Home Education Magazine
March-April 2002 - Articles and Columns
Free Lunch Revisited - Peggy Daly-Masternak
....and this isn't a banquet either
Recently, I reviewed the January-February, 1999, issue of Home Education Magazine, reading again "So What About That Free Lunch? How Can We Trust the State?" Therein, I wrote that even after 10 years of established homeschooling regulations in Ohio, some superintendents kept skirting, flirting and blatantly violating those regulations. That article was written as I had begun to notice a few voices within homeschooling singing the praises of homeschooling-public school "partnerships."
My conclusion? Bad idea. Why? (Get ready for my run-on sentence.) If we could not...after 10 long years...after continuing vigilance...get local superintendents to comply with relatively easy, straightforward, written-in-plain-English, state-approved regulations, how could we hope to expect honorable treatment when distinction was lost or muddled between "enrolled" and "homeschooled." The violations in Ohio weren't caused once by one local superintendent, ready for retirement. They were, and are still, statewide. They happened often, and they continue today. (Dear Superintendent, What part of "primary right of parents" don't you understand?)
That 1999 article closed with this paragraph:
"My dear friends in homeschooling, there is no free lunch. If one currently exists, it won't last forever. The piper always gets paid. In the context of what could have been, I have had the luxury of moderate homeschooling regulation for my eight years as an official homeschooler. Thank you to those who came before me. Here's hoping that my actions, choices and battles, and those of my fellow homeschoolers, allow us to earn the same sincere gratitude from those who come beyond."
I am still grateful to those who came before. In fact, more grateful than ever today. Those forerunners blazed a trail that has made the last 11 years pretty wonderful for my family.
What makes my gratitude increase measurably now? Rapidly-moving, dangerous co-opting of homeschooling concepts-including the very name itself-lurking around the bend, fueled by profit-making corporations managing charter schools. Can we believe them with any greater certainty than the state?
Someone recently said to me that possibly we have reached the "end of homeschooling's golden age." Sure hope he is wrong. But, the trail needs to be decisively re-blazed at this point.
Homeschooling as a market
Enter charter cyber-schools. We're now a "desirable market" to be cultivated for corporate profits at taxpayer expense. Treated as end users, with demographic trends analyses, unique selling propositions and persuasive communications via power-point presentations. Marketing-speak 101.
Funny how in my tenure as a homeschooler, I went from being a "lawbreaker," or an "inflicter of socialization deprivation" to an in vogue "education consumer" who understands the benefits of a "family-based education strategy."
Another funny thing. Before this new corporatization of public education, I had never heard of families enrolled full-time in school-the same enrollment required of all charter school students as they are funded with tax money-no family so enrolled still called themselves "homeschoolers". In the past, I found that homeschoolers understood that you had choices...you made choices. And what you may have "lost" in one choice in no way diminished the gains realized in another choice. Not so now, it seems, for those few who enroll in charter schools and simultaneously call themselves homeschoolers.
We are told that it's all for us, all for "free" as if that word only speaks to cash. Free....also the root of "freedom." Who will remember the fundamental distinction between a homeschooler and an enrolled student if the taxpayer is somehow getting bamboozled? Neighbors who just voted for yet another school levy? Your legislator campaigning for re-election on a school accountability platform? What will the consequences become for us all?
Ohio Current Events or imagine the possibilities....
In September, 2000, eCOT opened in Ohio. Throughout their proposal, they referred to their target market, as in this example: "Our market research data suggests strongly that our targeted student populations, home schooled and those not currently attending school, are growing at a faster rate than ever before." (A veritable goldmine?)
eCOT, a cyber-school, is managed by Altair, replicated in many states by the growing number of corporations who are referred to in the industry as Education Management Organizations...EMO's, akin to the health care HMO's. (It has been my experience, at least, that the only ones who have anything good to say about HMO's are the HMO's.) The media reported on eCOT in this way:
"...More important, however, is the start-up of charter schools for home-schooled children. White Hat Management and Columbus-based Altair Learning.com are both attempting to start up charter schools that would link thousands of home-schooled children to Internet computer education programs."
"The school is expected to appeal to the growing ranks of home-schooling families across Ohio... 'Many of these parents feel alienated from Ohio's educational systems,' the school's application said. 'A feeling of being completely without support is common among these parent/student segments.'"
Despite virtually no contact with Ohio's homeschooling community, eCOT targeted homeschoolers in their proposal (while simultaneously insulting homeschoolers and entire support groups.) Once approved, they followed with direct mailings to homeschoolers and presentations at the mall (yes, tables set up at malls.) The media reported it as "home schooling," with little or no mention made to plenty of philosophical or legal differences. These distinctions are complex-much too difficult to report in a sound-bite.
Effectively, without much effort, the illusion is created that cyber-schooling is homeschooling.
The taxpayer/newspaper reader, who has little appreciation for homeschooling or its complex dissimilarities to schools, makes the connection between cyber-school charter schools and homeschooling. The concerned parent, who is just beginning to explore available educational options, goes shopping at the mall. eCOT awaits to sell their product, making little if any distinction in state-mandated accountability between homeschooling and charter schooling, with all its requirements.
Fast forward to November, 2000. At the request of the Ohio Department of Education's Office of School Finance, the State Auditor's office initiated a Special Audit of eCOT. It seems that the state had concerns, reported various times in the media, "...regarding the significant student enrollment reported by ECOT on its September 2000 and October 2000 Average Daily Membership (ADM) reports and possible irregularities in how those enrollment amounts were generated." While interviewing the then-ECOT Superintendent (now fired), she expressed concerns that "numerous students included within ECOT's enrollment numbers for September and October 2000 did not actually receive services from ECOT during those months."
Citing additionally from the Special Audit: "ODE paid ECOT based on an estimated enrollment and expected attendance rather than actual recorded hours of computer-based instruction. For September, ODE paid $932,030 in Basic Formula funding for 2,270 students although only 7 students logged-in to The available computer-based instruction systems. For October, ODE paid $983,750 in Basic Formula funding for 2,346 students although only 506 students logged-in to The available computer-based instruction systems. Using actual hours of recorded computer-based instruction as the basis for funding, ODE paid ECOT $1,897,192 for which there is no documentation to support actual hours of computer-based instruction." (Emphasis added)
Since eCOT targeted and then courted homeschoolers, allowing the media reports to imply that they were homeschooling, the connection had already been made. Without a very clear legal and philosophical distinction between homeschooling and cyber-schooling, what happens to homeschooling when cyber-schooling comes under the inevitable fire? Greater regulatory control? More demands on homeschoolers to "explain ourselves?"
Although the Ohio homeschooling community had no input and never asked for eCOT, crucial distancing from all cyber-schools will now be necessary of homeschoolers, repeatedly made to community members, the media and legislators.
A new cyber-school charter player has recently joined the scene in Ohio. OHDELA, managed by for-profit EMO White Hat Distance Learning and owned by a wealthy attorney/industrialist. Very well-connected to lawmakers. Very deep pockets. OHDELA recently received an approved contract for $5,100 per head coming from the state, 97% of that going to White Hat. Savvy website. Radio and TV commercials..."You taught her to walk.....You taught him to talk....Why stop now....Call OHDELA."
OHDELA's presentations, approved contract, and marketing materials are replete with references to homeschooling, both in name and in concept. Nothing was specified about targeting students in conventional public schools, private schools, or other charter schools. Only one market- homeschoolers.
And not unlike eCOT, there was no measurable, systematic contact made with homeschoolers while they developed the illusion. Of course, contacts happened after the contract was approved.
Homeschooling it is not.
Parents are assumed to be incapable and must participate in mandatory training programs with master teachers "to ensure that parents are able to instruct their children capably."
Master teachers, one for every 150 students, will monitor both parents and students on an ongoing basis, helping parents create lesson plans requiring weekly tests. Parents proctor tests, assign grades and certify that all work submitted has been completed by their child. They also bring their child to a specified location on a periodic basis for state-mandated testing.
Families take on institutional school work loads, rigid time frames, and intrusive technology, rather than enjoy educational freedom. The curriculum is mainly electronic. OHDELA approves all the materials used, requiring one of four choices for pre-packaged curriculum.
The parents agree to provide 920 hours of "educational opportunities" in the academic year, portioned out at five hours each of the required 184 days, meticulously recorded in time-logs, utilizing the philosophy of the cyber-school. They must agree that during those 920 hours no religious instruction of any kind will take place.
Families will be issued a stipend for instructional materials or services, selected only from an approved resource list provided by approved suppliers.
The School, and therefore, anyone enrolled, must comply with all federal and state laws regarding special education.
State standards and accountability processes and continuous monitoring procedures determine "success" rather than the inherent love of learning providing the motivation for a family. Curriculum is aligned to state standards, and high-stakes tests are required.
Any intervention will be continually documented in the student's cumulative record creating "a paper trail denoting intervention as an ongoing process." Paper trails will also include demographic information, including name, address, racial and ethnic data, all in compliance with the state-required student electronic tracking systems.
The money in it all
OHDELA anticipates revenues of $5.1 million in fiscal year 2003 and $27.6 million by year 2006. They will incur nThe many expenses associated with school lands and buildings, transportation, desks, heat and electricity, janitors, gym class, school nurses or the football team.
In turn, OHDELA, using taxpayer dollars, will give an enrollee a computer, peripheral equipment and internet connection. eCOT valued this hardware at $600 in the spring of 2000. Then, you're supplied pre-packaged curriculum. Their required curriculum choices, PLATO, contains an entire year of packaged high school curriculum in core subject areas. This same curriculum can be purchased for as little as $209 per family if 10 families wished to make a joint purchase.
Although OHDELA did not specify their teacher salaries, other White Hat-owned charter schools are notorious in low wages for teachers. Teachers' salaries from those other schools might provide some insight into salary plans for OHDELA.
In an April, 2000, state assessment of 15 operating charter schools, in the five bottom schools on the pay-scale, White Hat-owned schools were paying the lowest average annual teacher salaries at four of those schools. These were the only White Hat schools operating that year, and salary averages ranged from $18,050 to $19,000 per year.
White Hat Distance Learning, the EMO, will receive 97% of incoming revenue from OHDELA. Many expenses will be non-recurring. One doubts that they intend to replace hardware each and every year. In addition, depending on your time of enrollment, a family gets one computer for every two or three children. Nonetheless, the funding allotment for each of these children would still come the way of White Hat, despite no investment in computer equipment for every child.
Based on the best numbers available, OHDELA will most likely expend about $1,000 per student in computer, curriculum and teacher salary. They anticipate enrolling 1,000 in fiscal year 2003. Simple math calculations reveal that in that year, OHDELA will spend about $1 million for the largest program aspects while receiving about $5 million in taxpayer funds. Not bad...unless you're the taxpayer, of course.
Dangers to the good nameof homeschooling
Left to exploit the words and concepts of home education, OHDELA and other charter cyber-schools will dramatically change the perception and/or actual definition of home education. By misleading the public with mass-produced marketing campaigns, targeting existing homeschoolers and parents who are exploring options, and calling it what it is not, the clear distinction between genuine home education and enrollment in a charter school will never exist.
Effectively, this creates two separate classes of "homeschooler." That is, those taking taxpayer funding, and its coupled accountability, and those who are not. Under fire, who will take the time or have the interest in understanding the difference? And does eCOT's trouble leave anyone in doubt that homeschooling will most definitely come under fire?
Homeschoolers did not create this problem
Home education. This concept is based upon educational freedom-a family establishing its own philosophy and plans, and utilizing the resources, chosen by the family, already available in our communities and world. When needed and desired, it includes cooperatives, called support groups, established with other families, furthering the range of opportunities and reducing costs for all.
The model for public schools, including cyber-schools, denies each of these concepts. There are state requirements, some of the most excessive that education has to offer. One is no longer free to establish his or her own ideas, philosophies, or plans. One must use pre-packaged curriculum and must attend to the school's requirements to be enrolled. Inherent to cyber-schooling itself, learning is viewed through the narrow frame of technology.
It was never the choice of the homeschooling community to refer to enrollment in any public school as "home education." It was clearly the choice and desire of the marketers of cyber-schools to co-opt the concepts and terms of homeschooling, with both direct and euphemistic references to these concepts.
The goal? Receive taxpayer money for each child signed on. The profiteers know that despite the differences in philosophy and requirements, if they can create the desirable assumption that their cyber-school is homeschooling, more money will come their way. So, they stroke homeschooling, lauding the benefits and citing positive reports, implying that they are effectively there to support a community they have not bothered to contact prior to contracts being inked.
It is understood that the services and curriculum offered by a cyber-school may be desirable for some parents, in whichever school option they currently participate. Existing law allows those families to enroll. Some schooling will take place in their residence. But, it is not homeschooling - which has never been determined by a building.
That may not be so clear, especially with savvy, corporate-styled PR campaigns which purposely muddle the distinct difference between a cyber-school performed at a place of residence and a homeschooler.
Here's hoping that some day, there is true educational freedom-the proverbial free lunch-for all. Major, well-funded trends and turf-battles do not foretell this phenomenon anytime soon. In fact, quite the contrary.
Parents can choose cyber-school. They can choose homeschooling. But, it is a distinct choice, not a hybrid.
Think I'll go make myself lunch, just the way I like it, from my own frig.
© 2002 Peggy Daly-Masternak
eCOT Lucas County Community Schools Application, available from Lucas County Education Service Center, Central Union Plaza, 415 Emerald Avenue, Second Floor, Toledo, OH 43602.
"Charter schools may cash in," Akron Beacon Journal, May 30, 2000.
"1st online charter school in Ohio OK'd," Toledo Blade, March 30, 2000.
Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, Special Audit, November 13, 2001, available on line at http://www.auditor.state.oh.us/ or from State of Ohio, Office of the Auditor, 88 E. Broad Street, POB 1140, Columbus, OH 43216
OHDELA Contract, approved on November 16, 2001 and other OHDELA presentations, available from The University of Toledo Charter School Council, P.O. Box 141025, Toledo, OH 43614.
Community Schools in Ohio: First-Year and Second-Year Implementation Reports, available from the Legislative Office of Education Oversight, 77 South High Street, 22nd Floor, Columbus, OH 43266-0927 or by calling 614-752-9696. They are also available on-line at the LOEO web-site at http://www.loeo.state.oh.us
March-April 2002 - Articles and Columns
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