Homeschooling Styles and Methods: ‘Independent’ homeschooling

‘Independent’ Homeschooling
Virtual instruction
In-home school


‘Independent’ Homeschooling 

This section tends more towards the political and business aspects of home education, and tiptoes around the illusory meaning of ‘homeschooling.’  When the word ‘homeschooling’ was first coined, all homeschoolers were independent of government school control within the bounds of each state’s laws. At the time, most schools and curriculum suppliers wanted nothing to do with education renegades, so homeschooling parents were on their own. Homeschooling meant independence, so putting ‘independent’ in front of ‘homeschooling’ would have been redundant — as if someone talking about Tuesday night’s supper called it ‘independent home cooking.’ 

Virtual instruction

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the eagerness of parents to use computer instruction to tutor their children[1] sharpened the vision of business leaders.  These leaders shifted some of their mainstream market focus to the emerging homeschooling market[2]. Public school educators also recognized in computer instruction the possibility of regaining control of the children whose parents had removed them from the everyday gaze of a teacher.  Could computer instruction turn a profit if teachers virtually supervised children? 

By 2004, taxpayer-funded K to 12 schooling sported a half-trillion dollar price-tag[3], so business leaders, scenting profit, were as eager to participate in the nation’s quest for education as if they were legislators who had discovered a new sin to tax.  Education business leaders and public school supervisors both noticed that homeschooling is not the crashing failure some people were sure it would be, so the light-bulb idea of introducing the families in the ‘homeschooling market’ to virtual teaching clicked.[4]  Still, The words used to describe attracting homeschooling families back to public education shows that some people view those families as wandering sheep in need of recapture.[5] [6] [7]

From making a buck (by selling programs) to saving a buck (through lowered costs)[8], businesses and government embraced the model of supervised learning delivered into homes by computer. To deliver the lessons, the education corporations and state school systems cooperate with each other, otherwise the blackboard calculations of profit or loss would stop with the screech of a broken stick of chalk.  The software corporations make greater profits selling to the state systems than they would by offering their products only to the public, and by developing virtual public school programs the corporations tap into states’ public school funds.[9]  With the virtual programs, the school systems save some of the costs of buildings, buses, teacher retirements and employee health insurance.[10]

Governments have deeper pockets than parents do, even large groups of parents.  In the case of virtual public schools in homes, the client with the most money is the school system that has contracted with a provider, not the families the program attracted.  Unless this situation is unusual, the client with the most money has the most pull with the provider, so providers will structure programs to reflect the needs of a school system, not the needs of the individuals using the programs.


In-home school

This entry of public money into the world of at-home schooling marked the beginning of the need for an adjective to distinguish homeschooling from the look-alike public schooling programs used in homes. From the outside, homeschooling and public school at home look the same to the neighbors:  kids stay home, parents teach kids.  Because advertising for e-schools, virtual academies and cyber-charters blurred the lines between homeschooling and public school at home[11], writers added the qualifier “independent” to homeschooling to separate the two models of at-home school.

But differences between the two models remain.  The most common surprise for parents might be that the public school at home service may fall under different laws than does homeschooling.  Schools and some legislators also have a different attitude than do homeschooling parents towards who is in charge of the children’s educations.[12] [13]  High-stakes testing may also be a difference, depending on state law, but this may not trouble parents who were publicly schooled themselves (as most of us have been), nor parents whose homeschooling education has been sidetracked by corporate advertising for publicly-supervised virtual school programs.  For people who value the label of homeschooler, businesses stand to make big money by convincing parents that public school at home is homeschooling.[14]   Homeschooling families, though, were not universally enthusiastic about big business’s discovery of them,[15] despite the possible benefit of taxpayer-funded schooling.



Another problem with the confusion about whether public school at home is homeschooling or not, is that this confusion may lead non-homeschooling taxpayers to think that ‘homeschoolers’ are spending the public dime without public oversight.  Because of this, some taxpayers may call for increased oversight of ‘homeschoolers’ to enforce ‘accountability.’ 

 Some members of the public believe that homeschooling parents are using public money through the online public e-schools, but that these parents do not answer to the state through standardized testing.[16]  Many members of the public feel that all parents teaching children at home should be ‘accountable’ regardless of the method used by the families, but they don’t say whether the accountability is for using the money provided by taxpayers, or that all children should be schooled according to a standard formula.[17] [18] [19] [20]

Parents who homeschool independently both choose and fund their children’s educations. Opinions vary among home educators as to how ‘independent’ one must be in order to be thought of as a homeschooler.  People who wish to take the discussion to an ad absurdum length have asked that if a family uses a correspondence or umbrella school are the children in the family private-school students instead of homeschoolers?  Despite this type of hair-splitting, the sense of homeschooling must have some limit or the word ‘homeschooling’ ends up meaning either any kind of schooling a parent chooses or ‘directs’[21], or any kind of instruction that happens at home.  Using the model that the sense of a word is whatever the user intends the word to mean, ends up meaning nothing at all.[22] 

[1] “Educational programs vary widely in quality and range” by Peter Mucha.  Houston Chronicle, 19 August 1990  
” These reviews deal with programs that teach basic educational skills in a traditional way. … Most of these programs are also available in versions for Commodore and Apple computers; more and more are available for Macintoshes.”

[2] Blended School Project (BSP), Okaloosa County School District, 17 July 2002  
“Many private organizations and enterprises have entered the K-12 distance education field with their sights set on home schoolers as a primary audience (Hill 2000).”

[3] Remarks by Secretary Paige at the Executive Leaders Forum, Committee of 100, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. U.S. Department of Education, 28 June 2004
“It’s time we recognized a central, cardinal fact: education is a big business. It is a huge part of our economy, a large segment of our gross national product. Last year, as a nation, we spent more than half a trillion dollars on K-12 education. This was on the local, state and federal levels. Our nation’s educational efforts are a large financial endeavor-rivaling spending on the defense, agriculture, transportation, telecommunications or entertainment sectors. It is time we used a little business sense to straighten out our schools.”

[4] Knowledge Universe launches K12, an online school for kindergarten through high school.  Internet Strategies for Education Markets: The Heller Report ,  Feb, 2001

[5] Public School Reform: Potential Lessons from the Truly Departed, by  J. Dan Marshall.  Pennsylvania State University.  Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8 August 1996 
“Returning to the Public School Fold. … Looking at the question differently, nearly 60% of these home educators take the position that nothing short of personal catastrophe or the long arm of the law would get their children back into public schools.”

[6] “Who Is Pat Lines and Why Is She Writing About Homeschooling?,” by Larry and Susan Kaseman.  Home Education Magazine Taking Charge column, November/December 2003 
“Lines’ monograph encourages school districts to establish programs to draw homeschoolers into public schools. “Quite practically,” she writes, “districts are seeking to regain some of the students they have lost to homeschooling.” (p. 7) She describes one district working to “recapture students lost to the district because of homeschooling.” (p. 24)”

[7] Newark Digital Academy.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 26 August 2005
“This is a way for us to try to bring students who have been homeschooled back into the fold,” said Kathy Ward, the academy director.”

[8] Cost Guidelines for State Virtual Schools:  Development, Implementation and Sustainability.  Southern Regional Education Board, Atlanta, Georgia, August 2006

[9] Tacky connections around the country.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 20 February 2006

[10] “Virtual schools see strong growth, calls for more oversight.”  Christian Science Monitor, 14 May 2008

[11] Another On-Line Charter School Continues Threat to Homeschooling in Ohio.  Ohio Home Education Coalition, Revised April, 2002

[12] Customer manipulation.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 15 August 2008  
“The presenter of the session told teachers to be diplomatic in setting ground rules for home instruction and to avoid seeming to read from a script. She advised them how to disarm parents who raised various procedural objections.”

[13] IL: Parents “may engage only in non-teaching duties.”  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 10 March 2009

[14] NCLB, homeschooling, and the cost of the nation’s K-12 spending.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 7 September 2007 
“It is true that state-funded schooling, virtual or brick & mortar, does not cost families direct tuition, but the programs are not free. I doubt that any curriculum-provider/virtual school just drops off the materials at the state DoE and then drives away. It is unlikely that the virtual providers are happy with only the warm glow of satisfaction from providing an education for the children any more than teachers show up at neighborhood schools without the expectation of paychecks. K-12, Inc.’s $8,000,000 net income (meaning the money left after K-12’s obligations are paid) did not fall off a printing press.”

[15] The Seduction of Homeschooling Families. Chris Cardiff, The Freeman, Ideas on Liberty, March 1998  

[16] Senate candidates discuss education.  Topix forum, April 2008  
“Do these two know how much Home Schooling costs our schools?
“This entire system is one hugh (sic) scam. These aren’t all kids sitting around the kitchen table while mommy tells them about addition. These are kids who sit at computers that we buy & using software that we pay for.”

[17] .  “How William Bennett’s Public E-Schools Affect Homeschooling” by Larry and Susan Kaseman.  Home Education Magazine Taking Charge column, Nov/Dec 2002 
“But the principle I’m defending, Mark, is school choice, parental choice. The objection they have is that it shouldn’t be involved in public funding, at all. It shouldn’t be involved with government schools, as they say. But, I’m not prepared to relinquish $400 billion and just say, well never mind, this is not money that I’m entitled to. Parents are paying that money in taxes, they should have an option within the public school system that gives them a chance to educate their children at home, but be publicly accountable as all public schools should be.”

[18] Military Child Education Coalition receives grant to support “highly mobile” families.  Military Child Education Coalition press release, 18 February 2009 
“Specifically, the Military Child Education Coalition is advocating for adoption of the American Diploma Project (ADP), which was conceived by Achieve, Inc. in 2001. ADP defines K-12 math benchmarks, which it packages into a Common Core.”

[19] American Diploma Project Network

[20] New Jersey homeschool oversight proposal.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 1 October 2008

[21] Homeschooling is “a” choice, not “school choice.”  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 25 September 2008

[22] No homeschooling to write about.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 18 April 2008

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