Public School Programs Are Not Homeschooling

By the 1990’s homeschooling had become an accepted alternative to public schooling and traditional private schools. Dozens of books touted homeschooling as a desirable approach to living and learning together as a family; newspaper articles and interviews showcased happy, smiling children and their proudly beaming parents. The movement had arrived, found its place in the sun. People who might never have considered the option were seeing homeschoolers portrayed on television and in movies, homeschooled kids were going to Ivy League colleges, becoming rock stars, winning spelling and geography bees, traveling the world. The cachet of homeschooling was solid marketing gold.

Around this same time a whole new class of public school programs, often delivered directly into the home, gained acceptance and began increasingly targeting homeschooling families. These programs came under many descriptive terms such as charter schools, cyber schools, cyber-charters, eschools, Independent Study Programs (ISPs), dual enrollment programs, Blended Schools Programs (BSPs), Programs for Non-Public Students (PNPS), Public School Alternative Programs (PSAPs), virtual schools, community schools and various other names. But these public school programs also came with public school regulations, which imposed testing and accountability requirements in alignment with national education goals and standards.

While the public school programs have effectively served the needs of some families, it is unwise to allow the perception to grow that they are equivalent to homeschooling. The very construct of these public school programs runs counter to the ability of families to handcraft an education for their children. Homeschoolers have more than thirty years of experience in living and learning with children outside the public school parameters, and the important lessons they’ve learned in the process are in danger of being lost.

We, as homeschoolers, also have over thirty years of history affirming our freedom to assume the responsibility to educate our children. Many diverse ad hoc and formal organizations collectively discussed and argued the issues and then interacted with local officials. Countless families took countless trips to state capitols fighting for and against legislation that directly and indirectly affected homeschooling families. These homeschool pioneers voluntarily put themselves on the line to ensure each other’s right to assume responsibility to educate their own children, and this is something worth hanging onto and celebrating; it is democracy in action. When the perception arises that these public school programs are equivalent to homeschooling, we lose this important history and the untold benefits it accords us all.

The functioning of our government is something that we all need to be concerned with, and, as noted above, homeschoolers have engaged with the process and have thereby earned the credibility to speak to this situation. When these public school programs use government funds, regulations are inevitable, and homeschool advocates, concerned about the danger of blurring definitions between homeschooling and these public school programs, have long sought ways to raise awareness about the situation. Larry and Susan Kaseman of the Wisconsin Parents Association have been at the forefront of this effort, authoring articles such as “Homeschooling in Public Schools: A Dangerous Oxymoron,” “Let’s Not Let Cyber Charters Do In Homeschooling“, “Homeschoolers, Is Our Good Name for Sale?“, and “Risks Virtual Schools Pose to Homeschools.”

The most common – and tragic – misunderstandings related to the questioning of these public school programs have always spiraled around the underlying intentions of those concerned about homeschooling freedoms. Accusations and attacks have derailed many discussions of the issue, and have repeatedly stymied attempts to hold meaningful conversations on the topic. As a result, this widely recognized and very legitimate threat to the nature, language, and definition of homeschooling is relegated to controversial issue status and summarily avoided.

The inability to discuss the situation, to build an understanding and an awareness of the problem, is exacerbated by the expectation that the threat will show itself in a headline-making manner, and does not recognize the slow grinding process of wearing away at freedoms and responsibilities. Unless we can find a way to talk about this situation, we will find ourselves helpless observers as the word ‘homeschooling’ continues to lose its historically important meaning.

Valerie Moon made an observation in her July, 2007 post at the HEM News and Commentary, “Programs Co-opting Homeschooling?“:

I wonder about the fading of the independence that was inherent in the word ‘homeschooling’ when the choice first caught the national imagination. I hope that it won’t come to pass that the word ‘homeschooling’ will change so much that it will be commonly understood as ’school-at-home-with-oversight.’

By September, Valerie was sounding a little more resigned [edited for space]:

Fluidity of language: What is homeschooling?

I often read articles that use any style of the word ‘homeschooling’ to describe services offered by schools. When I look through the news alerts, I pause each time to think whether to blog these articles because of the gray area of ‘what is homeschooling.’ I must weigh each one; is it, or is it not ‘about homeschooling’ because this blog’s purpose is homeschooling, not cyber-schooling, not blended schooling, not ‘not more than 25-hours a week attendance’ at a school, (25 hrs. divided by 5 days = 5 hours per day), not a “home-schooling center” with a campus and a lunchroom. Just homeschooling.

In most cases of general usage, the language shifts do not matter except maybe to people who have something invested in a word.

Politically correct insistence that ‘homeschooling’ includes anything-goes ‘cafeteria-schooling’ may feel inclusively warm and fuzzy, but it sure doesn’t help the sense of the conversation.

posted by Valerie — sorting through longer and longer lists of ‘homeschooling’ articles

So here we are, many years later, with an increasingly ambiguous word and a body of families whose hard-earned descriptive terminology is being effectively usurped.

In the comments section of my Nov. 24 post, Mary Nix noted:

In my state of Ohio, the cybercharter enrollment grew by leaps and bounds the first couple of years. When looking at the cost of public education that had sharply risen in a senate finance committee meeting, the senators blamed those growing costs on homeschoolers. OHEC and others have had to continually listen, watch and contact the media and the legislature to let them know many home educators remain independent and are not the ones causing the increase.

Senators blaming homeschoolers for the rising cost of public education. Anyone seeing the problem yet?

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2 Responses to Public School Programs Are Not Homeschooling

  1. Mary Nix on December 1, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    I’ve seen other subtle changes in my state since the schools came along. I don’t blame families for using them. In fact I respect their right to do so. However, the two choices are distinctly different and we have to remain active making sure folks know that. If you want to take the time, you can read the Ohio Administrative Code concerning home education here:

    As many will recognize, we are at best, a middle of the road state when it comes to our regulations, still, we have made it work and when one understands how important it is that you are notifying and NOT seeking permission you do become empowered. Since the regulations were written in 1989, Ohio home educators have enjoyed helping others choosing to homeschool to understand their rights and responsibilities and to make sure others do not infringe on those rights.

    Last year, HEM sponsored a gathering in Ohio, bringing Valerie Bonham Moon and Susan Ryan to speak here. It was a wonderful gathering with good ideas and great company. Of course like all our gatherings, we welcomed anyone who wanted to attend and as usual a few families came that were enrolled in a cyber-charter school. One family in particular mentioned that cyberschooling had worked for their daughter in the early grades, but the rigorous standards were getting a bit much for her as she entered high school. They called me six months later to explore the option of independent homeschooling further and I agreed to get together with them to discuss the regulations. After we went over the paperwork and responsibilities, they were surprised that it was NOT as difficult as the cyberschool had claimed it would be. They shared a copy of the cyberschool’s guideline to withdraw from their school for homeschooling. The difference may be subtle to some, but I’ll let you decide.

    The section that addresses home education withdrawal and notification in our law can be read here: If you take the time to read it, you will see it is a simple process.

    Below are the guidelines listed at an Ohio Cyberschool for those wanting to withdraw to home educate:

    ” Parents who decide to withdraw a student from OHVA are required by Ohio State law, to communicate their intentions (intent to withdrawal and notification as to where the student will be attending school- even if your intent is to traditionally home school your student) to their student’s guidance counselor prior to the withdrawal from OHVA. Truancy charges may be filed with the local courts and educational neglect charges may be filed with Children and Family services, if this disrupts the student’s continued school attendance as required by Ohio Law.”

    Again, I’m happy for families to have many choices for their children. My objection is not to choice, but to the confusion that is added to a family’s often full plate when fearful language like the above is used when the facts would serve them much better.

    I’m still a proud signer of the WSFH statement as I support clear, concise language to help parents find their responsibilities and easily claim their rights. The above paragraph from OHVA is just one small example of what has happened via the cyberschools in my state. I haven’t seen anyone complaining that we clarify concerning these situations in my state. Actually, families seem to support and promote that. The only grousing I’ve seen is from a couple of bitter voices who seem to live in the past. Those in the present work together and help empower one another, no matter what their educational choice.

  2. Malc Dow on December 7, 2008 at 9:02 am

    I keep wondering; why does the government have anything to do with education? The government as a body appears to get very little right, and while it a wonderful idea that as a body it might just stay home for a while and figure out for it is a) being paid to do and b) what exactly are they doing with all that money, this is perhaps a little too much to hope for. But education… one would think the government would be pleased to be rid of such a turbulent corner of its administration.
    There is an episode of Prime Minister – a tv series brought out in the ’80s by the BBC that makes a good point about this state of affairs, it is available on YouTube in four parts.

    Apart from being quite entertaining, the amazing thing is that in 20 years so little has changed.

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