EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was published April 2019. The information included was accurate at the time of publication. Additional laws regarding public independent study programs and charter schools have been passed by the California legislature since this time.
by Katie Julius
According to the California Department of Education (CDE), there are currently over 1,300 charter schools in the state of California. The 600,000 students attending these schools account for 10% of the school age children in the state and 20% of the entire charter school population in the nation (Source). While these numbers include traditional brick-and-mortar charter schools, many of them are independent study, public, school-at-home charter schools, at which enrollment has exploded in recent years. More often than not, when you meet a family who is “homeschooling” in California today, they are doing so through one of these charters. So, how does a public school-at-home charter work and why is it different than private home education?
Public School & Government Oversight
When enrolling in a school-at-home charter school, it’s important to recognize that it is a public school. Your children are independent study public school students and you are subject to the laws that govern public charter schools. You sign an Independent Study “master agreement” with the charter school for each student enrolled (Educ. Code § 51747(c)(8)(A)). The funds that these schools offer you are public tax dollars. In exchange for these funds, there is government oversight across several areas of your home school.
Perhaps the biggest influence charter schools have is in the selection of curriculum. Just as in traditional public schools, religious curriculum is not permitted. While some charter schools and their teachers promise that families can use whichever curriculum they want as long as it is purchased by the parent and not used as a work sample, others require that students show their entire body of work to their teachers during their meetings. Telling parents they can simply omit faith-based school work samples skirts the requirement that public charter school curriculum be non-sectarian. (Educ. Code § 47605(d)(1))
Additionally, in a sample master agreement found on one charter school’s website, the student agrees to complete the coursework outlined in the master agreement, “and as assigned by the credentialed teacher of record.” The charter school teacher is also agreeing to be responsible for the “assignment, supervision, and assessment of approved coursework.” While many charter schools currently give parents the freedom to select curriculum for their students enrolled in an Independent Study Program, this can change at any time, and some schools’ Master Agreements, signed by students, parents, and teachers, already include this provision.
Sure, you are free to teach your children as you wish on your own time, just as you would provide religious instruction to a child who was attending a traditional public school. However, in a private home education setting, faith-based instruction often overlaps our “regular” school time. If enrolled in a school-at-home charter, the desire to incorporate faith in education is in direct conflict with California’s Educational Code that public schools be non-sectarian in all areas. Public school-at-home families are compromising their right to freely exercise their faith as it relates to their children’s education. It is difficult to find a clear line of separation. Our faith is woven into all aspects of our education.
One particular area of concern recently has been the California Healthy Youth Act. While some aspects can be opted out of, there is a real possibility that all charter schools, including those specializing in home-based instruction utilized by public, school-at-home families, will be required to teach this information to all students. It remains to be seen exactly how this will be implemented in school-at-home charters, but it has been made clear that government officials have the goal of controlling exactly what our children are learning and this will not be the last law families will have to fight against to maintain control.
As a private school, homeschooled students must meet the graduation requirements determined by their private school (which is the parent if you file a Private School Affidavit). These requirements can be tailored to each student or the family’s needs or future plans. Adversely, a student who is enrolled in an independent study program with a public, school-at-home charter school is required to meet the state mandated graduation requirements in order to earn their high school diploma. (Inspire Handbook – Graduation Requirements)
Teacher of Record
When a student is enrolled in a charter school, they are assigned a teacher. The title of this “teacher” varies–teacher facilitator, educational advisor, educational specialist, educational coach–but they are all California credentialed teachers who become the teacher of record in your student’s cumulative file. (Educ. Code § 47605(l))
The level of involvement by these teachers varies greatly, not only from school to school, but even from teacher to teacher. Charter school teachers meet with students once per learning period (at least once every 20 days (Valiant FAQ)) to review the work that has been completed, answer questions, and collect required work samples. These meetings can occur via video conferencing or in person (Valiant FAQ). Teachers also answer questions that parents may have, offer curriculum suggestions, approve orders for educational materials, and complete the paperwork required by the school and state.
While a charter school teacher may get input from the parent regarding assessments and grades, ultimately, they are responsible for the “assignment of all grades and credits earned and report the information for inclusion in student’s permanent record” (Sage Oak Sample Master Agreement). They also “ensure that students are making appropriate progress throughout the school year” (Valiant How It Works). What happens when you don’t agree with a charter school teacher’s assessment of your student’s work or their progress?
Just as traditional public schools have a calendar of instruction days, charter schools also have a school calendar to include their holidays, breaks, and required attendance days. When enrolled, the expectation is that you are providing instruction to your children on the days that school is “in session.” Some schools require a signature certifying compliance, which means providing instruction on each and every day that school is scheduled (Sage Oak Parent Handbook). There is no flexibility to reschedule your schooling days as there is when you are determining your own school schedule as a private home school. According to CCR Section 11960, “charter school pupils [shall be] engaged in educational activities required of them by their charter schools on days when school is actually taught in their charter schools.” This also means that learning that occurs on the weekend or a holiday (via field trip or otherwise) should not be counted toward the student’s attendance by the school.
Some charters include a suggested amount of time that students should be engaged in learning activities each day, noting that this learning should occur during school hours. According to one parent handbook, parents are expected to be “continuously supporting your student in daily learning during school hours, for a suggested four to six hours daily.” (Inspire Handbook)
One of the primary reasons many Christians choose to educate their children at home is because they do not wish to have the government involved in the education of their children in any way. Due to government oversight found in public, school-at-home charter programs, CHEA believes private home education is the singular option for parents who want to give their children a distinctively biblically based education at home and/or who want complete freedom to direct the education and upbringing of their children. However, we acknowledge that families choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons. Arming them with complete and accurate information can help families make the best decision(s) for their situation.
For information about privately homeschooling in California, please visit www.cheaofca.org.