Thursday, November 15, 2012

Are Virtual Charter Schools Homeschools?

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?




  1. Hi Andrea,

    Just hoping to clear up a misconception in your post. The only place IAHE excludes Virtual Public Schoolers is the private side of the IAHE website. All information about homeschooling is available to anyone on the public side of the site. IAHE pays for individual families and is limited in regards to the number that can be hosted on the private side of the website. IAHE also provides a homeschool ID card on the site, and Virtual Public Schools do not fall under the same classification of schools (non-accredited, non-public) as home schools as defined by the state of Indiana.

    Funding is a major difference between traditional homeschooling and Virtual Public Schools. IAHE has been committed to protecting the freedom of home educators in Indiana for the past thirty years. We receive calls at the office from people who are very confused between non-accredited, non-public schools and Virtual Public School. Since it is not unusual to field these calls, we felt like a clear definition would help define us. We believe that protecting the definition is vitally important in protecting our freedom. We do not want the lines to be blurred. Government funding always comes with strings. We must remain distinct.

    We hope that Virtual Public School families will consider non-accredited, non-public education, so they are welcome on the IAHE Facebook PAGE, IAHE Facebook GROUP, IAHE Twitter Page, IAHE Pinterest Board, IAHE Blog, and to receive our publication, The Informer. Our Regional Representatives are also available to field calls and emails in regards to questions about home education.

    If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact IAHE.

    1. Debi,

      Thank for your comment, and I’m sorry for the VERY slow response. I have neglected my blog for some time.

      I don't believe I misrepresented IAHE's stand on VPS. Although anyone can access the public areas, the services are clearly focused on non-accredited, non-public homeschools. To say that IAHE doesn't exclude those who use VPS is like saying you don't exclude Kentuckians. The services are aimed at Hoosiers. Although Kentuckians can access the public areas, the services are clearly not built for them.

      I fully understand that funds are limited so IAHE needs to focus its resources. Out of all your arguments, this makes the most sence. It is perfectly logical to focus the meat of the resources at those who IAHE’s charter covers. However, I just look at this issue differently. I believe the best way to protect parent controlled education isn’t to limit it, but to expand it in all directions. I don’t think playing a game of defense is effective in scoring points. You must play offence. Our goal shouldn’t be to limit the definition of homeschooling; it should be to limit the encroachment of government on parental rights regardless of who is paying the bill. Just because you access public school shouldn’t mean you turn your parental rights over to the state. That is where we should make our stand.

      Respectfully yours,

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