University-Model Schools®: A Survey of Families in Five States

Eric Wearne

Assistant Professor, School of Education, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, Georgia, ewearne@ggc.edu

Abstract

University-Model Schools® (UMS) typically hold classes 2-3 days per week, with students working from home using teacher-defined lessons the rest of the week.  This study reports parents’ stated preferences regarding why they specifically chose UMS for their children. Parents from ten official University-Model Schools’ ® responded to an electronic survey sent by their school leaders (n=386; 25.3% return rate).  Findings suggest UMS parents tend to be more affluent and white than the country as a whole, are more likely to be married and more highly educated, value items such as flexible schedules and family time ahead of typical school metrics such as test scores, and that information on curriculum and religion are important factors in their decision-making processes. Most of these parents report having used various other types of schooling (fulltime homeschools, public schools, private schools, online schools), and tend to be extremely satisfied with their current UMS schools.

Keywords: homeschooling, home education, school choice, hybrid homeschools, education policy.

 

Various forms of school choice have been rapidly increasing their share of students in the United States over the past 15 years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2016), the share of students enrolled in charter schools increased to 2.5 million in 2013-14, up from 0.8 million in 2003-04.  This represents an increase to 5.1% of public school students in the U.S. in 2013-14, up from 1.6% in 2003-04 (Kena et al, 2016, p. 76).  In 2015, NCES also began to attempt to measure the number of students enrolled in virtual/online schools across the U.S.  The most recent data report that nearly 200,000 students were enrolled in virtual elementary or secondary schools in 2013-14, a number that also seems likely to grow (NCES, 2016).

Ray (2016) estimates a similar number – about 2.3 million students – are currently being homeschooled in the U.S.  Ray (2011) also finds a large increase in the number of homeschooled students in the U.S. during the decade of the 2000s, and argues that “many, including this author, expect to observe a notable surge in the number of children being homeschooled in the next 5-10 years” (p. 3).

Some homeschoolers gather in “co-ops” in order to share expertise in various subject areas, and to provide social activities for their students with other children (Carpenter & Gann, 2015; Muldowney, 2011).  These students are considered full-time homeschoolers, but often participate “in a variety of instructional activities such as online courses, private tutors, and self-taught classes through the use of a flexible daily schedule” (Carpenter & Gann, 2015, p.1).  A separate subset of the homeschooling community is families who choose to attend “hybrid homeschools.”  These “hybrid homeschools” can be considered more formal versions of homeschool co-ops. These schools typically hold formal classes 2-3 days per week, and students work from home using teacher-defined lessons the rest of the week.  Students are enrolled in these schools, as opposed to simply being members of a co-op.  These schools are often independent, but an early group organized using this structure, called University-Model Schools ® has developed over the past 20 years into a large network of schools.

The purpose of this study was to better understand parents’ reasons for choosing University-Model Schools ®.  University-Model Schools ® are a particular form of this “hybrid homeschool” phenomenon, focusing on character education, religion, and a college preparatory curriculum.  Over 70 schools officially belong to the National Association of University-Model Schools ® network, with the oldest being over 20 years old.  To learn parents’ stated preferences regarding why they specifically chose University-Model Schools ® for their children, an electronic survey was sent to 10 official University-Model Schools’ ® respective lists of parents by their school leaders. This article addresses four questions: 1. What are the characteristics of families who choose to send their children to University-Model Schools ®? 2. What do these parents say they value as part of this type of education? 3. What sources of information do these parents say they seek out and value as they make their decision about this school option?  4. How satisfied are these parents with their current schools and with their previous schools?

 

Literature review

 

University-Model Schools ®

University-Model Schools ® (UMS) schools (hereafter referred to as “UMS schools”) are Christian schools that follow a few variations of hybrid homeschool-style weekly structures.  “Hybrid homeschools” are typically defined as schools which enroll students, hire teachers, conduct group classes, and follow a specific curriculum (whether published or created independently) 2-3 days per week, and in which students are then homeschooled the balance of the week.  The level of organization and structure varies from school to school; some hybrid homeschool students follow detailed lesson plans written by their teachers, while others are more independent.  Hybrid homeschools can be considered more formal than homeschool cooperative groups (co-ops), as described by Carpenter and Gann (2015) and Muldowney (2011).  While there are variations in formality among such schools, UMS schools are among the more formal structures, with an explicitly college preparatory focus, as their name implies.

In 1992, a group of parents in Texas convened to develop the concept that would become University-Model Schools.  That group developed and expanded into a network called the National Association of University-Model Schools (NAUMS), which recently rebranded to become University-Model® Schools International (UMSI), in order to reflect the expansion of the model into other countries.  The first UMS school, Grace Preparatory Academy, opened in Arlington, Texas in 1993.  According to UMSI itself,

In 1992, a group of Christian parents felt caught between two of their deepest passions. On one hand, they yearned to meet the spiritual needs of their sons and daughters. On the other, they aspired to provide for their children’s academic development. The older their children grew, the more dismayed these parents became that the requirements of one passion inherently worked against the practical outworking of the other.

To train and effectively influence their children spiritually, the parents needed consistent and meaningful time with them. To provide for their children academically, they needed a good school. The children’s attendance in school, however, drastically reduced their family time together, while it dramatically increased the students’ exposure to a number of negative competing influences, many of which stood in direct conflict with the very values the parents were so passionate to impart.

In 2013, 71 official UMS schools had opened in 19 states, as well as one in China. (NAUMS History, n.d.)

The research literature on UMS schools is limited.  Brobst (2013) has done work on UMS students’ preparation for college (a stated, major goal of the UMS movement), and finds suggestive evidence that UMS model is in fact a good preparation for college-level work.  Barker (2012) surveyed UMS parents and teachers regarding parental involvement and satisfaction, and found that UMS parents and teachers believe the model increases parental involvement and family time, while also improving skills necessary for college.

 

Hybrid Homeschools

The extent of literature on hybrid-style schools as a broad phenomenon is also limited to date.  Most schools structured in this way are relatively new, and families choosing them face unique issues: they must pay tuition, as all private schools require (although hybrid homeschools’ tuitions tend to be lower than full-time schools’ tuitions), yet these families also must have a parent available to conduct some level of homeschooling, or at least oversee it, on the home days.  In other words, such families face both financial costs and time costs, whereas full-time homeschool families do not face tuition, and families using full-time schools can either work or use the time their children are in school in other ways.  Wearne (2016) conducted a survey similar to the survey in this study, to explore the reasons parents chose hybrid homeschools for their children.  That survey found that those parents were more affluent, suburban, married, and white, than the population as a whole.  This previous survey also found that those parents valued school characteristics such as curriculum, religious education, and overall school environment, and said that they placed little value on common measures such as standardized test scores or more extracurricular opportunities.

It is important to note that many UMS parents and school leaders, and the UMSI organization itself, reject the title of “hybrid homeschools” to describe their schools.  While the weekly structure of UMS schools is similar to other “hybrid homeschools” (2-3 days on a physical campus with classrooms and teachers, with the rest of the week at home), some UMS leaders feel that their curricular programs are more formal (their home school days are sometimes labelled as “satellite campuses”), and especially more college preparatory, than other schools similar in outward appearance.

 

Parent Information and Satisfaction

The literature on reasons for parental choice in education is much richer although, again, not specifically regarding hybrid homeschools or UMS schools.  Multiple studies have found that when asked about their specific schools of choice, parents tend to state reasons other than typically used measures of school quality or accountability (Harris & Larsen, 2015; Schneider, Teske, & Marschall, 2000; Stewart & Wolf, 2014).  Parents in these studies said they valued, for example, school location and extracurricular activities over measures such as test scores.  Greene, Hitt, Kraybill, and Bogulski (2015) and Greene, Kisida, and Bowen (2014) extend this theory that parents value items other than pure academics in their studies of live theater and museum visits.  Kelly & Scafidi (2013), in their survey of parents using tax credit scholarships, also found that parents stated values included items such as safety, discipline, and smaller classes more than purely academic measures.

Context regarding full-time homeschoolers may be helpful as well.  Despite some desire to distance themselves from the “homeschool” label, Brobst (2013) finds that the small amount of available research on UMS schools does suggest that UMS students resemble homeschoolers in terms of their reasons for choosing UMS schools and in terms of their academic outcomes.

Murphy (2012) identifies four frameworks regarding parents’ decisions to homeschool:

  • religion;
  • academic deficiencies in the assigned public school;
  • social/environmental problems in the assigned public school;
  • other family-based motivations (such as a desire to be with one’s children, or for special needs or other special circumstances).

Wearne (2016) finds all of these rationales present in independent hybrid homeschool parents’ reasons for choosing their schools.  Beck (2012) also describes homeschoolers by separating them into four broad (but overlapping) groups:

Structured – Home educators, who are frequently religious, conservative, well educated middle class parents. They are what Basil Bernstein (1977) calls role- and position-oriented in their pedagogical codes and often practice structured school oriented home education with a priority on analytical objective knowledge.

Unschooling – Home educators who are frequently well educated middle class parents, anti-establishment, with radical political and cultural viewpoints. They are what Bernstein calls person- and identity-oriented (ibid). They often practice child-centered, natural learning home education with priority placed on cultural creativity and new interpretative and communicative knowledge.

Pragmatic – Often rural, working class home educators. The parents have limited formal education. They emphasize home education anchored in practical work.

Unknown – Different groups of home educators which more or less are all not registered with the authorities or known: This could consist of radical unschoolers; gypsies (romanis); unknown immigrants; socially troubled families who sometimes have substance abuse problems; and extreme fundamentalist religious families. Some of these are serious about home education, but others appear to use home education as an excuse for self-imposed isolation from society (p.74).

Both Murphy’s and Beck’s categorizations of homeschoolers capture homeschool families’ desires to either reject schooling they find unacceptable, and/or to create their own educational systems within their homes.  These categorizations seem to fit hybrid homeschoolers reasonably well.  In contrast, Zeehandelaar & Winkler’s (2013) broader survey of parent desires in schools identified six types of parent classifications:

  • “Pragmatists,” who value vocational/job-training classes;
  • “Jeffersonians,” who value instruction in citizenship for a democracy;
  • “Test Score Hawks,” who prioritize schools with high standardized tests cores;
  • “Multiculturalists,” who prioritize schools with diverse ethnic backgrounds;
  • “Expressionists,” who value arts instruction above all else; and
  • “Strivers,” whose main focus is getting students into a top-level college.

While perhaps a useful system for most families, hybrid homeschool parents may not fit into any of these categories well.  Zeehandelaar and Winkler recorded religious affiliations of their respondents, but do not seem to capture the extent of religious motivation felt by or the level of daily participation exercised by many hybrid homeschool parents.

Greene and Forster (2003) studied satisfaction levels of parents using special education vouchers (McKay Scholarships) in Florida.  In that analysis, the authors found that 92.7% of parents currently using those scholarships were satisfied with their school overall, while only 32.7% were satisfied with their previous public schools.  Greene and Forster also asked respondents about their perceptions of items such as their current and previous schools’ responsiveness, the facilities, students’ academic progress, and the quality of teachers, finding that in every case parents reported being more satisfied with their current schools.

 

Methods

 

This study reports the results of an electronic survey conducted in the fall of 2016.  A random sample of schools was selected from the directory of schools listed on the National Association of University-Model Schools’ website.  The leaders of these schools were contacted and invited to ask their current school families to participate.  Ten school leaders agreed to participate.  Schools agreeing to participate were located in five states across the American South and West.  These schools emailed an invitation to their current families, with a link to a Survey Monkey survey consisting of 23 questions.  Respondents were required to name their school to participate, but could otherwise skip any questions and still submit their responses.  No individually-identifying was collected. School leaders sent a reminder message one week after the original invitation.  The survey was open for a window of three weeks, and generated a response of 386 answers, for a rate of 25.3% among participating schools.

The survey instrument used here is based in part on a survey of reasons for choosing particular schools conducted by Kelly & Scafidi (2013), and partly on a survey of parent satisfaction of schools they had chosen by Greene & Forster (2003). Kelly & Scafidi (2013) surveyed Georgia parents using a tax credit scholarship program to assess what those parents valued in the schools they chose with those scholarship funds.  This survey also draws on Greene & Forster (2003), to explore school satisfaction.

 

Findings

 

School Locations

The five states in which these schools are located contain approximately 58% of all UMS schools (per the then-current UMSI directory).  As shown in Table 1, respondents from States A, B, C, and D appear somewhat overrepresented, while State E appears somewhat underrepresented.  State E accounts for approximately 39% of all UMS schools, and also accounts for the largest number of schools in this survey.  State D is the state of the researcher’s institution, which may have led to a higher response rate for schools there.  An additional approximately 16% of the total respondents declined to name their school at all and so cannot be placed within a particular state.

 

 

Table 1

Respondent UMS School Locations

  Percent of Total UMS Schools in State Percent Survey Respondents
State A 7 11
State B 4 11
State C 1 8
State D 7 28
State E 39 27

 

 

Demographics

Demographically, these families tend to be married (95.7%), to be white (92.4%), to have an undergraduate degree or higher (83.7%), to live in a suburban area (75.7%), and to have an income above $100,000 (61.1%), though this is certainly not universally the case among this group.  Table 2 reports these characteristics.

 

Reasons for Choosing a University-Model School ®

Respondents were asked to identify as many reasons as were applicable to them as to why they chose their current UMS school: “There are many possible reasons why families send their children to a hybrid school, rather than to some other kind of school. Please select each of the following reasons you had for sending your child to a UMS school (you may mark as many or as few reasons as applied to your situation).” The most popular reasons, shown in Table 3, were “Smaller class sizes,” “Religious education,” and “Better learning environment.”  The least popular responses were “Would prefer full-time private school, but the hybrid is more affordable,” “More extracurricular opportunities,” and “More tutorial and other supplemental learning services than at a five-day school.”

Sixty-six respondents wrote in additional “Other” responses. These “other” responses were categorized into four broad groups: Family; Homeschool Support/Education-Specific; Flexibility; and Religious/Political. Various versions of “more time with my child” were the most common “other” response. Table 4 contains a sample of common responses.

Respondents were then asked to identify the most important reason they chose their UMS school (What is the MOST important reason for choosing a UMS school for your child(ren)?”). The most popular reasons in this case were “Religious education,” “More meaningful opportunities for parental involvement,” and “Better learning environment.”  No respondents chose “Better teachers,” “Higher standardized test scores,” “Less gang activity,” or “More tutorial and other supplemental learning services than at a five-day school” as their “most” important reason for choosing a UMS school.  This question serves to differentiate between all of the many aspects parents value and what they prioritize; results are shown in Table 5.

 

 

Table 2

Summary Demographic Data for Respondents

Income Percent
$0-$24,999 0.9
$25,000-$49,999 5.7
$50,000-$74,999 16.3
$75,000-$99,999 16.0
$100,000-$124,999 21.4
$125,000-$149,999 13.0
$150,000-$174,999 10.2
$175,000-$199,999 4.5
$200,000 and up 12.0

n=332

Educational Attainment Percent
Did not graduate high school 0.3
Graduated from high school 1.4
Some college 14.5
Undergraduate degree 47.5
Graduate or professional degree 36.2

n=345

Marital Status Percent
Married 95.7
Not Married 4.3

n=345

Race/Ethnicity Percent
American Indian or Alaskan Native 0.3
Asian/Pacific Islander 0.3
Black or African American 2.3
Hispanic American 2.3
White/Caucasian 92.4
Multiple ethnicity/Other (please specify) 2.3

n=344

Urbanicity Percent
Urban 8.4
Suburban 75.7
Rural 15.9

n=345

 

The “Other” responses to this question were similar to the types of responses given to the previous question, with a few notable exceptions related to special needs, cost, and specifics about preparation for college:

  • “My son went to public school for 2 years and was rated “below grade level” when entering a private school. Once he attended private school, along with my efforts, he caught up to grade level. The public school system cannot cater to his individual needs. He needs smaller classes, more one on one direction, clean and simple classrooms, teachers to repeat etc. In public school, they group a lot of the kids with special learning needs together. That means he would leave and go to a small group but that small group could have children with behavioral issues and now that is the worst for him as it’s very distracting.  The private school he was at was wonderful but it was $20k. Hybrid is $5k and his special needs scholarship Senate Bill 10 (SB10) covers it.  It’s been wonderful to have a financial break. But I have lost a lot of time working so my income has decreased.”
  • “Prep for college in areas of responsibility and time mgmt.”

 

Types of Information

Respondents were next asked about which information sources they felt were important in making their choices: “What information about hybrid schools is most important in helping select the best private school for your child? (you may mark as many or as few reasons as applied to your situation)”. The most popular reasons were “The ratio of students per teacher and the average class size,” “The curriculum (i.e., content of instructional areas) and course descriptions,” and “Whether the private school teaches your religion or any religion with which you are comfortable.”  The least popular responses chosen were “Whether students have access to tablet, laptop, and classroom computers,” and “The racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic makeup of the student population.” Table 6 reports these results.

 

Respondents were next asked about what information they considered to be the “most important” in making their decision, as shown in Table 7.  Again, the purposes of this additional question, as with the “Most Important” reasons for choosing a school, above, is to capture both values and priorities.  The top three responses in this case were the same as the top three noted in Table 6, though in a different order. Additionally, no respondents selected “The financial condition of the school,” “Whether students have access to tablet, laptop, and classroom computers,” “The percent of teachers and administrators who leave from year-to-year,” “Whether computers are used effectively in classroom instruction,” “The frequency and nature of disciplinary actions,” or “The racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic makeup of the student population” as the “most’ important information they would seek out in choosing a school.

 

In answering these two questions, respondents were able to list “Other” types of information they would like to see. Such information included:

  • “Cost”
  • “General structure, simple, clean classrooms, uniforms are less distracting and communication of the lesson plans. I also chose this school because my child could move up or down grade levels for certain subjects – that was very important to me as he was in support classes for math in his previous private school but traditional English as he less difficulty with that subject. Elementary school can be frustrating because they don’t break kids off into different level classes. The teachers try to group kids together but it’s hard as I have spent a lot of time substituting in public elementary schools.”
  • “In contrast to desiring access to screen technology, it is important to our family to delay this exposure and cultivate imagination and relationships.”
  • “Schools long-term road map (applies more to new schools)”
  • “Stability”

 

Types of Past Schools

Because many hybrid homeschools are either new or small (and do not contain complete K-12 grade spans), many of their students come to them from other types of schools.  Respondents were asked about the types of schools they had used in the past: “Many students attend hybrid homeschools/University Model School after attending a different kind of school.  Which of these types of schools has your family used in the past? (you may mark as many or as few reasons as applied to your situation).”  These results are reported in Table 8.

 

 

Table 3

Reasons for Choosing a University-Model School ®

Answer Options Response Percent
Smaller class sizes 81.0
Religious education 80.2
Better learning environment 68.3
Less time wasted during the school day 64.5
More individual attention for my child 61.7
More meaningful opportunities for parental involvement 61.2
Better education 53.7
Better preparation for college 52.6
More responsive teachers and administrators 50.4
Greater respect for my rights as a parent 49.0
Greater sense of community 44.9
More attention to the unique needs of my child 44.4
Other students would be a better influence on my child 42.7
Better student discipline 42.1
Other parents would be more concerned about their children’s education 28.4
Improved student safety 27.0
Better teachers 22.3
Other (please specify) 18.2
Less gang activity 16.5
Higher standardized test scores 14.0
Would prefer full-time private school, but the hybrid is more affordable 12.9
More extracurricular opportunities 12.7
More tutorial and other supplemental learning services than at a five-day school 11.0

n=363

 

 

 

Table 4

“Other” Reasons for Choosing a University-Model School ®

Type of Reason Respondents’ Stated Reasons
Family ·         Spending more time with my child

·         Complimentary to lifestyle & importance of family life

Homeschool Support/Education-Specific ·         Provided fantastic transition between homeschool and more traditional environment.

·         Perfect balance of home school and private school, allowing me time with my children, but taking away the pressures of curriculum choices/requirements and keeping up with grades

·         many benefits of homeschooling but with more structure and accountability

·         Teaches student independence and responsibility

·         It’s a good balance between homeschooling and full time school. We get to spend more time with our kids and they also get to have other adults speak into lives as they also socialize with their peers

·         Has the benefits of structure and flexibility in education, combines the best of homeschool and private education at a more affordable cost than private, and allows for greater parental involvement

·         Due to learning challenges, we chose to work more at home where I (the parent) can spend more time on areas that my son needs me tutoring

·         The three day model is extraordinary.  My kids are thriving academically yet have more time to spend with our family on and for my high school aged child, it allows time to work [company].   I am also more involved in their education.

Flexibility ·         Flexibility to travel as a family

·         Allows child to spend more time on other activities/talents outside of school designated activities that fill much of their day

·         Schedule flexibility, more family time, enjoy teaching my kids but also need personal time in the week

Religious/Political ·         School who puts God’s laws as the standard guidelines for integrity for students and staff

·         Biblical integration

·         Lack of confidence in the public school system. Traditional Private schools are for over indulged rich kids not necessarily about Christ centered education

·         God/Jesus kicked out of public school system Overall less worldly learning environment (modesty, language, ideas, behavior – students and staff)

·         Enjoy the religious aspect but it’s not a dogmatic monotheistic environment since I have influence to teach other perspectives.

·         Christian education

·         No State Mandated Testing

 

 

Respondents were next asked to clarify these previous experiences: “Consider your child(ren) currently enrolled at your hybrid homeschool/University Model School. If these children attend school elsewhere in previous years, which of the following would you say was the PRIMARY type of school you used to educate them?”  Table 9 reports these results.

Respondents were able to identify other types of schools not included in this list.  Those additional responses included other kinds of schools such as:

  • Department of Defense schools
  • Homeschool co-ops (including Classical Conversations and Cottage programs)
  • Full-time online schools

Satisfaction Levels

After identifying the type(s) of schools they had sued in the past, respondents were asked about their satisfaction with 1. Their former schools, and 2. Their current UMS schools, on various measures.  (specifically: “When your child(ren) attended their previous schools, how satisfied were you with the following items?”). Immediately following these questions, respondents were asked to rate their current UMS schools on the same measures.  Table 10 reports parents’ responses regarding their experiences at their previous schools, and at their current UMS schools on various dimensions.

Finally, respondents were asked how likely they were to leave their current UMS school: “How likely is it that you might REMOVE your child(ren) from your current hybrid homeschool/University Model School and enroll them in a public school, private school, or full-time homeschool next year?” Table 11 reports these responses.

 

 

 

 

 

Table 5

“Most Important” Reason for Choosing a University-Model School ®

Answer Options Response Percent
Religious education 18.3
More meaningful opportunities for parental involvement 16.2
Better learning environment 9.4
Better education 8.9
Other (please specify) 7.8
More individual attention for my child 6.5
Greater respect for my rights as a parent 6.5
Better preparation for college 6.2
More attention to the unique needs of my child 5.4
Smaller class sizes 3.5
Less time wasted during the school day 3.2
Greater sense of community 1.9
Would prefer full-time private school, but the hybrid is more affordable 1.9
Other students would be a better influence on my child 1.3
More responsive teachers and administrators 0.8
Improved student safety 0.8
Better student discipline 0.5
More extracurricular opportunities 0.5
Other parents would be more concerned about their children’s education 0.3
Better teachers 0.0
Higher standardized test scores 0.0
Less gang activity 0.0
More tutorial and other supplemental learning services than at a five-day school 0.0

n=371

 

 

Table 6

Types of Information

Answer Options Response Percent
The ratio of students per teacher and the average class size 72.8
The curriculum (i.e., content of instructional areas) and course descriptions 69.0
Whether the private school teaches your religion or any religion with which you are comfortable 66.4
Evidence that the private school teaches character education 52.5
Evidence that the school is accredited by a recognized school accrediting agency 50.4
The percentage of students who are accepted and attend college 34.2
The duration of the school year and the hours spent by the students in class 33.0
The years of teaching experience and credentials of the teachers at the school 27.5
Whether parents have access to the head of school to express any concerns 26.4
The average performance on standardized tests by students in different grades 24.9
The quality and availability of extracurricular activities 24.3
The graduation rate for students attending the school 21.4
The colleges attended by graduates of the school 20.3
The disciplinary policy of the school 20.0
The governance of the school, including the members of the board of trustees 19.4
The financial condition of the school 18.6
The percent of teachers and administrators who leave from year-to-year 17.1
The frequency and nature of disciplinary actions 7.2
Whether computers are used effectively in classroom instruction 6.1
Other (please specify) 5.5
Whether students have access to tablet, laptop, and classroom computers 3.5
The racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic makeup of the student population 3.2

n=345

 

 

Table 7

“Most important” Type of Information

Answer Options Response Percent
The curriculum (i.e., content of instructional areas) and course descriptions 22.0
Whether the private school teaches your religion or any religion with which you are comfortable 20.3
The ratio of students per teacher and the average class size 12.0
Evidence that the private school teaches character education 9.7
Evidence that the school is accredited by a recognized school accrediting agency 8.6
The duration of the school year and the hours spent by the students in class 6.3
Other (please specify) 6.3
The percentage of students who are accepted and attend college 3.7
The average performance on standardized tests by students in different grades 2.9
Whether parents have access to the head of school to express any concerns 2.9
The years of teaching experience and credentials of the teachers at the school 2.3
The colleges attended by graduates of the school 1.4
The graduation rate for students attending the school 0.9
The disciplinary policy of the school 0.3
The quality and availability of extracurricular activities 0.3
The governance of the school, including the members of the board of trustees 0.3
The financial condition of the school 0.0
Whether students have access to tablet, laptop, and classroom computers 0.0
The percent of teachers and administrators who leave from year-to-year 0.0
Whether computers are used effectively in classroom instruction 0.0
The frequency and nature of disciplinary actions 0.0
The racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic makeup of the student population 0.0

n=350

 

Table 8

Types of Past Schools

Answer Options Response Percent
Public school 44.8
Full-time homeschool 37.9
Private school 33.2
We have only used a hybrid homeschool/University-Model School 20.8
Other (please specify) 8.1

n=346

 

Table 9

Primary Past School

Answer Options Response Percent
Public school 28.0
We have only used a hybrid homeschool/University-Model School 23.2
Private school 22.6
Full-time homeschool 21.7
Other (please specify) 4.5

n=336

 

Discussion

 

These results are on the whole similar to Wearne’s (2016) survey of hybrid homeschools.  Parents of students in this type of school indicate that they value religious education, small class sizes, and what they consider to be a generally better learning environment.  They also value college preparatory aspects of these schools, though more in terms of habits of mind and what they consider to be college preparatory content, as opposed to standardized test scores.  These parents also indicate that they value the flexibility schools with this type of schedule provide, and they value the increased amount of time they are able to spend together as a family.  The combination of homeschooling and academic preparation provided by the physical schools seems to be a draw to many parents in both surveys.

 

Parental Preferences

As in the previous survey, these UMS parents appear to be much more motivated by aspects of schooling such as curriculum content and social influences, than by technology use and availability or by academic pressures alone (though they do seem to value academic achievement).  In both surveys, relatively few respondents chose items related to technology, school safety, or achievement as rated by test scores.  In fact, no respondent to either survey listed “Higher standardized test scores” as the most important reason for choosing their school, though more than half of respondents on both surveys listed

 

 

 

Table 10

Perceptions of Previous and Current Schools

  Very

Satisfied (percent)

Somewhat

Satisfied (percent)

Somewhat Unsatisfied (percent) Very

Unsatisfied (percent)

Previous School UMS School Previous School UMS School Previous School UMS School Previous School UMS School
Individual attention given to your child 39.2

(n=301)

86.1

(n=345)

 

35.5

(n=301)

12.5

(n=345)

 

12.3

(n=301)

0.6

(n=345)

 

13.0

(n=301)

0.9

(n=345)

 

The academic progress your child was making 43.0

(n=302)

78.3

(n=345)

 

39.7

(n=302)

20.0

(n=345)

 

11.6

(n=302)

1.4

(n=345)

 

5.6

(n=302)

0.3

(n=345)

 

The quality of facilities and equipment

 

56.1

(n=301)

59.0

(n=346)

33.2

(n=301)

36.4

(n=346)

7.6

(n=301)

4.6

(n=346)

3.0

(n=301)

0.0

(n=346)

The quality of teachers

 

 

45.5

(n=301)

76.2

(n=345)

39.9

(n=301)

21.4

(n=345)

10.3

(n=301)

2.0

(n=345)

4.3

(n=301)

0.3

(n=345)

The school’s responsiveness to your needs 40.0

(n=300)

 

82.6

(n=344)

 

31.3

(n=300)

 

14.5

(n=344)

 

18.0

(n=300)

 

2.3

(n=344)

 

10.7

(n=300)

 

0.6

(n=344)

 

 

 

Table 11

Likelihood of Leaving UMS (percent)

Very Likely 3.2
Somewhat Likely 8.1
Somewhat Unlikely 13.3
Very Unlikely 75.4

 

 

“Better preparation for college” as one important factor in making their choice.

It is also worth noting that while parents may value many aspects of school quality, some carry relatively little weight when parents actually make school decisions.  For example, “Smaller class sizes” was one important reason for choosing a UMS school to the largest number of respondents to this survey (81.0%), only 3.5% of respondents listed it as the “most important” reason. A similar drop was seen in the previous hybrid homeschool survey, suggesting that, while most of these parents do care about class size, it is a lower priority for them.

 

Homeschoolers, Religion, and Demographics

With stated reasons such as “Better learning environment,” or “Religious education,” respondents to this survey might be most likely to be described as “Jeffersonians” among Zeehandelaar and Winkler’s groupings, though even that label does not seem to quite capture the religious motivations and the participation (because these students are taught at home at least two days per week) of most respondents.   Beck’s (2012) social framing of homeschoolers provides some overlap, and likely all four of his groups are represented among respondents.  Murphy’s (2012) frameworks seem to be much more complete and applicable to these respondents, as some parents chose responses or added information related to one or more of these frameworks (religion, academics/curriculum, social aspects, and family reasons).

Religion is a commonly stated reason for full-time homeschooling, and this is true for hybrid homeschoolers/UMS families as well. However, while parents indicate they value religious education, questions remain about the details within this response.  As in Wearne’s survey of hybrid homeschool parents, the vast majority of UMS parents say they value religious education, but only a small plurality called it their “most important” reason for choosing a hybrid homeschool.  This is an interesting finding because of the very explicitly religious, mission-focused nature of most hybrid homeschools.  This motivation is especially true of UMS schools and UMSI as an entity; one might therefore expect a higher percentage of parents to state that religion is their overarching reason for choosing a hybrid homeschool/UMS school, but that seems not to be the case.

Demographically, UMS school respondents’ answers were quite similar to the parents surveyed by Wearne (2016) in terms of income, educational attainment, marital status, and race.  They do differ somewhat on urbanicity: the parents in the previous study reported that they lived in a suburban setting 91.8% of the time, a rural setting 8.2% of the time, and no one reported living in an urban setting.  In this study, 75.7% of parents said they lived in a suburban area, 15.9% said rural, and an additional 8.4% reported living in an urban area.  This suggests that hybrid homeschool-type schools are not simply a suburban phenomenon and that UMS schools can be found in a variety of settings.  It is also clear that these UMS students are again different from Kelly & Scafidi’s sample of parents using tax credit scholarships for private schools, which was 61.1% suburban, was less white, reported lower incomes, lower marriage rates, and lower educational attainment rates compared to this sample.

 

Future Avenues for Research

The results of this survey are only descriptive.  While parents’ stated preferences are becoming clearer regarding various aspects of hybrid homeschools such as UMS schools, what is less clear is a more qualitative exploration of their motivations, expectations, and experiences.

For example, the explicitly religious nature of these schools, combined with the perhaps relatively low ranking of religion as the most important factor in choosing a school suggests a gap between school founders and their clientele.  Additional work exploring the motivations of founders/administrators as compared to typical parents could shed light on this question.

Another fruitful avenue in the study of hybrid homeschools may be an exploration of differences in students’ school histories before they attend a hybrid homeschool. Tables 8 and 9 show that students come to UMS schools from a variety of other schools; nearly half had been enrolled in public schools at some point in their lives, and over a third had been full-time homeschoolers.  Several students had also participated in homeschool co-ops or been enrolled in full-time online schools.  This suggests that many individual students experience multiple types of schools before their UMS enrollment.  Past school experiences may have some effects on student success in a UMS or other hybrid homeschool.

Finally, the results in terms of levels of satisfaction with current UMS and previous schools are quite different from Greene and Forster’s (2003).  In this analysis, UMS parents were much more satisfied with all aspects of their previous schools compared to Greene & Forster’s respondents, and were generally even more satisfied with their current UMS schools than were Greene and Forster’s respondents with their McKay schools.  These differences could be worth exploration.

 

Conclusion

The UMS model is growing, as new schools are in the planning stages around the United States and internationally.  On a continuum with unschooling on one end, and full-time public schooling on the other, UMS schools seem to be attempting to stake out a niche somewhere between independent hybrid homeschools which emphasize unstructured time, and more formal 5-days-per-week private schools.  If policies such as Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts program become viable, hybrid homeschools are a format that is likely to grow as well, given the low costs compared to full-time private schools.

UMSI is expanding, and the number of hybrid homeschools generally is growing as well.  UMSI has the first-mover advantage as a (relatively loose) network of schools, though there are others, such as the Regina Caeli Academies, which operate in several states.  The costs of creating and operating hybrid homeschools are relatively low compared to the creation of other types of schools, and so independent schools also appear to be growing in number, including various religious and secular entities. Some school districts also appear to be experimenting with forms of (more formalized) hybrid homeschooling.  All of these factors suggest fertile territory for future research on these organizations.

 

References

 

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Stewart, T., & Wolf, P. J. (2014). The school choice journey: School vouchers and the empowerment of urban families. Palgrave Macmillan.

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