UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCE AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT
Home schooling has come along way from the early days when families would either have to move way out into the country in order to avoid prosecution or pretend to drive their children to school each day, only to secretly bring them back home covered under a bed sheet in the back of the car. Today, thanks to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) home schooling is legal in all 50 states and in several countries around the world. That does not mean, however, that home schooling no longer faces other legal challenges. As educational choices multiply, it is important to recognize the differences between the various options. One of the options of which home schoolers need to be aware is home-based charter schools (also known as “cyber schools”).
What is a Home-based Charter School?
Home-based charter schools are public schools that operate out of the home. They are basically online, distance learning programs that some states offer to families. In 1997, the Ohio General Assembly created “community schools” (most states call them charter schools) to expand school choice for parents. Organizations desiring to start community schools must enter into a contract with the state in which the state retains ultimate oversight. This means community schools are legally considered part of the public school system for the purpose of funding and accountability. In the last few years, some of these community schools have begun to offer their program to families over the internet, thus the term “cyber schools”. In Ohio, two of the more familiar programs are Ohio Virtual Academy (“K12”) and Ohio Distance and Electronic Learning Academy (OHDELA).
How are Home-based Charter Schools Different from Home Schools?
Right to Direct Education
Although home-based charter schools and home schools share the same environment, they have a distinctly different legal basis and purpose. Home schools began (or better, were rediscovered) wen parents insisted that it was their fundamental (Constitutional) right to educate their own children. In home schools, parents are free to make curricular choices consistent with their personal religious beliefs and individual needs. The state of Ohio recognizes this right and excuses home schoolers from compulsory attendance (ORC 3321.04 (A)(2)). The rules that further define and regulate home schooling are contained in the Ohio State Board of Education Administrative Code 3301-34-01 through 3301-34-04.
Community schools (which includes home-based charter schools), however, are defined in a separate statue (ORC 3314.01). According to this statue, the state and the governing board of the community school are entering into a contract in which the state retains oversight authority. This is due to the fact that community schools are receiving funds (approximately $6200/child per year) to operate that otherwise would have gone to the local school district. These hoe-based charter schools then use the funds to offer parents who enroll in their program such things as “free” computers and internet service, $2100 in credits toward supplemental school supplies, and the support of a “master teacher”. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Despite the attractive benefits some of these programs offer, it costs the parents their freedom to direct their own child’s education. To make matters worse, some of these “virtual academies” have been deceptively advertised to parents as “home schools” or “schooling from home”, yet unknown to some parents they have created a little public school in their home.
Another difference between home-based charter schools and home schools is the assessment option. Home-educated students pursuant to OAC 3301-34-04 may choose from 3 assessment options. They may either turn in:
- Test scores of an approved nationally normed standardized achievement test; or
- A “written narrative” indicating academic progress for the year in accordance with the child’s abilities prepared by either a certified teacher or some other person mutually agreed upon; or
- An alternative assessment mutually agreed upon by the parents and the superintendent.
Community school students, however, must follow the same regulations as public school students. They must show mastery of predetermined state criteria via state assessment tests. Currently, Ohio law requires home-based charter school students in grades 3 through 10 to take these tests.
Despite critics who have said that parents could not teach their children as well as professionally trained educators, home-schooled students have consistently outperformed their peers. Many are familiar with the success of home-schooled students in national contests line the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee and various geography and math competitions. Not as many people are aware, however, that home-schooled students also average 30 points higher on national achievement tests. All of this is accomplished without the oversight of an outside public school teacher.
Community schools, however, must monitor parents and students on an ongoing basis to ensure that the curriculum is being followed. Since the governing board of the home-based charter school is accountable to the state for student performance, they tend to have strong monitoring mechanisms, including paperwork and in-home visits. Personally, I have know families that have been so overwhelmed – not by the curriculum, but by the paperwork – and have left their virtual academy program. Although, it may seem helpful to have the additional support of a “master teacher”, it can also be limiting and at times intimidating to the parent.
A final area where home schools and home-based charter schools differ is religious instruction. The 900 hours of instruction required for home-schooled students may include religious instruction consistent with the values and beliefs of the home-educating family (OAC 3301-34-03). Home-based charter school instruction, however, must be completely non-sectarian. In other words, that means any instruction in science, history, literature or any additional subjects which come from a distinctly Christian perspective, may not be included in the required 920 hours for community schooled students.
Although some people have told me that cyber-school parents can still include religious instruction on their own time, I believe it establishes an unhealthy and unbiblical view that separates life into two separate realms – secular and sacred. Deuteronomy 6:4-8 establishes the Biblical model when it charges parents to give religious instruction to their children, “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” Education that denies that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” is self-defeating.
Why Should I Care About the Difference?
Maintaining the distinction between home-based charter schools and home schooling is vital toward preserving our right to educate our children at home free from government intervention. On the other hand, if we fail to distinguish these educational options, the state legislature or any ideologically biased judge may eliminate all the hard fought victories over the last 30 years with one fell swoop of the pen. If you think that a bit extreme, I ask you to consider how “separation of Church & State” despite almost 200 years of legal precedence was redefined in the 1960’s to include any religious display in public. Or look at the on-going debate today over the definition of “marriage” to include those of the same sex.
Last update: 6/5/2007