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August 3, 2016

This Free Education Comes with Strings Attached


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What if you were able to homeschool for free?

This fall, Omaha Public Schools is opening a new online kindergarten-through-8th-grade school specifically targeting homeschooled students. In fact, only homeschooled students are eligible to enroll this year.

The program, Omaha Virtual School (OVS), is a publicly funded school that allows students to complete much of their coursework from the comforts of home. Enrolled students may also receive access to a computer and low-cost internet as an added benefit. The school is being marketed as the best of both worlds: Homeschooling with the support of professionals—and no price tag.

Sound too good to be true? It might be. Before you sign up, HSLDA recommends that you count the cost. Public programs like OVS take control of the academic curriculum and coursework away from parents and place it in the hands of the public school system. While parents have some involvement, they play of the role of “coach” and make way for certified teachers to do the bulk of the teaching. Parents will have little to no say in the educational objectives or course content of OVS classes.

Consider also the concerning results of studies on the academic achievement of publicly funded virtual schools in other states:

  • A National Education Policy Center study by Western Michigan University researchers showed that only 27.7% of full-time virtual schools run by K12 Inc. met the federal academic progress goals (compared to 52% of traditional public schools). Students in K12 schools scored lower in both reading and math and had an on-time graduation rate of a mere 49%, compared to a statewide average of 79% in states where K12 schools were located.
  • In 2011, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) reported that virtual students in Pennsylvania scored 13% worse in reading and 24% worse in math than students in public brick-and-mortar schools.
  • In its 2015 Online Charter School Study, CREDO found innovative new research suggesting that students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.
  • As reported in Education Week in January 2016, the Walton Family Foundation, which has pumped millions of dollars into virtual learning, conducted a series of studies on the academic achievement of these virtual schools. The conclusion: “stark evidence that most online charters have a negative impact on students’ academic achievement.”
  • Individual news stories abound using the familiar phrases such as “lagging behind” and “smaller learning gains” to describe the academic plight of virtual school students. For example, a 2011 New York Times article on the Agora Cyber Charter School reported that 60% of students are behind in math, 50% are behind in reading, and one-third do not graduate on time.

This research, coupled with the evidence showing the profound academic success of private home education, indicates that the home environment is not the only key to homeschoolers’ academic success. HSLDA believes one of the primary reasons homeschooled students excel is the regular parental involvement and control of the educational program. Parents know their children best and care about their children more than any other person or entity. Thus, they are best situated to craft a custom-tailored educational plan to meet the individual needs of each unique child.

We understand that homeschooling is hard work for both parents and students. And we know it comes with a price tag: though options for homeschool curriculum abound as the number of homeschooled students has now topped 2 million, this material is not free or even cheap. However, HSLDA cautions families to carefully calculate the cost of publicly funded free education before handing over educational control to the public school. Students in virtual schools perform worse academically than their peers, on average, and public funding of homeschooling brings public control and standardization, eliminating the distinctiveness of private homeschooling and inviting regulation.

As always, feel free to contact our office with your questions about homeschooling in Nebraska.

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Homeschool Research

Understanding and Improving Full-Time Virtual Schools (National Education Policy Center)

Walton Family Foundation: We Must Rethink Online Learning (Education Week)

Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools (New York Times)

Studies: Existing full-time virtual schools earn poor grades (Portland Press Herald)

Charter School Performance in Pennsylvania (Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes)

Online Charter School Study 2015 (Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes)