Using the Google alerts, I’ve been off-handedly collecting URLs from articles about public-school-at-home, also called cyber-charters, e-schools, and virtual schools. In sorting cyber/charter/virtual links supplied by Google alerts, I usually copy the listing and just use Ctrl+End in the Word.doc and paste in the listing at the bottom of the page. While catching up with my backlog, I was surprised to see that the “alt ed” category at the bottom of my list was the largest category of news story in my collection. Like Topsy, that section ‘just growed.’
The articles run the gamut from matter-of-fact articles, to legal disputes, to near-advertising, to those that continue to equate public-school-at-home with homeschooling. The list of collected articles, only from July and August, is long, and the articles come from around the country, something that indicates a national trend.
General observations about the programs
The virtual programs are gaining in popularity among some legislators who see them as a way to fulfill the expectation of public schooling, but at a lower cost. They are also popular among people who see the expansion of educational methods as serving a wider range of children and families. For them, to be denied the fullest possible choice is regarded as a kind of deprivation.
There are many variables concerning both the use by schools and families of the programs, so there are no right or wrong conclusions, only many ‘what ifs,’ and new ways to adjust to the changes. People who don’t see the public-school-at-home genie (who is just about completely out of his bottle) as the wave of the future usually have some stake in the effects of in-home education that is legally controlled by public authorities.
In combination with homeschooling, public-school-at-home could cause a decline in the number of public-school-related jobs available, and this decline would affect not just teachers, but any industry that serves the mass-education business. I see that sector as ranging ‘from push-pin suppliers up to construction companies.’ Although children should not be ‘school fodder,’ it is a natural reaction to try to protect one’s job, and if that means fostering the expectation that school is the natural place for children, then so be it.
Schools’ use of the programs
Not all school districts oppose the virtual development, and some actively embrace it and use local programs to “entice” homeschooling families back to public schooling, or to attract parents who live in another district to use their program.
Years ago school districts would have nothing to do with homeschooling families, just as they didn’t interact with families whose children were in private schools. Sometimes there was even animosity shown towards homeschooling families through allegations of truancy, or, in my case, a lack of permission to tutor reading in a friend’s third-grade classroom because our family homeschooled. It took six months for my friend to make the point to the school administrators that we were asking to help, not asking for help.
One can only speculate about why the schools took these actions, but one reason might have been to try to force families to re-enroll their children in school. As homeschooling grew, the ‘stick tactic’ obviously didn’t work, and now the ‘carrot tactic’ appears to be the motivator of choice. School districts are catching more kids with honey than with vinegar.
Concerns of homeschoolers
Homeschool advocates, whose stake in the outcome is less obvious than that of schools, are concerned about the confusion of homeschooling with public-school-at-home in the mind of the general public. They wonder whether the confusion will lead to calls by taxpayers for increased regulation of all home education in the name of ‘accountability’ as some people believe that parents can’t even be trusted as parents, much less as teachers. For people with that opinion about parents, whether taxpayer funding is involved in the homeschooling is immaterial: kids belong in school.
In the opinions of other people, the use of public funds requires strict oversight. An example of that trend is the recent increase in the size of the homeschooling regulation in Alberta, Canada.
Yet another troubling thought is the growing acceptance of the appropriateness of school personnel having a say-so in at-home activities, especially if the in-home public education trend continues and web-cams become commonplace for teacher-student interaction. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be a situation whereby a teacher conducts a mass-lesson via web-cam with the transmitted images of the class’s students tiled on one of the teacher’s computer screens, but given the speed at which computer hardware and software are developed, the idea isn’t as far-fetched as is should seem. Programs already exist where a person can use multiple monitors for one job, and drag-and-drop items from one monitor screen to another.
Another concern is the disappearance of homeschooling as an independent family activity as at-home education is co-opted by school administrations that advertise that the service is ‘free’ to families. It is true that the families do not usually have to pay full tuition, but the service must be paid for somewhere, and that somewhere is from taxes.
Because the choice to homeschool has not yet been removed from the education laws of the various states, many see the concern about ‘free’ public-school-at-home as misplaced.
The freedom to homeschool still exists and families who decide that the public, private or virtual schooling doesn’t fit their needs are able to choose to homeschool if they wish. A danger is if the very concept of homeschooling is replaced in the common consciousness by public-school-at-home.
Until I read a newspaper article about homeschooling, the idea of removing my children from school (for whatever reason) never occurred to me. If I hadn’t heard of homeschooling my three younger children would have negotiated the labyrinth of public school just as their older brother did. I know what it’s like not to know.
If the concept of the liberty to say ‘no thanks’ to public education disappears, the education situation may return to the model of someone in authority having the final say concerning schooling, with succeeding generations of parents being none the wiser.
If the liberty aspect of homeschooling fades, past references to ‘homeschooling’ will be assumed to always have meant ‘public-school-at-home.’ This fading is why glosses are necessary for the proper reading of older texts: the meanings of words change, as do the social context in which they are used.
Poems with the words ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ in them (meaning ‘happy’ and ‘odd,’ respectively), are difficult to read aloud without tittering. I won’t even start on the difficulty in reciting Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat other than to quote one section. “O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love, What a beautiful Pussy you are, You are, You are! What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Any change in the status quo causes commotion. Because of this, the number of articles about cyber-schooling is growing.
Recent articles about the virtual version of public school are:
- Jackson Clarion Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi, 2 July 2006, Alternative program speeds graduation “This is an ideal route for students wanting to supplement their home-school curriculum in areas of the curriculum that parents are not confident teaching,” said Stephen Beebe, coordinator of the program. “In time, it will be the No. 1 route for home-school curriculum in Mississippi.”
- Green Bay Press Gazette, Green Bay, Wisconsin, 10 July 2006, Fondow questions need for 5th high school But what Fondow has to say might come as a surprise. He’s vehemently opposed to the proposed $75 million referendum — and the school it would fund. … By Wieland’s estimates — factoring in certain alternative program students who aren’t counted in their home school count — about 190 to 200 alternative program students actually are counted in home school counts.The district includes the students in home school counts because that’s where they start the year, Nerad said.”When we can identify that group of kids who are going to be out of school for the full year, we do,” he added.
- Louisville Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 11 July 2006, Charter schools could go online Ball State University in Muncie is considering guidelines to authorize the formation of “virtual charter schools,” allowing parents to use online instruction for their children. … Although some parents who home-school their children likely will be interested in virtual charter schools, others will have reservations.
- Fort Wayne News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 11 July 2006, Ball State developing rules for online charter schools Indiana would get its first online charter schools under guidelines being considered by Ball State University, which would allow parents to use largely computer-based instruction for their children. … Under the proposed guidelines, parents would receive computers and other equipment at no charge from charter schools. Students would remain at home for most instruction, but the rules would require them to spend at least 20 percent of their time at the charter school so they have personal contact with teachers.
There is no free lunch. Taxpayers are charged for the online charter schools’ computers and equipment, just as they are for all the necessities of neighborhood public schools.
- Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, 13 July 2006, Virtual school may open in Illinois (via Students First Illinois) Home-school families, for example, usually get their children involved in activities outside of home, so they socialize with other students, Hayes said. … The school’s officials say they are confident they will get that approval, though they face opposition from the Chicago Teachers Union. Among other concerns, the union questions how the virtual school can assure children will get the hours of instruction required by state law. … Students will learn language arts, math, social studies, art and even gym through online lesson plans.
I hope you’ll pardon me rolling my eyes at the idea of online gym classes. … and I typed that without realizing that the next article in the queue starts off with online P.E.
- Stateline.org, Washington, D.C., 14 July 2006, School just a click away For most high school students, physical education classes mean crowded locker rooms, group showers and a P.E. teacher barking out orders. For others, it’s as simple and solitary as flipping on their home computer and logging on to the Internet. … And more states are hopping on the virtual bandwagon. This year, Missouri and South Dakota enacted laws paving the way for a statewide virtual learning program. In April, Michigan made an online class a high school requirement, starting with the class of 2011. Georgia, which had its inaugural virtual education program in the last school year, enacted a new law to allow for cyber charter schools, while Illinois will open its first public virtual elementary school this fall.
- (follow-up to Chicago article above) Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago, Illinois, 14 July 2006, Home-based online schooling ripped (via Students First Illinois) A new Chicago Public Schools charter that would educate students online from home is illegal, the Chicago Teachers Union said Thursday, threatening a court challenge to the school, which has yet to receive state approval.
- CBS2 Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 14 July 2006, Virtual School Provides Alternative To Home School Before the Chicago Virtual Charter School became available, she had planned to home school her child. “With this, you have a teacher to support you, grade papers and give a little guidance as well,” Hawkins said. The virtual school provides all the supplies, including a computer. Students study from real books, do real projects and complete about 20 percent of their work online.
If the “real books” alluded to are school texts, some homeschoolers will point out that our impression of using “real books” differs from the model of using textbooks. Also, homeschool projects can be just as ‘real’ (or not) as school projects.
- WISH, Indianapolis, Indiana, 14 July 2006, Ball State developing rules for online charter schools Under the proposed guidelines, parents would receive computers and other equipment at no charge from charter schools.
No free lunch.
- Brainerd Daily Dispatch, Brainerd, Minnesota, 15 July 2006, High school classes go online (registration) School districts will pay a fee to MnCOLA for each course its students take but the fee will be less expensive than losing 88 percent of the student’s per pupil funding if that student chose to take classes elsewhere. Any student in the state could take courses through MnCOLA but that fee will be less expensive for member school districts, said Williams. MnCOLA online courses will be taught by teachers contracted through the collaborative.
- Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, 16 July 2006, Online classes click with athletes Student athletes like Halverson who train hours each day and compete worldwide find traditional schools a mismatch. Seeking flexibility and individualized lessons, these students — a mix of home, charter, private and public school attendees — are turning to online resources to juggle their education and athletic commitments.
- Gillette News Record, Gillette, Wyoming, 21 July 2006, District considers˜virtual school’ for those who prefer staying home A virtual school offered in the fall through the Campbell County School District will provide an out-of-the-classroom education option that supplements or replaces traditional home schooling.
- Gillette News Record, Gillette, Wyoming, 24 July 2006, School via computer idea delayed
- also: The Casper Star Tribune, Casper, Wyoming, 26 July 2006, Virtual school faces hurdles “There is an awful lot of disagreement as to what would constitute a virtual school and how you would guarantee that every student would receive an equal opportunity,” she said. “We are not even sure we have the authority to give permission for virtual schools.”
- Leavenworth Times, Leavenworth, Kansas, 24 July 2006, Students begin enrolling in Internet-based school (fee access only) “Basically, we are there to help those parents out who are home-schooling their kids,” he said.
- Pottstown Mercury, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, 24 July 2006, Cyber school enrollment increasing While parents view cyber charter schools as an alternative form of education, school district officials view the increase in cyber school attendance as a drain on their budgets. As commercials and advertisements for cyber charter schools tout the message of no tuition for enrollees, school districts are faced with paying a large portion of the bill.
- Columbia Basin Herald, Moses Lake, Washington, 27 July 2006, Steilacoom recruiting schools for virtual academy “My concern is that it appears some of the students they’re trying to target are kids not currently in the system,” said MLSD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Michelle Price before the presentation. “If they register for this program they would then be a Steilacoom School District student.” … “Our audience is for people who are home schooling and want to have top flight, first rate full meal deal curriculum,” said Arthur Himmler, superintendent of Steilacoom schools, in a phone interview with the Herald. “This is not any easy correspondence course, this is a very substantive program.”
The implication is that any parent homeschooling his or her child without this “top flight, first rate full meal deal” is giving the child an insubstantial education.
- Johnson County Sun, Overland Park, Kansas, 27 July 2006, State provides online education through charter school Virtual School Principal Gary Lewis said the school appeals to parents who want to home school their children.”The school actually started as a request from some home school families,” Lewis said. “The purpose is to provide exceptionally quality education for students based on their needs.”
This new concern for the needs of homeschoolers is in direct contrast to the earlier institutional animosity.
- Allentown Morning Call, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 31 July 2006, More accountability for cyber charters is reasonable goal of proposed law(via OWL Institute site) Rep. Beyer believes that cyber charters should be held to the same standards as “regular” charter schools and the state’s 501 public school districts. All three, after all, are public schools. The cyber charters are different, of course, in that they are a form of homeschooling. But they differ from traditional homeschool arrangements in that curriculum equipment and instruction comes to the family at no cost beyond the ordinary real estate or per capita taxes that the home district might levy. Taxpayers pay the costs.
- Manteca Bulletin, Manteca, California, 5 August 2006, A way to empower parents & students When my son was preparing for kindergarten last year, his preschool teacher asked me if I had ever considered homeschool, in which I quickly replied no. She said that after observing my son for over a year, she believed that while he was smart enough to enter kindergarten, he needed more time to mature and thought homeschool would be a good option for him. I could have dismissed her words quickly and just enrolled him in traditional school as planned, but something in me knew she was right. She referred me to Connecting Waters Charter School where I had an opportunity to learn what homeschool was really all about.
- Nanaimo News Bulletin, British Columbia, Candada, 10 August 2006, Boom in home-schooling expected(via OWL Institute) “It’s growing, the number of people choosing to home-school,” said Scott Saywell, district principal of Nanaimo school district’s alternative programs. The Education Ministry changed how it funds home-schooling in June. School districts now get slightly more funding for every distance education student enrolled, giving school boards an incentive to make more home-schooling learning available. “The ministry is taking charge,” Saywell said. “The thing was growing independently. Now the ministry is recognizing it’s not just a fad.”
And the ministry seems to be nipping that growing independence.
- Teachers can also give virtual lessons using web cams and electronic chalkboards. Funding is even available to help families get computers.
And you thought I was making up the web cam part.
- Mankato Free Press, Mankato, Minnesota, 12 August 2006, Virtual schools catch on
- also at USA Today, 21 August 2006, Home-schooled students defecting to online learning programs The Larsons started home schooling their daughter Elisabeth two years ago. … “She was like a sponge,” said Maria Larson, her mother. “I was running out of things to teach her. I thought, ‘I’ve got to have some help.'” The solution came in the mail box after the family got an informational brochure about a virtual public school. …”There is accountability for each class,” Maria said. “Now I’m just the learning coach to make sure she follows through.” …
“Home schooling is very hard, because parents have to choose all of the curriculum,” said Mellisa Nelson, Connections Academy principal. “We have many former home schoolers.”
Gee whiz, I thought it was fun finding all the stuff for the kids. Guess I was mistook.
- WFMZ-TV Online, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 22 August 2006, Cyber Schools Hearing Draws Crowd Cyber schooling — it’s a high-tech way to go to school on-line. The question is: Who should pay for it? That’s the question raised at a hearing in Allentown today, drawing people from all over the state. But it turns out House Bill 26- 16 isn’t the only reason folks are upset tonight.
- News-Herald, Franklin, Pennsylvania, 22 August 2006, Franklin board preps for school year In other matters, Paranick reported that seven students are already registered for the district’s cyber school program, which will debut this fall. The district is offering the program in conjunction with the Beaver Area School District. Paranick has estimated that the district could save as much as $5,000 per student if students choose the local cyber school over one of the state’s cyber charter schools.
- Lancaster Newspapers, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 23 August 2006, Cyber school funding debated School officials say the cyber school budget item didn’t exist only a few years ago and its forced them to cut programs and raise taxes. “It’s built into our expenses and part of what we base tax increases on,” Christopher Johnston, Penn Manor School District business manager, said in April. “It has been an additional cost we’ve had to accommodate.”
- Fort Wayne News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 26 August 2006, Ball State approves guidelines for online charter schools Online charter schools could open in Indiana by the fall of 2007 after state guidelines were approved by Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora. The rules approved by Gora last week require students who enroll in online charter schools to take ISTEP tests and attend a designated classroom at least 20 percent of instruction time. Such virtual charter schools typically draw children who are home-schooled, travel with their parents or are too sick to attend traditional classrooms.
- The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, 27 August 2006, Online schools combine public, home education [photo] Sisters, Megan, 13, left, and May Pysnak of Bountiful, who are home-schooled, work on math and science using materials provided by the Davis County School District and the help of family computers.Once, choosing home schooling meant rejecting public school. Now, computer technology enables amicable separations: Students can learn at home while receiving public school support.Utah Online Academies offers a rigorous K-8 curriculum over the Web, complete with all learning materials and teacher assistance. The program is run through a partnership between Davis, Alpine and Washington school districts but is available to all Utah families at no cost.
- Record-Searchlight, Redding, California, 27 August 2006, Education is a family affair for the Atzets The group recently joined up with ModocCharter School as an independent study unit. With the partnership, Atzet’s group receives supplies and books, and the school is able to count the kids as students, opening the charter to a bit more state funding. But to lead the group, Rosanne had to earn her teaching credential.