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Why homeschooling is beneficial for students with learning differences.

by The Varsity Tutors School@Home Team

As per the Australian government’s Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disabilities (NCCD), learning differences refer to “the diverse ways all students learn and the rates at which they learn.”

The term “learning differences” itself suggests that not all students learn the same way, which is something we’ve always known. Some students need more time to process and interact with course material, while others need a different methodology altogether—one, for instance, that aligns with their learning style(s). If we recognize the myriad differences in the way children learn, it begs the question of why students in brick-and-mortar schools are taught using a standardized curriculum.

According to the NCCD, learning differences can stem from a range of issues, including “absenteeism, ineffective instruction, inadequate exposure to necessary curricula, English as an additional language, socio-economic status and personal or family trauma.” Whatever the cause may be, the result is the same: a mismatch between students’ abilities and their performance in a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

What can make learning differences so difficult to address is that many cases remain undetected until children become school-aged. Once students are sent to school to partake in activities that require a certain competency, learning differences can become more apparent.

Even then, however, learning differences may go unnoticed, especially when there is no pre-established label to classify them. Stanford University explains, “In our educational system, labels play an important role; the use of the term disability is needed in order to qualify for the services offered under the law.” When learning differences cannot be categorized as dyslexia, ADHD, or some other well-documented disorder, they may fly under the radar, meaning these students can go without the support they need for long periods or even indefinitely.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities reports that 1 in 5 students experiences learning difficulties. It likewise reports that “Some of these children receive specialized instruction or accommodations, but many do not.”

It is no surprise, then, that many families believe conventional schools are failing to meet the needs of children with learning differences. For skeptical moms and dads, homeschooling represents the chance to provide special needs students with customized one-on-one instruction.

According to Stacey Wells, founder of Homeschooling.Mom, many parents turn to homeschooling precisely because their children have special needs. She writes with dismay, “[(special ed classes)] have teacher’s aides and assistants, though not nearly as many as they should have based on the IEP’s (Individualized Education Plans) for those special-needs children.”

And the data seems to confirm such fears. In a 2004 article from The Journal of Special Education, McLeskey, et al. warn about the “severe, chronic shortage of fully certified special education teachers in the United States.” Unfortunately, not much has changed in the 17 years since the article was published.

The California Commission on Teaching Credentialing declares that “There were more special education teachers with substandard credentials than in any other subject area in 2017-18.” In addition, it found that “about 60 percent of first-year special education teachers [in California] were working without a full special education teaching credential.” EdSource author Diana Lambert calls it the “imperfect response” of many school districts to teacher shortages.

Perhaps even more alarming, though, is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ claim that “the demand for special education teachers is expected to grow [another] 8 percent by 2026.” If schools can’t adequately staff in response to this spike in demand, the consequences for special education students could be disastrous.

If you ask Stacy Wells, she’ll tell you that it’s already impossible “for the public-school to cater to the individualized needs of every special-needs student in their classes.” Most teachers have the best of intentions but simply cannot keep up with all their to-dos and intimately attend to every child in the classroom.

Of course, the notion of transitioning to homeschooling can be daunting, but Wells calms parents with these wise words: “The truth is [. . .] that you are the one that knows your child best, along with all their strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Therefore, you are the one best qualified to teach your child.” She insists that a desire for your child to excel is the only teaching credential you need—the rest can be learned over time with the proper support and attitude.

The Understood Team of notes another benefit to homeschooling kids with learning differences: “Sometimes, getting a school to provide services or accommodation takes a lot of effort. You must follow a formal process. By contrast, at home you don’t need school approval for assistive technology or accommodations like frequent breaks. Homeschooling lets you focus on your child, not on wrangling with the school.” The Understood Team describes this advantage as “cutting through the red tape.”

Wendy Hilton, co-owner of Hip Homeschool Moms, writes, “It is my firm opinion as the homeschooling mother of special needs children myself that the majority of special needs children would be far better off being homeschooled.” In her detailed blog post, Hilton lists ten compelling arguments in favor of homeschooling kids with learning differences: fewer distractions, extra time, more frequent breaks, greater flexibility in scheduling appointments and therapy, and much more.

Varsity Tutors School @ Home offers something for every homeschooler, whether it's customizable complementary instruction in both academic and elective subjects or a digital app that makes daily homeschooling logistics easier for parents. Learn more here: