Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is K12 Really Homeschooling?

The local homeschooling discussion has erupted around the topic of K12, a public school-at-home program. Is it homeschooling or not?

I'm not an expert, but here's how I understand it: If you sign up for K12, you can take your child out of school, and teach your child at home. You receive a curriculum and a computer, you are connected to a teacher to help you. All of this is free to you. Instead of footing the bill for an expensive curriculum, you get all the materials you'll need to keep him or her right up to speed with the school kids. Sounds like a deal.

There are, of course, negatives. You have to keep a rigid attendance record, you have to follow the program exactly, and your child's work gets graded by the teacher at the public school. The school receives money from the government, based on your child's attendance, so your school is still the one responsible for your child's education, not you.

It's controversial. The public school people are saying, hey, if you like to homeschool, that's fine! We'll help you do that, and it's FREE! The homeschooling community responds that K12 isn't homeschooling in any other way than the location of the child's desk. It is a government sponsored public school education, which happens to take place in your home. The parents have no say in what is studied, how fast the lessons progress, or what grades are received. One of the main reasons a lot of us homeschool is to take charge of our own kids' education, and K12 definitely keeps the reins in the hands of the public school system.

Now, it's also possible to pay for the K12 curriculum and do it on your own, outside the school's guidance. And in some states it's not even possible to do it for free, because that kind of virtual charter school isn't available everywhere yet. The reason for all the local controversy is that it's just become available in one county in Western Virginia. And peopole have begun singing its praises on local homeschooling e-lists.

The problem is that K12 kind of presents itself as homeschooling when it's really not. For people who only want to homeschool because they don't want their children physically in the school building, it might be fine. But K12 will not help anyone who is looking to improve on a public school education. You can, of course, supplement and enrich what they're getting from K12, just like you can if youd kid is in any school, but you will be keeping an hourly log of studies, and the school will still be dictating what you study, and when, and for how long.

Nothing is really free, right? K12 isn't free either.

One can understand why local homeschoolers are quick to demand that K12 advocates use the appropriate terminology when describing it. Our right to homeschool our children is precious, and if a public-school-at-home program is seen as equivalent to a parent-led or child-led education outside the school system altogether, that's a problem. You can imagine lawmakers pondering the question: If those nuts are so intent on homeschooling, why can't they all just use K12? Tthen the public schools can still be funded for all their children that have been removed from the system! Lovely for the public schools. Not so lovely for those of us who want more for our kids than a forced march through the Standards of Learning.

One person on one of the lists actually told us she was going to keep all emails promoting K12 as homeschooling and send them to an attorney. Right about now, if you logged on to any of our lists and said you were homeschooling with K12, you'd probably get pelted with used Latin textbooks. They are right to be protective of their terms.

However, as K12 comes into our state, and more people inevitably start using it, and start attending park days and commenting on our e-lists, attending our classes, we have to be aware of the way we talk about these "terms" around the children. A child doing K12 at home for free is feeling a lot of the same things about homeschooling as a child whose parents spent $1000 on a different curriculum, or the child who is unschooled, or the child doing a correspondence course. The kids don't know the difference.

While we can dispute nomenclature among outselves on discussion lists populated by opinionated adults, it's important we don't make these kids (or parents) feel any less welcome or part of things because they're doing K12. Maybe what I'm saying is obvious, and my concern is unfounded, but it worries me that an unnecessary rift may be created here, in a community that needs to stick together. Our legal needs may be different, but our social needs, and surely the social needs of our kids, are the same. I think the answer is to do the best we can to educate people about what K12 really is, and then to say, if they choose to do it anyway, and if it's really what they want, "Welcome to the party. Come take a seat by me."

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