Is There a Downside to Charter Schools?
Despite the arguments of its proponents, the charter school movement is not a panacea for the ills of the public school system. Studies on whether charter schools heighten academic performance are inconclusive; however, critics point out that accurate comparisons between charter and traditional public schools are difficult to make.9 Many virtual charters specifically contract with for-profit companies. Some critics also point out that charter schools accept government and tax payer dollars without promising adequate accountability.
In addition to the above concerns, many homeschoolers have an even broader slate of worries. Virtual charter schools have been aggressive in targeting homeschoolers, sending multiple mailings and marketing materials to persuade them that this form of public education qualifies as “homeschooling.” In reality, virtual charter school administrators are competing with traditional public schools for the thousands of dollars per student in state funds that they receive if they bring more homeschoolers into the public school system. Some new homeschoolers may lack the confidence to educate their children without professional supervision or government money, and the virtual charter school programs seem like a dream come true. However, children who are enrolled in virtual charter schools must follow all of the program’s policies and procedures, which include restrictions such as exclusion of religious educational materials as part of the formal curriculum. Parents who choose these programs must realize that in accepting virtual public schools into their homes, they are also accepting the bureaucracy and government supervision that is linked to accepting tax dollars.
What is HSLDA’s Position on Charter Schools?
HSLDA believes that a distinction between virtual charter schools and homeschooling is vital. While charter schools provide parents with another choice, we emphasize that they are still public schools in every sense of the word.
HSLDA also strongly cautions homeschoolers against enrolling in virtual charter schools. Many homeschoolers are seduced by attractive marketing and forget that virtual charter schools are actually controlled by the public school system. HSLDA does not represent students enrolled in full-time charter school programs.
HSLDA is also concerned that virtual charter schools will negatively impact the public and American lawmakers’ understanding of what it means to homeschool. For nearly three decades, we have worked to define homeschooling as privately led and parent-directed education within the home. If virtual charter schools are accepted as “homeschools,” it will be much more difficult for traditional homeschoolers to separate the two in the minds of lawmakers and to obtain legal protections for their “class” of homeschooling. We thus advocate strict adherence to a narrow definition of the word “homeschooling.”
In addition, virtual charter schools still suffer from multiple accountability challenges. Having that group of schools lumped with homeschools can lower the homeschool “average” academic scores and undo much of our effort to demonstrate homeschoolers’ academic excellence.
Finally, we caution homeschoolers that participation in virtual charter schools counts as participation in public schools, and invites increased government regulation over the inner workings of their homes.
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