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When is a homeschooler not a homeschooler?

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Fairly Odd Mother

Frantically waving my magic wand to make wishes come true.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When is a homeschooler not a homeschooler?


I live in Massachusetts which, in homeschooling terms, is an "approval state". This means that the calendar year your child turns six, you must send a "Letter of Intent to Homeschool" to your local school department. I then send my Lesson Plan for the year to the school district and, at the end of the year, send a Progress Report.

We now have a "new" way of doing things which has some people shook up a bit, while others are breathing a sigh of relief. It is a "Virtual Public School" and the first one just started up in this state this school year.

By joining this Virtual School, I would sign my kids up with the Greenfield (MA) School District which is actually more than two hours away on the other side of the state. My town would send this school a check for the amount in taxes they would use if he/she was in the town's school system (I've read it's about $3,000 per child, but don't quote me).

In exchange, I would receive a computer (don't get too excited; I've heard they are a bit old and creaky) and a complete curriculum from K-12. Oh and a teacher would be assigned to my child, and I would no longer call myself teacher but "Learning Coach" (oy, schoolspeak).

The other biggie is that my kids would be required to take the MCAS which is our mandatory standardized achievement tests.

Even with the evil MCAS, I have to admit my interest has been piqued. We now pay $20 a month for one of my children to do two subjects online. I have spent countless dollars on curriculum, some of it which I never use because I don't understand it, don't make time for it, or forget I have it (seriously).

But the initial reports I heard about the virtual public school were full of alarming details: Teachers will check your work daily! You can never miss a day! No flexibility! Six hours of busy work a day!!!!! (subtext: Your children will hate you, you will become a frumpy nervous mess and your house will start to smell!)

So, I've been asking around, reading the message boards, looking at the website. It's not like Massachusetts is doing something totally new: My very good friend does a virtual school in California and one of my fave online homeschoolers does it in Canada.

And what I'm hearing right now is pretty interesting. There seems to be some flexibility in curriculum if the school agrees that what you are using meets their standards. You can tweak your schedule around a bit so that you can take a field trip one day, or just have a needed "sanity day". The teachers are available but not hovering and checking every last thing.

The one thing that irks me is that there seems to be some quibbling over what to call these new Virtual School students. Are they homeschoolers? Public Schoolers? Traitors to the cause?

Really? Give me a break. I don't care if you teach your kid math by counting the chicken eggs they collect in the morning, or if they run off every Friday night to a paid Russian Math class for two hours, or if they are enrolled in a public school curriculum two hours away: A kid who does most of their work at home, is a homeschooler.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to discuss, but if you get nasty in the comments, I'm coming after you with my metal ruler. I am still the teacher after all.

Labels: , , ,

26 Comments:

Anonymous Bill/Shredheads said...

"it's about $3,000 per child"

There, I did it. I quoted you. ;)

6:50 AM  
OpenID needsnewbatteries said...

I'm not a homeschooling parent, but I will say this: Humans sure do like their hierarchies don't they? Let me place your homeschooling along side other types and see if which is more true and genuine - what do people really think they can look inside your soul so easily?
This reminds me of my work world - which is natural childbirth. Whoever said men are more hierarchical has clearly never been to a birth network meeting...

7:00 AM  
Blogger Shannon said...

I think its just silly that some won't consider you a homeschooler anymore.

I'm going to consider it as they get older but for now it wouldn't work for us.

And the computer is not old and creaky...its nice! I've seen Miriam's.

7:16 AM  
Blogger jenny said...

From a town standpoint I wonder how much income this is generating for their own school district and how much you could be subsidizing their own budget shortfalls. Hmmm. And how viable this would be to implement in other towns. Interesting.

I love the idea though, of being given a curriculum and guidance if you become a homeschooler due to circumstance (medical reasons, social issues) instead of choice.

7:21 AM  
Blogger SabrinaT said...

We have always called ourselves "halfschoolers". MY kids have and do attend the DOD school here part time. There is just no way I can teach Japanese II to my teenager...

I think its all about parent involvement. That really seems to be lacking for a lot of kids. Sending kids to a school for 7 hours a day doesn't alleviate a parents responsibility.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Obi-Mom Kenobi said...

As the Teacher *cough* Learning Coach *cough*, feel free to call yourself anything you want. Would you like to be an honorary Jedi? Because I'll make an official-in-my-own-head name badge for you, if you do.

I would be wary of the mandated program, but -- after hs'ing in loosy-goosey MI for so many years -- I'm wary of the fact that I even have to register at all in IA.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

Do you HAVE to do it, or is it just another option? If it's an option, fine - the more the merrier. If they are trying to go down the Mandated Curriculum road, then I would not be a fan.

I find my attitude toward the government to be complicated, but generally feel less contact is better. I think signing up for a virtual, state-controlled school system and accepting money for it could lead to a whole new batch of complications. And losing academic autonomy could be a BIG downside.

What if you don't like the k-12 curriculum and want out? What if you want to switch just the math with something else? What if you want to teach creation or abstinence or Latin? What if they want to control how much "socialization" your kids get? What if you get assigned a Real Teacher who hates home schooling or is a hoverer? What if you have a child with a special need that takes a lot of time away from formal academics?

Blech. I would lean toward No, Thank You. Plus, I am suspicious that they would just GIVE you the $3k when you weren't getting anything before - I'm betting that the district is getting more like $25K and to call your child a student and that pocketing the difference is their real motivation.

As to whether or not they call themselves Homeschoolers.....I'm with you - who cares?

I did once read an article written by someone who said she quit homeschooling her daughter after 4 years when she decided to send her to Kindergarten (yes, she parented for 4 years and called it homeschooling) and THAT irked me a little, but school-age people working at home can call themselves whatever they want.

For people who are members of HSLDA, they won't represent you if you are enrolled in a program like that, so that might be a concern for some people.

So - are you tempted? When would you have to decide?

9:35 AM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

Such great comments! You guys are awesome. Except for that slacker SabrinaT who can't handle Japanese II. (heh). And Bill who had to go and do what I asked him not to do.

Jenny, I do think Greenfield, like many schools, could use the money generated from this program. I don't think they are charging the other school districts "only" the cost for K12 but probably will see some extra money for their school. This is why I also think you'll see other districts starting to do similar things in coming years.

Deb, it's just another option and I doubt very much it would become mandatory----there have been people saying that this is just the first step in gov't control over ALL homeschoolers. I say that ain't gonna happen. But, check back with me in 10 years and we'll see if I was right. ; )

Right now, this is totally voluntary and you can withdraw at any time if you do not like it (you need to mail back the materials and computer, of course---I believe they send you a return mailing label if you need it). So, I think if I were to try it (and this is a big "if" right now), and it didn't work, no harm, no foul. Though I'm not sure if Greenfield would return the $$$ to my town, so it probably makes sense to finish out the school year.

There is no religion as far as I can tell, but who says you can't do that on your own? For people who believe in Creationism, I doubt ANY public school curriculum is going to be up their alley and this is not a concern of mine.

As for languages, they have Latin, French, German and Spanish in K12, and I *think* you can pick one. (that's actually better than what we have in our public school). I'd have to check that. I know one family is doing Spanish.

Your other points are valid but I don't think they really want to get into socialization or stuff like that. And if they did, I'd just quit. As far as HSLDA goes, no matter to me: We aren't members. We are heathens and they don't care for our kind.

10:03 AM  
Blogger LadyHash said...

Am I the Canadian you are referring too?! Or is my ego just getting in the way?

My boys are in British Columbia's distributed learning program. Programs are offered by many of the school districts, and they vary a lot. There are some Christian-based charter schools (*cough* Creationist loons *cough*), and hippy-dippy programs that cater to the unschooling crowd. Different schools offer different levels of accountability. Some require weekly scheduled contact, some offer complete program with daily lessons plans. Our program is mostly hands off. The school offers me advice, and access to a lot of subscription websites (Enchanted Learning, Encyclopedia Britannica, Riverdeep, to name a few), they host on line classes.

I submit a one page reporting document to our teacher (I'm a "tutor" -- which I thought was bad but isn't as lame "learning coach") every three months. In exchange my boys get a report card (it's the provincial standard form and shows we have perfect attendance! HA!) and I get a $1000 to spend on curriculum, sports programs, music lessons, art classes, paper, crayons, toner for the printers, etc. The school also hosts field trips, camps, museum outings and (for the high school crowd) an annual two-week European
tour.

I set our schedule & pick our curriculum. We have the option of completing the province's standardized testing if we want. And yes, I do get flak from people who think I'm not truly homeschooling, and that I'm somehow a traitor to the movement. But this system works well for us.

I should probably mention that homeschooling in Canada has historically been less about religion (all provinces have mechanisms to fund and monitor religious schools), but geographic isolation. Also the anti-government, libertarian movement is almost non-existent in Canada. Ya, know. On account of us being socialists.

Have you contacted the Greenfield school district about starting their own Virtual Public School? If they realize these schools could be an economic boon, they might start their own. You might be able to help set the parameters.

10:20 AM  
Blogger LadyHash said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:20 AM  
Blogger LadyHash said...

Clarification: I thought your home district was "Greenfield." So the first sentence in the last paragraph makes more sense if written as "Have you contacted your school district about starting their own Virtual Public School?"

Carry on.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

Oh, LadyHash, I love you so. Yes, you are the Canadian Homeschooler to whom I was referring but I never know if you want to be "outed" after you went underground with your blog.

Your comment cracked me up more than once. I love that you get perfect attendance. I wonder if it's possible to NOT get that as a homeschooler!?

10:33 AM  
Blogger Heather @Critter Chronicles said...

My opinion: if a parent is teaching his/her child at home, regardless of the curriculum or lack thereof, they are a homeschooler. There's a very big difference between sending a child to school five days a week, eight hours a day and HAVING THEM HOME WITH YOU ALL THE FREAKING TIME. *ahem* Can you tell what I struggle most with in this regard?

I considered K-12 for our program this year but ultimately decided it was too restrictive for me. My reason for homeschooling was to choose what my daughter learns and when; K-12 plans it for you, which is a wonderful thing for parents who want/need that level of structure and guidance. A military friend of mine used that program with her middle school kids when they were stationed in Hawaii because the public and DoDDs school there were awful. She loved it.

We have a public K-12 program in Colorado, too. I also had to send in a letter of intent, but didn't have to submit lesson plans or anything. I have my daughter enrolled in a one day homeschool enrichment program through a local charter school, all taught by veteran homeschool moms and with other homeschool kids. They handle the "specials" (art, music, PE) and will also provide a lot of my consumables and other educational aids if they have them. My daughter loves the socialization she misses from being home with me, and I love that the program and directors/teachers/parents support me when things get tough.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Krystan said...

The whole idea sounded tempting to me for a few minutes, but I feel like I'd be giving up too much. Autonomy is very important to me. I like choosing our content, tailoring each subject to each child. I like that your kids and mine are right now messing around with a balloon experiment in the back yard, teaching themselves about Newton's 3rd law of motion. They might not be able to recite it, but they get it.

Also, if our school system has to give up the money, and we're not going through them, would that mean we lose privileges like taking a class or participating in sports teams and theater? I would assume so.

Of course you're homeschooling if you're at home. At least that's my opinion. But there could be political implications if more and more homeschoolers are doing public school curriculum. It might end up being harder in the long run for everyone else. Again, that's just a guess.

Sounds nice, but possibly with too many strings attached?

11:04 AM  
Blogger Idaho Dad said...

We're in our 5th year of homeschooling (yes, I said homeschooling) through K12 and my state's Virtual Academy.

In all those years, we've always been free to learn as we please. There are a few rules you have to adhere to, such as the state testing and a few work submitted work samples.

But, for the most part, they leave us alone. The "teacher" calls us once a month to shoot the bull and praise us on making good progress and keeping attendance. Those "teachers" are there for anyone who might be having trouble, and I know people who have relied upon them for extra tutoring and such.

One really awesome thing about the Virtual Academy is the online meetings they have for kids. In the middle school years it's mandatory that the kids log-in, through a service called Elluminate, to math and language. My son doesn't really need it, but it's good reinforcement to hear the concepts taught by a live person and discussed with other 7th graders. He has pre-algebra on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and a language class on Wednesdays. Each about 45 minutes.

My 4th grade daughter has optional classes every few weeks for special projects, such as science, journalism, and research.

Other than that, it's all very relaxed. As longs as the "teacher" sees that your kids are making progress with the lessons, and your state test scores are good, they pretty much leave you alone.

If a family wants to substitute their own curriculum for one of the non-core, like art or history, that's not a problem. You just kind of keep quiet about it.

I find most of the K12 curriculum to be very good, and challenging. Some of the early history lessons are simplistic, but that just allows me to supplement with our own books or videos.

Best of all, because all lessons are marked off online, kids can follow their progress on the computer. They can actually watch little blue bars move closer to the end of the school year. That starts all sorts of scheming, as they want to double-up on some lessons so they can finish the year earlier.

Anyway, I highly recommend the virtual schools and K12. It offers a lot, but still allows enough flexibility to do your own thing.

Good luck!

11:17 AM  
Blogger Idaho Dad said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Idaho Dad said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Idaho Dad said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Idaho Dad said...

Yikes, sorry about the quadruple postings. It told me my comment was too large, so I was trying to edit it. Yet, it posted each comment just fine. Oh well.

Bottom line: Virtual Academy is well worth a try.

11:26 AM  
OpenID solsticemom said...

I think I'm going to look into virtual school. The principal called me today and things are going from bad to worse.

12:43 PM  
Blogger GBK Gwyneth said...

Our neighbor across the street uses the virtual school for her daughter. In casual conversation, I say that they are homeschoolers.

However, when it comes to the legal definition, they're not, and I do think we need to be clear on that where it matters. Homeschoolers in GA have to do xyz. But she doesn't. She has to do 123. Since she would not need a "Declaration of Intent", i wonder if she's eligible for homeschool discounts, etc. And so on ...

At the moment, virtual school is not right for us. But I'm not going to burn that bridge, just in case my path ends up making a detour!

4:11 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I don't know if you know this, but we were originally going to homeschool through a public charter (here in PA). It used the K12, Inc. curriculum. I joined their Yahoo! group and soon realized that EVERYONE was miserable. At first I though maybe it was one of those things where "the squeaky wheel gets the oil" but the school actually imploded and now its leaders are suing parents for what they said on the online forum?!?! Nuts, right.

They offered beautiful new laptops, super-slick curriculum and monthly field trips. PA has a bunch of cybers & every one of them is somewhat appealing.

Needsnewbatteries is right, people DO love their hierarchies.

I've seen a lot of people denounce public cybers as "public school." And, they are--because you are accountable to the school district for attendance, testing, etc.

Personally, I *hate* the term, "homeschooling." For me it brings to mind images of TLCs The Duggars--Michelle Duggar passing out 18 workbooks and then fawning into the camera lens as she tells America about her family.

EchUch!

Oh. Sorry. There was a little bit of vomit there on the back of my tongue.

Anyway...however you choose to do it, I believe if you have your kids at home [with you] instead of locked inside a beige, cinder block prison...you're a homeschooler.

I'm all over the place here...sorry about being so manic.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Lunch Buckets said...

I can tell you about my experience here in AZ. My daughter "attends" a virtual highschool. The curriculum is all online (web-based) and we did not receive a computer or supplies of any kind. Each class lasts 6 weeks and she usually does 3 at any given time. I absofreakin' love it but it sure wouldn't work for everyone.
BUT. When we started this a little over a year ago I was so excited to be able to join up with our local homeschoolers for enrichment activities, social stuff, things like that. I really wanted her to be in a group where not going to school was normal. Every single group that I contacted said no. No, no, nuh-uh and HELL NO. AZ homeschoolers do not consider us homeschoolers and that's that. And they're right in a way I suppose, but still. Really?
I will say if I had realized those options wouldn't have been available to me I might not have made the decision to pull her from her old school. It's a lot harder on your own.

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Lonibelle said...

hmmm. I think for political purposes, people doing K-12 are not homeschoolers. by any other criteria, of course they are!

7:09 AM  
Anonymous mrs. q. said...

Your children are homeschooled. Suri Cruise, is not. If you pay someone to teach your child, even if it's at home, well, that's tutoring.

Very interested to hear more about this new schooling option. Partly because our own school system is imploding and I feel like I'm failing my children if I don't explore better options. Now there seems so many versions of homeschooling, my head is spinning...

But I am really bummed that they would be required to take the MCAS. That is a bogus requirement, but hopefully phased out soon due to the national testing standards.

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I looked into the virtual school last spring and from what I read, the sending district pays Greenfiels about $5000 per student.
That is more than our home district spends per pupil! I looked into the K12 curriculum before it was a public option in MA and I spoke to a representative at K12. The curriculum and supplies were appealing but I didn't feel they would meet my needs. I have 2 children who homeschool for completely different reasons.

Technically, this Virtual School in MA IS considered PUBLIC SCHOOL. They control the content, testing, etc.,. Homeschoolers in any state can BUY the K12 curriculum if your state does not offer virtual school as an option (this was the case in MA before Greenfield got approval for the Virtual school). I commend Greenfield School district for offering MA residents another educational option. It is up to each family to choose what works best for them.

It is sad that Homeschooling groups would exclude students who are looking for enrichment. We sometimes bring my children's public school friends on "field trips". I feel that it is important to give (all children) the opportunity to learn that there are many ways to do things... If the situation you are in isn't working for you, you can change it. Empowering a child is an amazing thing! What a great opportunity to share a positive educational experience with families who may not otherwise be exposed to homeschooling as an option.

12:32 PM  

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