Virtual charter schools, or VCS, are a new wave in homeschooling…or are they?
Many homeschool associations do not consider VCS homeschooling because the control of the education remains with the school, not the parent. Organizations like HSLDA and IAHE (Indiana Association of Home Educators) are turning away families for services if they are participating in virtual charter schools. They believe that if homeschoolers accept VCS as a legitimate way to homeschool, the state will be allowed more influence over all homeschools.
Where I disagree with homeschool associations like HSLDA and IAHE is on the definition of “homeschool”. They are very strict in their interpretation of the word “homeschool”. They believe that homeschool is education that is parent lead. However, if that was so, shouldn't they change their names to The Parent Educator Legal Defense Fund and the Indiana Association of Parent Educators? These organizations tout the "home" as the main factor that binds all non-traditional, non-institutionalized educational systems. Point in fact: the majority of the time spent educating is in the home when a child is enrolled in virtual charter school.
These organizations also allow members who don't "lead" their own homeschool. They offer services to homeschoolers that use umbrella private schools and distance learning schools. These schools aren't anymore parent lead than a VCS. All of these options require the parent to hand over control of some aspect or all aspects of their homeschool to a company or school. The only difference between a private online educational service like Monarch by Alpha Omega and a VCS is that the state is the one calling the shots instead of a private school or company. Why is ok to turn over control of your child’s education to a private school or curriculum company and not the state? What makes the Monarch system “homeschooling” and VCS not “homeschooling”? The computer does the major portion of the teaching in both senarios and the parent has the option to opt out at any time as long as the child is enrolled in some other kind of school, private, public, or homeschool.
Maybe I am nit-picking and being too strict in my definition of HOMEschool. I am trying to illustrate that if we, as homeschoolers, reject anything other than parent lead, home based education we we are ignoring reality. It seems what HSLDA and IAHE are trying to explain is that a “PARENT” is the major factor in the educational option known as homeschooling not “HOME”. I would agree with them up to a point. A parent is a vital element of what we know as homeschooling, but it isn't the only element and nore does it mean that the parent has to even be the main teacher.
Our attention is being taken away from what parents, ALL parents should really be focused on: our parental right to choose what system of education our children are placed in. When we waste our time worrying about whether public school students who are based at home are homeschool or not, the more important issue is placed on the back burner.
Don’t take me wrong, I am completely on board with why homeschoolers should stand guard against VCS. I wouldn’t use the VCS in Indiana because I don’t want to be under the thumb of the state. They don't get traditional school right, why would I think they could do it better virtually? However, I am glad that public school systems are trying new ways of educating. One day they might catch up with us.
Charter schools are the public schools pet project; if they fail or succeed the public school system should own the results. Those results should not be calculated with traditional, parent lead, homeschooling. It would be very misleading to say that a certain test score for homeschoolers fell, but not explain that those scores are based on a combination of parent lead homeschooling and virtual charter schools. If statistics related to the academic benefits of homeschooling weren’t favorable, it certainly would give fodder to those who are against homeschooling. As it stands now, if homeschoolers can’t convince legislators that parents should hold the right to educate their own children, at least they can win points for higher test scores than public schools. It’s hard to argue against results.
The other problem that I see with taking such a hard line on the definition of “homeschooling” is organizations are turning away families who need support from our community. The real battle isn’t with the families who choose VCS. The real problem is keeping our legislators informed and on our side. It doesn’t create a good public relations scenario for homeschool associations to turn away families because they don’t meet the strictest sense of the definition “homeschooler”. Grant it, legal associations like HSLDA would be completely unsuccessful in arguing cases for families that use VCSif they were arguing against public school laws. That doesn’t mean that every association or support group should turn these families away.
We can be a great help to VCS families just by simply offering them our services when legally possible. When they come to the conclusion that they can’t have one foot in the public system, the other in homeschooling, and still have the abundant life that homeschooling provides, they are going to need our friendship and support. What better way to earn support for our cause?