Austen Medford is excited for next school year.
The 8-year-old cannot wait for his new teacher — his mother, Sharonda Medford. His reasoning is simple.
“Because I can learn better,” he said, smiling and looking up to his mom.
Medford is one of a growing number of Texas parents taking charge of their children’s education through homeschooling to provide a more personalized learning experience.
Austen is entering the third grade, but is on a first-grade reading level, Medford said. He was bullied in a public school because of his skin condition. Medford also faced poor communication from Austen’s past teachers, she said.
“I’m trying to find ways to help him as well as to encourage him and get him out of his shell,” Medford said. “I want to be able to provide a space where he can feel comfortable and he can learn at his own pace and be able to catch ahead to the grade level he’s in.”
Withdrawals from public schools up, but data not clear
The Texas Education Agency does not track the number of homeschooled students. However, the agency tracks annual withdrawals of seventh- to 12th-graders.
A Texas Homeschool Coalition analysis of TEA data shows withdrawals from public schools across the state increased 42% between the 2010-11 and 2020-21 school year. The state had 29,845 withdrawals in the 2020-21 school year, and 20,875 in the 2010-11 academic year.
Part of the increase likely is because of parents pulling their children out of schools during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Withdrawals in Tarrant County, though, decreased 10% during the same time period. At the start of the decade, 1,125 students were withdrawn. By the 2020-21 school year, that number dropped to 1,004.
The numbers from the state do not paint a full picture of homeschooling in the state, according to the Texas Homeschool Coalition. Homeschool numbers in Texas are likely higher because of the lack of data for pre-K to sixth-grade withdrawals, according to the group.
Homeschooling — and private schools — could see more interest if a proposed voucher-like program becomes law.
Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to call for a special session of the Texas Legislature to consider creating an education savings account program, a policy that would see parents receive public dollars to fund private school tuition, resources for homeschooling or other educational expenses.
Opponents of education savings accounts say homeschooling and private schools lack the same level of accountability of public schools.
‘Better for us’
Medford, who lives in Denton, and another parent, Ruth Lopez, recently attended the Texas Homeschool Expo in Grapevine to learn more about what resources are available to them.
Lopez and her husband, Bernardo, pushed a stroller carrying their 3-year-old daughter, Lilly, and 10-month-old son, Benny, through the crowded homeschool expo.
Their children aren’t yet at the age for school, but Lopez wanted to get a head start on figuring out how to homeschool Lilly.
Homeschooling is familiar territory for Lopez — she was homeschooled in the eighth grade.
Homeschooling would give her daughter more one-on-one teaching time to drill down in their lessons, she said.
“She loves learning, but then she’ll get distracted. I know that in school you have to be focused and, if you’re not, you’re just going to miss it,” Lopez said.
Medford is starting Austen’s homeschooling experience from kindergarten so he can learn foundational reading skills.
She is tailoring her lessons to how he learns.
For example, Austen is always on his iPad. At the expo, she waited in line with Austen to learn more about an interactive online math curriculum that he can use on his iPad.
A row over from the interactive math materials was Vaughn Sutherland, the chief revenue officer and head of sales for literacy program Edsoma.
He showed off the Edsoma reading app to people who stopped by his booth, which is based on the science of how people learn to read and keeps track of students’ progress to be literate.
Children read a book aloud to their device, and the app tells them they read it correctly or instructs them how to read the word, Sutherland said.
Looking for a solution
Last year, Medford didn’t learn much about Austen’s progress in school. She only received calls from his teachers to discuss his negative behavior, Medford said.
Medford knows Austen’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has played a big part in his past issues. She wishes Austen’s past teachers had communicated more frequently with her so they could help him, she said.
So she turned to homeschooling, a viable option for Medford because she works from home.
“I needed to find a solution to where I can get my son up to par and where I can understand him being ADHD,” Medford said. “So what was best was for me to do it myself.”
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.