At one time or another, many homeschool families examine the possibility of enrolling in an umbrella or cyber school. An umbrella school is a homeschool program operated by public charter schools or directly by regular public schools. We can be counted amongst them.
I eluded to this briefly on a Facebook post in October but have yet to elaborate on our decision until now. I suppose I wanted to give it some time to see how well the administration followed up on their promises. When we lived in California, we tried a charter school for a term but withdrew as we felt we had been misled and the kids spent an inordinate amount of time undertaking one standardized test or another – rarely engaging in the enrichment opportunities we had been promised. Other than this short blip, we had always homeschooled independently.
I am not opposed to public education. I am in fact, a certified teacher. Before beginning a family of my own, I taught full-time. I continue to work in the school system today as a substitute teacher and home tutor. I am an advocate for choice and have always advised those who have asked my opinion to forge their own path.
A year after we moved back to Oregon, we again began to consider the possibility of enrolling in a charter school. A friend of my daughter (a homeschool teen) informed us she had done so but would be taking all her coursework at the college. “They will cover all my tuition costs,” she explained. “I can do my high school work all online whenever I wish.”
When we looked into it, we learned that while her statement was true, they wouldn’t be able to continue swimming on our local high school swim team. In Oregon, homeschooled students are permitted to take part in extra-curricular activities including sports with the permission of the principal. While our resident district would allow homeschooled students to participate, they would not permit students enrolled at another school. Being a part of the team was important to my daughter, or so she believed at the time, so we tabled the discussion.
As the 2016-17 school year came to a close, both of my children began to lose interest in swim team. While this is a topic for another post, their decision to close that chapter of their lives lead to new opportunities.
When we began to re-consider, my daughter had already earned 24 college credits which we had paid for out of pocket. It was important for us that she continue to have this opportunity. Our local high school didn’t generally allow students to begin dual enrollment coursework until their junior or senior year. As a high school sophomore, I wanted to assure she would be able to continue the path we had begun independently.
Benefits of a Partnership
There are a variety of advantages cited by homeschoolers choosing to participate in a charter school. Amongst them are the accredited high school diploma, access to enrichment classes, a laptop computer or chrome book, Internet access, software, textbooks, and support by certified teachers – of course these benefits vary by institution.
Often, charter schools offer expeditionary, project-based learning that the district-based school does not. Though publicly funded, their independence allows them to offer specialized courses and approaches that neighborhood schools can not.
The biggest plus for partnering with the school we chose was that my daughter’s tuition costs at the college would be paid (up to 12 credits per term). In essence, she would be able to earn her associate’s degree while also fulfilling high school graduation requirements. Two years of college, paid for. That’s too big a carrot to not give it a try.
I was also assured that their independent pursuits could be translated to credit on their high school transcript. My son’s passion for Minecraft and YouTube, for example, could be morphed into a class on “multimedia technology”. My children’s continued private lessons in Mandarin could be translated into credits on their transcripts.
The only obligation on our part was to provide evidence of their work in these project-based experiences, essentially an activity log as well as samples of their work that would be evaluated by a licensed teacher.
Logically, they would also be obligated to take part in state testing. Oregon public schools test students in English language arts and math in grades 3 through 8 and 11, and in science and social sciences in grades 5, 8, and 11. While I am not a fan of standardized tests, I could agree to an occasional test.
Loss of Freedom?
As any homeschool family will tell you, private homeschooling is thriving, with no help from the government. The studies all show homeschoolers are academically above average from the elementary level all the way through college.
Opponents of charter schools that cater to homeschoolers will tell you that homeschoolers returning to government schools puts this freedom at risk. The fear is that as homeschoolers “yoke” together with the public schools through charter school programs and cyber schools, the public schools and the state will once again dictate to us our curriculum, teacher qualifications, and methods.
This could be true, but I am confidant that we can also change the system. The best way to do that is by being involved and proactively seeking strategies and solutions that are in the best interest of our children.
We all want what is best for our children. Education is not a one-size fits all solution. Being involved and willing to give voice to my expectations, hopes, and vision can only help to provoke change.