During the pandemic, Gregory Wickham’s parents let him leave the prestigious institution to complete high school on his own
Lee Hawkins | Wall Street Journal Opinion | July 7, 2021
When most of the 582,000 New York Public School students who opted to take classes remotely this past academic year are required to return to school buildings in September, Gregory Wickham will be taking classes from home.
The pandemic’s disruption helped the 17-year-old high school junior persuade his parents last year to allow him to drop out of Stuyvesant High School, one of the city’s most competitive schools, and home-school himself. He will continue home schooling his senior year.
“I knew I could learn more, and more efficiently, on my own,” Gregory said.
Gregory is one of about 43,000 students who pulled out of the city’s schools to home-school or enroll in a school elsewhere. During the 2020-21 school year, the number of students enrolled in the country’s largest school system from prekindergarten to grade 12 dropped to approximately 960,000, down about 4%, from the previous year, according to preliminary enrollment data from the city’s Department of Education.
In October, total home schooling enrollment in New York City was 10,667, an increase of 31% over October 2019, the department said.
“My husband and I are supporting him, but I would not say that we are 100% confident that he has made the right decision,” said Gregory’s mother, Alina Adams. “At a school like Stuyvesant, the biggest value-add is from the other kids, not from the teachers or the building. The fact is, we don’t know how this is going to turn out.”
Stuyvesant didn’t respond to requests seeking comment.
Home schooling represented 3% of students nationally in 2016, the latest figures available, compared with 88% for public and charter schools and 9% for private schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. After coronavirus pandemic closed schools across the country last year, data from several states show that more parents decided to take control of their children’s curriculum and schedule.
According to a 2016 study by the National Home Education Research Institute, which conducts and collects research about home schooling, home-schooled students scored 15 to 30 percentage points higher on standardized academic achievement tests than students in traditional schools.
Home school wasn’t a new idea for Gregory. He started lobbying his parents as a fourth-grader. He told them that he wanted to skip high school after middle school and start college at 14. Ultimately, he gained admission into Stuyvesant, which his older brother and his father had attended. He said that he maintained A grades while there. He also excelled in dance outside of school. After several months of remote instruction at his home in Manhattan following school closures in March 2020, he asked his parents if he could quit.
Ms. Adams required her son to write down the names of all of his selected textbooks and the classes he planned to take, and then present a formal “pitch” to the couple. Then, she drew up a contract of expectations which all three of them signed. High on their list of concerns was how colleges would view their son’s plan.
Ms. Adams, who is white, and her husband, who is Black, debated the idea vigorously. Gregory is among only a handful of Black students admitted each year to Stuyvesant. They worried that colleges wouldn’t take him seriously, especially as a minority student quitting his school.
“A Black man has to have twice as many degrees as a white one to even be considered for the same job,” Ms. Adams posted in a blog about her son’s home schooling, recalling what her husband, Scott Wickham, said. “A Stuyvesant diploma will get you into any college you want. Home schooling might make it so that you don’t get in anywhere. And then what will you have? You’ll have nothing!”
Mr. Wickham gave in, but told Gregory that he had to craft a rigorous curriculum for himself during his junior year of home schooling to be allowed to continue it into his senior year.
Gregory found all his courses through online instruction resources such as Khan Academy, which provides courses through a portal of thousands of videos, articles, and practice problems. According to the Department of Education, state regulations require parents or guardians of home-schooled students to submit several items, including a letter of intent, an individualized home instruction plan and quarterly reports.
Leigh Bortins, of Classical Conversations, a company that offers K-12 home schooling support to over 50,000 families, estimated that about 15% of home-schooled students asked their parents for permission to be home-schooled, as opposed to parents driving the decision.
Ms. Bortins, who said she has been in the business for 35 years, said students like Gregory are rare, “but not unheard of.” She said that many universities across the U.S. offer scholarships to home-schooled students, hoping to tap into the self-starters within the generation.
Had Gregory stayed at Stuyvesant, his course work would have included pre-calculus and algebra-based physics, he said. At home, Gregory has replaced those classes with online courses in calculus-based physics and the highest level of Advanced Placement calculus. Gregory says the home schooling curriculum is free and he expects to pay a total of about $570 in AP exam test costs.
To round things out, he added macroeconomics and U.S. government and politics, and he is also writing for the New York School Talk education blog.
His father said that seeing how messy things were between politicians and school and union officials during the summer of 2020 made it easier for him to grant his blessing.
“There was no better time to take the risk of home schooling and see if my son was serious about his own education,” Mr. Wickham said.
Write to Lee Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org
Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article misspelled Stuyvesant High School as Stuveysant in one instance.
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Appeared in the July 8, 2021, print edition as 'Teen Quit Stuyvesant to School Himself.'