giving enrollees access to an “orthodox curriculum and faithful faculty and staff.” Buyarski said a review of its recent spike in enrollment indicates “about a quarter of those came to us from Catholic schools.” 

“The largest portion are home schoolers choosing to enroll with us who hadn’t previously, about 60%, while 15% came to us from public schools,” he said. 

Buyarski said finances are often a “contributing factor” for a family’s decision to take up or leave home schooling, either for families who leave Catholic school to home school or when a home schooling parent has to return to work. 

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“It can also be the case that families have found that the local Catholic school wasn’t a good fit for their family’s needs, for a variety of reasons,” he said. 

“The most common reasons we hear for families leaving public school are due to concerns with what is being taught at the school, or due to bullying or other behavioral/environmental considerations.”

Maureen Whittmann, the co-founder and co-director of the Catholic curriculum provider Homeschool Connections, told CNA that her organization is enjoying a long stretch of growth even after the upheaval of the pandemic cooled off. 

“During the pandemic, of course, we saw a huge spike,” she said. “Post-pandemic we expected to see a big drop. We figured people would stay, but many would go back. But we continue to grow. We did not see a drop after the pandemic. Our numbers held steady and we’re continuing to see growth post-pandemic.”

Whittmann said “disenchantment” with both public and, in some cases, Catholic schools is a large part of what’s driving new families to their program. 

“Once [families] get into home schooling they’re discovering they really love it,” she said. “They’re drawn into the family life.”

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