Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Free Online Homeschool? Maybe not.

Government funded "public school at home" programs are often confused with homeschooling. Accidental homeschoolers who are unsure of where to begin the homeschooling process will frequently make inquiries of the school district where their student is currently enrolled. Too often, the state's public-school-at-home program is the only option offered. Many parents sign up for these programs before they understand the choices available in home education.

States receive school funding based, in part, on the number of students enrolled. Students in these alternate programs are regarded as public school students for the purpose of funding. Public-school-at-home students are not subject to any of the state's homeschooling laws and are not recognized as homeschoolers by the school district.

Why do many homeschoolers insist on drawing a line between "real homeschooling" and "public school at home"? It's because they understand there are significant differences between the two. Although the word "homeschool" might cause one to focus on the physical location where education takes place, the more important difference is who directs the education. For this reason, the unwieldy term "parent directed education" is sometimes suggested as a replacement for "homeschool".

An examination of the reasons families give for choosing to educate their children at home helps make the differences clear.

If your child learns more slowly, more easily, or "differently" than other children, public-school-at-home may not offer the hoped-for change. Students enrolled in these programs are subject to the same scheduling restraints as their traditionally educated peers. Some of the programs suggest that a student can progress at their own rate, but this is only true to a degree. The work completed on a day-to-day basis may not be monitored, but the student is still expected to turn in a certain number of assignments per week, month, or quarter.

Parents are not free to modify or omit assignments. One mother shared that her son had always been very interested in outer space. He could name the planets and identify numerous constellations by the time he was three. Still, he was required to spend two weeks studying basic concepts dealing with outer space that he had learned years ago. This parent felt her son's time would have been better spent practicing his multiplication facts . . . something he had yet to master.

If you have had disagreements with your child's teachers, think twice before signing up for public-school-at-home. All of these programs require periodic contact with the supervising teacher. In the past, you and your child's teacher may have had a difference of opinion regarding the student's effort or abilities. When you get involved with home-based public education, evaluations address more than just your student's progress. Suddenly, your effectiveness as a tutor is also considered. This can create problems if you know your student requires unconventional methods in order to learn.

If you are committed to your child receiving a public school education, but issues such as health or frequent relocating prevent your child from attending school on a regular basis, public-school-at-home may be right for you. If you hope to avoid a one-size-fits-all curriculum because your student is gifted or has special needs, because your family enjoys a nontraditional schedule, or because interactions at public school have been less than positive for your child or you, you might want to consider learning the homeschool laws in your state and choosing a flexible online curriculum like Time4Learning.

Time4Learning allows students to proceed at their own pace. Lessons may be done in any order. Parents can choose to have their student skip or repeat lessons as needed. Students can work at different grade levels for each subject. Tests may be given or eliminated, open-book or traditional. Parents can tailor how Time4Learning is used to meet the needs of their own students. The price is less than twenty dollars per month, with discounts for additional students and no contract.

The schools' own advertising takes care to explain that their at-home programs are not homeschooling. Public school at home may be a legitimate choice in some cases, but be sure to explore all the options before signing on the dotted line.

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