District Agrees to Stop Calling Online Program a Homeschool
by Scott Woodruff • May 1, 2019
What would you think of a program that promotes itself as a “Homeschool Program,” a “Homeschool Academy,” and a “Homeschool learning environment”? If you guessed it’s a homeschool program, in this instance you would be wrong. This is an online, public school program offered by Mehlville School District (MSD).
While I have seen many public school systems seek to enhance their revenues by creating online programs (aka “virtual schools”) and marketing them aggressively to homeschool families, I have not seen any so brazen as to call itself a “homeschool program.”
After Missouri-based organization Families for Home Education brought this situation to my attention, I contacted MSD and asked them to stop confusing the public by calling it a “homeschool” program. Their representative quickly agreed, which I appreciate.
A public school owes citizens an honest self-description. Virtual schools and homeschools are not the same thing and do not produce the same results.
A university study showed students enrolled in for-profit online schools in five states falling behind in math and reading. Virtual school results in California were so bad that one commentator asked, “why does the emperor have no clothes?”
The New York Times excoriated a virtual school company that profited by increasing teacher workloads and lowering standards. The national publication Education Week highlighted a Colorado virtual school program where performance declined after students enrolled. A study from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers said virtual schools are not performing well.
As a grand finale, the Walton Family Foundation—which donated more than $380 million to promote virtual schools—sponsored a nationwide study showing that kids in virtual schools annually get the equivalent of only 108 days of reading instruction (compared to 180) and zero days in math.
The Walton study should have been the end of the road for the virtual school experiment. But it wasn’t. We must ask why.
Reaching an Understanding
First of all, let’s bear in mind that it’s not the public school teachers—the ones who are “in the trenches” working sacrificially and doing their best, sometimes in dysfunctional systems and under extremely adverse circumstances—who make the decision to set up a virtual school. On the contrary, I salute the folks who, like my Dad, choose to dedicate all or part of their professional lives to teaching.
It is the public school administration that makes the decision. And it has different priorities than the “in the trenches” teachers.
Here is my own personal conclusion after observing virtual schools in action for 20 years: When a family takes their child and says goodbye to a public school, the school loses two things it highly values: the money that comes with the child, and the power to control what that child is taught. With a virtual program, the school gets both of those back to a significant extent.
Money and control are the fuel of the virtual school machine. It won’t die, despite abysmal academic results, until parents wake up and look elsewhere to meet their needs.
Until it dies, it’s important that the public know the truth: there is a huge difference between homeschooling with its proven success and virtual schools. That’s why I asked Mehlville to describe its program honestly.