Charter Homeschool Programs
Charter schools were authorized by the California legislature in 1992 to support innovation in public education. Since the passage of charter school law, an increasing number of charter schools have been designed by and for homeschooling families. Because each charter school operates under its own charter, before deciding to use a particular charter school, homeschooling families should consider whether a particular charter school's policies meet the needs of their family.
Many families find that the decision to enroll in a charter school program can have a profound effect on how they structure their lives. Just as there is a wide spectrum of homeschooling philosophies within the homeschool movement, so there is a broad spectrum of philosophies among various charter schools; they offer a variety of benefits and vary in their accountability and testing requirements. However, all homeschool charter schools must conform to the requirements of both charter school law and, since January of 2000, independent study program (ISP) requirements as well. What follows is a description of how charter school homeschool programs generally operate.
Parents enroll their child in a charter school by completing an enrollment contract. This document states the policies of the charter school and the requirements that the parents, student, and the credentialed teacher must legally meet. Once all three sign the enrollment contract, the child is legally enrolled. The school agrees to provide specific types of support and resources to the family, and the family agrees to abide by an instructional plan.
Charter schools provide resources that can include cash, computers, textbooks, and other instructional materials, depending on what is specified in that school's charter. The instructional plan specifies what the student is expected to accomplish in the time period between meetings. Whereas some charter schools operate much like a traditional independent study program in which the credentialed teacher dictates what assignments the child must complete, other schools provide for a great deal of input and flexibility in assignments. Some charter schools also offer either enrichment classes and/or supplemental money to pay for classes taken elsewhere or to pay for supply purchases.
Independent study regulations require that the student meet with a credentialed teacher on a regular basis. "Regular" meetings are defined by each school; some charter schools require weekly meetings, some monthly, whereas others meet with parents every eight weeks. The California Department of Education specifies the number of instructional minutes that are required of each grade level. Students can claim credit for these instructional minutes by doing hands-on projects, going on field trips, or by participating in family activities. Acceptable forms of documentation may include photos, journals, dictation, etc. Charter schools vary in how much documentation is required; some schools require accountability for every instructional minute while other schools simply require that the teacher document that the child performed an amount of work sufficient for the attendance claimed and that she obtain representative samples of the child's work.
Before enrolling in any charter school program, parents should consider the pros and cons. Families who enroll in charter schools benefit from the financial and emotional support that charters provide. In addition, many families treasure being part of a learning community. For many families who are new to homeschooling, doing it alone can feel overwhelming. They gain a certain sense of security in having someone else's input. Charter school participation can also provide field trip opportunities and classes that would otherwise be unaffordable for many families.
Although enrollment in a charter school may offer many benefits, it also has its downside. Some families may find it more difficult to look at a child's strengths and weaknesses without comparing her to what is considered "normal." For many families, one of the greatest benefits of deciding to homeschool lies in the freedom to celebrate the unfolding of the whole child on his/her own schedule. It is so easy, especially with charter programs that are rigid, to feel pressured into making a child perform in order to turn in the required amount of work or so that he or she will score well on the standardized tests. Families need to monitor whether or not their participation in a charter school actually enriches or detracts from their life and their homeschooling journey, especially as charter schools experience more and more pressure to be accountable.
For further information, contact your local charter school directly. For referrals to charter schools in California go to http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cs/.
Reprinted with the permission of the HomeSchool Association of California. © 2007–2008 by HomeSchool Association of California. All rights reserved.
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