Home Education Magazine
May-June 2002 - Articles and Columns
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Problems With Putting Public E-Schools in Homes
Public e-schools (also called cyber charter schools or virtual charter schools) are public schools in which teachers communicate with students and their parents via computer. Such schools are granted charters by local school districts or other authorized agencies. They are funded by tax money which is funneled through the chartering agency to corporations that make a profit by selling curriculums and/or computers and software and/or technical support. Public e-schools are regulated by the state. They must comply with government standards in education such as those in Goals 2000, administer state-mandated standardized tests, and ensure that their students comply with compulsory school attendance laws.
Public e-schools would threaten our homeschooling freedoms. As homeschoolers, we are perceived as a threat by the educational establishment, The strongest power centers in our society. To maintain our freedoms, we must counter continual attempts to increase government regulation of homeschooling and get homeschoolers under the control of the public school system. Public e-schools would provide yet another opportunity. They would be seen as homeschools. The general public's understanding of homeschooling would change, and the distinction between government regulated public schools and independent private homeschools would be blurred. There would be great pressure to apply the regulations that public e-schools are under (because they are public schools and receive tax money) to all homeschoolers.
Our previous column discussed public e-schools. (See HEM, March-April, 2002.) This column provides more detailed information about these schools and more specific suggestions for what we can do to minimize the damage they do.
What's In A Name?
We need to establish and maintain the distinction between homeschools and cyber charter schools, in the media and in the general public's understanding. This will be easier to do if there is a short and distinct name for cyber charter schools. We propose that they be called public e-schools, with e- standing for electronic as in e-mail, e-commerce, etc. (The word "public" is included to distinguish these students from homeschoolers who take responsibility for doing part of their learning via computers and the Internet and pay for this themselves, thereby avoiding government regulation and not undermining homeschooling freedoms. Presumably these students will identify themselves as homeschoolers and will understand if the media tends to shorten "public e-schoolers" to "e-schoolers.") The more of us who use this name as much as possible, the better the chance that it will catch on.
Opposing the Establishment of Public E-Schools
Obviously, stopping public e-schools before they get started is the best way to minimize damage. Unfortunately, it is proving very difficult to do for several reasons.
? Corporations are marketing aggressively, targeting homeschoolers and a few others, and distributing misleading and inaccurate information to suit their purposes.
? Corporations are finding willing accomplices in some public school officials who are enticed by the financial gains corporations are promising their districts. These officials welcome the opportunity to get homeschoolers back into the public school system. (Sylvan Ventures' proposal for Denver included working with local superintendents "To recapture student enrollment being lost to home schools, private schools, and out-of-district charters.") They fail to see long-range problems public e-schools will cause conventional public schools. (Jobs would be lost. Public e-schoolers trained in Pavlovian style on computers would score well on standardized tests, increasing the pressure on conventional public schools. Taxpayers who were told it cost only $5,000 to educate a public e-schooler would be more reluctant to pay the $8,000 to $9,000 many school districts now receive.)
? Enough parents are willing to enroll their children, drawn by supposedly free curriculums, computers, teacher support, and/or the idea that they could "homeschool" without taking responsibility for their children's learning.
Faced with the nearly impossible task of trying to stop public e-schools from getting charters, we can remember that such work is important. Even if we don't stop the schools, we can slow their progress, decrease the damage they do, and educate people in the process.
What We Can Do To Minimize the Damage Done By E-Schools
? We can inform ourselves. Among the helpful information that is available: Sylvan Ventures' requests for charters for its Connections Academies have been rejected in Minnesota (twice), Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Denver, Colorado. Existing public e-schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania have generated controversy and lawsuits. For more information, visit Wisconsin Parents Association (WPA)'s web site at www.homeschooling-wpa.org and click on "Issues and Legislation."
? We can inform others. A fact sheet with information about the ways public e-schools will affect conventional public schools can be effective. WPA's web site has a sample.
? We can encourage school districts considering granting charters to e-schools to request written responses to questions from those proposing the charters. The Denver Public Schools District School Improvement and Accountability Council did a good job of asking key questions of a New Connections Academy proposed by Sylvan Ventures. The responses are very revealing and helpful in opposing public e-schools. The complete document is available at WPA's web site along with questions WPA suggested to two Wisconsin school boards considering granting charters to e-schools, one associated with Sylvan Ventures and one with K12, Inc.
Why We Need To Inform Other Parents
? Freedom is very complex and cannot be maintained without cost. To argue that people should be free to do what they want, regardless of the consequences to others, is naive. How does it make sense to say that our opposition to public e-schools denies families this choice when our silence on the matter would undermine our ability to choose to homeschool without unnecessary and restrictive government interference? Don't we have a responsibility to our children, our grandchildren, ourselves, and other families to work to maintain the freedom we have reclaimed?
? It goes without saying that we homeschoolers respect the right of parents to choose for their children an education consistent with their principles and beliefs. They also need accurate information that they are unlikely to get from others.
Consider the generosity and sense of responsibility that has been the hallmark of homeschoolers. We homeschoolers recognize that people, especially those considering homeschooling, need accurate information about homeschooling. We remember how we felt when we were just beginning and are grateful to those who offered us a helping hand. We, in turn, have helped others. We haven't left families at the mercy of state departments of education or local school officials. Instead, we have been willing to share what we have learned in person, through support groups, magazines like this, the Internet, books about homeschooling, etc. Can we now responsibly stand by and leave parents at the mercy of corporations intent on making a profit or of school districts trying to increase their budgets and get homeschoolers back into the public school system?
? The fewer families who enroll in public e-schools, and the fewer who stay there once they are enrolled, the less damage these schools will do to families, homeschooling freedoms, and education.
How We Can Inform Other Parents
? Probably the most effective way to inform people is by our example and our willingness to share our experiences while respecting our family's privacy. This is how we have demonstrated that homeschooling works. We can assure parents that if they decide to, they can do a good job of homeschooling their children without enrolling in a public e-school; if fact, they can do a better job without the constraints and restrictions of such a school. Support groups have done, and continue to do, an amazing job in this regard.
? We can describe what it would be like to be enrolled in an e-school. Parents and children would be tied to a computer for long hours each day and would be required to follow a set lesson, rather than being able to devise their own or make significant modifications. Parents would be required to report to the teacher about what each child had done, usually via computer each day for each subject. Because e-schools could not afford to risk getting into trouble for failing to ensure that their students are complying with the compulsory school attendance law, e-school teachers would have to be strict about record keeping and reporting.
? The pressure on children and families enrolled in public e-schools would be much more intense than on those enrolled in conventional public schools. Given the nature of computers, teachers would be able to monitor children's work much more thoroughly than is possible in a conventional school. It is much easier to keep records and store information. Your family's privacy would be invaded as the public school, and thus the government, collects and stores masses of data, not just on your children but also about how you are doing as learning coaches."
? We can explain the truth behind inaccurate and misleading marketing claims. For example:
Marketing claim: Families enrolled in a public e-school get free curriculum.
Fact: First, you have very little choice in curriculum. Because you have enrolled in a public school, the curriculum must meet the standards of Goals 2000 and prepare children for state-mandated standardized tests. Biblically based or other religious curriculums are not allowed because tax money cannot be spent do promote religion. In addition, children may have to lie and say things they don't believe in order to get answers "right" on state-mandated tests.
Second, because you have enrolled in a public e-school, you are required to follow the curriculum. This is very different from purchasing your own curriculum, in which case you can modify it, skip parts, insert your own material, spend extra time on things that excite the kids, or discard it all because it just doesn't work for your family.
Marketing claim: A free computer.
Fact: Usually a computer is only on loan for long as you are enrolled. It may be programmed so you cannot add other software or access the Internet (except for selected sites that are part of the curriculum).
Marketing claim: Free support from a certified teacher.
Fact: Required reliance on teachers and giving teachers the final decision making authority undermine parents' role and importance in their children's lives. You would be required to report daily to the teacher and follow their instructions. With a student/teacher ratio of 50 to 1 (as proposed by both Sylvan and K12, Inc.), the teacher would have very little time for your child. For example, promotional material from Sylvan Ventures' Wisconsin Connections Academy states that direct telephone conversations between a teacher and a parent or child would amount to less than an hour a month.
? We can explain that their participation in a public e-school would undermine homeschooling freedoms for all of us, including those who enroll if they decided at some point that they would rather homeschool without government control.
? We can point out that common sense and the work of people like Jane Healy, Clifford Stoll, and Jerry Mander raise questions about the effects that learning by computers have on people, especially young children. Healy's research points to physical, emotional, and psychological damage that computer use can cause, especially in young children. What does it do to children to rely on videos and "virtual field trips?"
? We can say that many families find that exploring and learning together strengthens their families, developing strong bonds and an invaluable support system. By contrast, the basic structure of a public e-school: parents following instructions from a third party based on government standards, making their children learn what someone else has chosen, and reporting back to the third party and indirectly to the government, is destined to increase tension and undermine relationships between parents and children.
Despite the fact that the number of public e-schools around the country is growing, there is still a lot we homeschoolers can do to minimize the damage they do. We can work to maintain a clear distinction between homeschools and public e-schools so homeschoolers are not regulated the way public e-schoolers are. We can work to prevent public e-schools from getting charters. And we can inform parents about public e-schools.
© 2002 Larry and Susan Kaseman
May-June 2002 - Articles and Columns
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