Friday, September 08, 2006

Guest Post

In a recent post, we discussed the issue of what to call virtual charter schools and how they differ from traditional homeschools. Unfortunately, this can be an emotional issue with a lot of personal attacks. After the last discussion, I asked Annette Jurczak if she would like to help explain the issue in greater detail. Annette is very knowledgable on this issue and provides a way to look at this issue without all the emotion. Thanks Annette.

Homeschooling and Public School-At-Home Programs

What do these terms have in common?:

public virtual schools
public cyber charters
home-based charter schools
public e-learning
blended public school programs

These all represent public schooling occurring in the home (ps-at-home). Students who are enrolled in these programs are considered public school students. When the topic of ps-at-home and homeschooling arises, it is not unusual for people to make comments like "people shouldn't be defining homeschooling for other people". On the surface with all our homeschool diversity, that would seem to have some merit. However, *public schooling* does have a definition already. For an example of a state government's definition of public schooling, click here. There are attributes listed that define a public school so that it is possible to distinguish public schools from non-public schools (i.e, homeschooling). The federal government also distinguishes public schooling from homeschooling in its NCLB mandate. Since public schooling has been defined, that eliminates the possibility that psing-at-home programs are also "homeschool" programs. The *programs* cannot be both.

Students, though may be combining their *educational options* such as homeschooling with part-time public school enrollment. If that is the case, vigilance on the part of homeschoolers is still urged. State laws and ps-at-home programs that allow students to keep the designation of "homeschooled" is just as much of an area of concern as ps-at-home programs where the student does not remain a homeschooler in the eyes of the state. There have been some ps-at-home programs that have found popularity among homeschooling families. One such school that allows for homeschoolers to keep their homeschool designation is Florida Virtual School. Florida Virtual School has more than 60,000 students enrolled; and of that figure, 28% are homeschooled, or about 17,000 students. There are currently 51,000 homeschooled children in Florida, and of that figure about 35% participate in FLVS at some level. Virtual education is fast becoming a nationwide trend, and with it concerns for homeschooling freedoms. To look this trend in the face, the focus from the homeschool perspective should be on the ps-at-home *programs* and their requirements, implementation of the program, and methods of accountability and how it all differs from homeschooling. Homeschool advocacy should be active in not allowing the lines to be blurred between homeschooling and psing-at-home.

For those interested in what types of questions homeschoolers should be asking about these public school-at-home programs, here are some ideas:

1. Would a homeschool student's part-time enrollment in a ps-at-home program result in extra accountability and oversight for the remainder of the student's homeschool program?

2. What types of accountability might come with enrollment in a ps-at-home program?

Here is a partial list:
State learning standards, curriculum that is aligned with state standards, state testing to see that the curriculum was taught, and "No Child Left Behind" requirements such as student data collection and a qualified teacher in every classroom. Click here for an example of the types of information collected on students.

3. What is the role of the parents in the ps-at-home program as it relates to teaching the child? Is the parent seen as a coach, facilitator or teacher? If the ps-at-home program policy is that you are not the teacher of your child in your home, consider how that program is different from other public online programs or the option of homeschooling your child/ren.

4. What are the issues and current politics surrounding the public school program that might cause major changes for that program and its students?

Issues that might be a factor:
Disagreements on how the program is funded, incidences of fraud by administrators, public education funds going to private corporations and tensions between taxpayers, school districts, teachers unions and ps-at-home administrators. These and other factors may lead to important court decisions and legislative changes that will affect the ps-at-home program, its students and their families.

Public School Districts' Solutions to their Cyber Charter Problems

School districts will sometimes initiate their own ps-at-home program to compete with cyber charters run by private entities. The schools may begin with a curriculum vendor such as K12Inc. and then replace it with their own teacher-created, standards-aligned curriculum. School districts such as in Pennsylvania are beginning to turn to Blended Schools. Alternatives such as these reduce the cost of ps-at-home programs. That is seen as a win-win situation for taxpayers, school districts and state governments.

Possible Negative Impacts of Ps-at-home programs for Homeschooling:

The perceptions that homeschoolers are:
"pulling money down" for homeschooling
are semi-dropouts
left behind
At-risk
desire state standards and accountability
willing to trade-off homeschool freedoms for government funds

Perception that homeschooling is a part of public school choice

Ps-at-home programs collecting records on homeschooled students

Parents of homeschoolers losing the freedom to choose educational materials that are religious in nature

State governments changing home education laws to supplement or replace homeschooling with ps-at-home programs

In conclusion, homeschool advocates have the challenging and important task of communicating to the public, media and our legislators that homeschooling:

1. is not a generic term.
2. is not a program, but rather an education option to be recognized as separate from public education.
3. should not be lumped in with ps-at-home programs and its regulations. In Alberta, Canada, homeschool advocates were not able to keep independent homeschooling from being lumped in. Perhaps, we can. Homeschoolers in the United States have them to hold up as an example of what happens when the government comes to "help" homeschoolers.

In support of homeschool freedom,
Annette Jurczak,
Keeping Homeschool Freedom Legislative Board
National Charter School Watch YahooGroup
NCSW Blog

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