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Public Cyber Charter School – Is it Homeschooling?

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Cyber schools have gained in popularity over the last several years as yet another educational option, adding to what can be a confusing mixture of educational choice terminology. For example, Pennsylvania has the following options: public school, private school, non-public religious day school, home education, homebound instruction, private tutoring and now cyber schools. In order to protect the freedom of parents to direct the education of their children regardless of their educational choice, a clear distinction must be maintained between the different options. This essay seeks to focus on the distinction between cyber schools, especially public cyber charter schools, and home education.

In Pennsylvania, home education is regulated by Act 169 of 1988. A copy of that legislation and discussion of its application can be found at HomeEdLaw.html With home education, the parent or guardian retains control of the educational program. They assume complete responsibility for the expense and provision of their child’s education. They have full liberty to choose curriculum and plan how their days are spent. Home education is not to be confused with "homebound" instruction, which is a form of public education offered to students who frequently miss school due to illness or behavioral problems.

Cyber schools primarily use a computer-based curriculum and accountability methods via internet access. There are two options for parents using cyber schools: public and private. With a private cyber school or a distance correspondence school, the burden of expense for materials is borne by the parent. As a consumer, the parent retains the right to control the program. However, when the state provides the curriculum free of charge, it is done so at state expense through the cyber school’s application for a charter. These cyber schools are referred to as “public cyber charter schools”. The state rightfully insists on accountability for the use of these government funds and for the education of the students enrolled in their school. The student's education is not ultimately overseen and directed by the parent as with homeschooling, but rather the family is accountable to a teacher in the employ of the cyber school. The public cyber charter student is a public school student even though he may do all of his schoolwork at home under the direct supervision of a parent.

The public cyber charter option is an attractive alternative for many families, especially in Pennsylvania where home education is highly regulated. Public cyber charter schools may indeed provide a way out of difficult school classrooms or burdensome home education requirements. However, it must be understood that participation in a public cyber charter school is not homeschooling or home education as the terms are generally understood and legally defined. They differ in essence and ultimately in accountability. Since home educators take full responsibility for their children’s education, they maintain the position of authority as sole directors of that education. On the other hand, public cyber charter students, though under the influence of their parents and in the confines of their home, are fully accountable to the state. Their curriculum has been provided by the state and they are accountable for their progress to teachers employed by the state. They are responsible to meet standards and objectives outlined in state regulations. A public cyber charter school is not the equivalent of home education.

The tendency to blur the distinction between home education and public cyber charter school will erode the freedom parents enjoy to direct the education of their children, regardless of the educational method chosen. Therefore, it is imperative to maintain the distinction between home education and public school conducted in the home. Instead of following the trend to blur this distinction, the public school family should be aware that those who home educate are helping to retain the freedom of educational choice for all families. As long as home educators exist to take full responsibility for the direction and expense of their children's education, they remind the state that children are not “mere creatures of the state”. Public cyber charter families, as well as families using any other educational option, enjoy a measure of control over the direction of their children's education because home educators insist upon maintaining that control. Should the state manage to entirely regulate the educational process of every child, whether or not the state is paying for that education, everyone will lose. Preserving the essence of home education preserves parental rights in educational choice.
2004 Pennsylvania Home Educators Association
 
 
Please direct all comments on this issue to PHEABoard@phea.net