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Home-schooling on the rise nationally

Posted: September 16, 2012 9:38 a.m.
Updated: September 16, 2012 9:38 a.m.

Home-schooling options, or independent-study programs, have been available through public school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley for about two decades.

Nationally, that student population has doubled over the last 10 years, and locally, schools are increasing their efforts to meet this demand.

The growth of “independent study” programs at local districts has been spurred two things: a parental demand for more options and the districts’ increasing need for those enrollments, which is the basis for schools’ revenue, according to school officials.

“It behooves a district (to offer independent study) because we earn (average daily attendance funding) from the number of students in the district,” said Lisa Bloom, assistant superintendent of instructional services at Castaic Union School District. “If the districts don’t offer these programs that are out there, then parents will get them from somewhere else.”

She also noted those parents and students have most of the resources available to them that normal students would have, such as extracurricular activities, textbooks with teacher’s editions and a teacher.

While most parents who home-school prefer taking lesson plans into their own hands, more and more parents also are able to explore hybrid options within local districts.

The Hart district recently began its second year of offering Hart at Home, an independent-study option that affords a combination of the classroom setting and home-schooling for parents.

“We’ve doubled in size from one year to the next,” said Pete Getz, principal for Sequoia Charter School, which is also the site that operates Hart at Home for the William S. Hart Union High School District. “I probably have four or five inquiries a day.”

The program now has approximately 30 students, a number that may increase slightly by the end of the year, Getz said.


Home-school options

There are myriad methods for home-schooling instruction, and also several ways to do it legally in California.

State law does not officially sanction, prohibit or authorize home-schooling, according to the California Department of Education website.

However, parents may home-school their children different ways, and the options differ slightly even among school districts’ programs.

One way is to enroll their child in a public school district’s home-schooling site and sign a contract that stipulates educational requirements in exchange for access to public school materials, curriculum and, on a weekly basis, to lesson planning with a teacher.

The parent-district contract details the amount of instruction required — a minimum that is usually around four hours for daily instruction time. A curriculum often is developed between the site’s instructor and parents based on the child’s needs, according to Bloom. There are educational requirements, but on a daily basis, physical education is the only mandated subject, she said.

Charter schools also offer home-schooling, although in order to remain a fully funded site-based charter, meaning the school receives the full amount of attendance funding from the state, it must keep its home-school population to 20 percent or less of the student body, according to Amber Raskin of the Hart district charter Santa Clarita Valley International in Castaic.

SCVi has approximately 815 students enrolled and about 140 of them take part in the home-schooling program, Raskin said.


Private school option

A third option, which might be the most common local option, is to file a private school affidavit, which is a way of technically circumventing any local district oversight.

Using this method, a parent registers with the state as a private school using an R-4 form.

The state provides no certification or oversight of private schools, and due to state law, they are exempt from standardized testing.

There are approximately 1.5 million such students nationwide, or about 2.9 percent of the overall kindergarten through 12th grade population, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’s 2010 data. In 1999, that figure was about 850,000.

Due to the difficulty in tracking such students and the privatized nature of their education, government data is considered an estimate. The California Department of Education only collects data on private schools with six or more students, per state law.

So in California, that figure is thought to range anywhere from 60,000 to 200,000 students, according to the Homeschool Association of California. The data, however, is also somewhat obscured by the number of options available to these parents, and the fact that some participate in the traditional classroom plan for part of the year, and then may decide to home-school their child or go with a brick-and-mortar private school.

The state, as it does with all other private schools, offers little oversight outside of mandating attendance reports from parents.


Home-school appeal

Anecdotally, Lori Rivas, who home-schools four children, said most people in the two local home-schooling groups she works with — Helping Hands Homeschoolers Co-op and Homeschooling Explorers of Santa Clarita — have chosen what the state considers the private-school option.

“I don’t think I know anybody who’s actually done it through a brick-and-mortar school, about two-thirds go through charters,” she said.

The former Newhall District substitute teacher has home-schooled her children for about a dozen years — since her 11th-grader was getting ready for kindergarten.

This type of home-schooling also offers a support network of parents, Rivas said. It’s helpful for parents who might consider home-schooling, which is a serious endeavor, and can be a bit intimidating at first.

“It’s very close to when you have your first baby,” Rivas said, describing the adjustments she made when she first decided to home-school. “It’s a totally different lifestyle. You have your first kid, and it changes your whole life outlook. You change your whole day around it.”

But now she loves all aspects of it, especially being able to  experience first-hand how her children have learned to enjoy the educational process.

Lesson-plan sharing, field trips and community interaction are also prevalent in home-schooling groups, Rivas said.

“It’s been very successful,” said Superintendent Joan Lucid, of the Saugus Union home-schooling program. “Parents needs to have options, and we want to make sure parents have that option and we want to meet their needs.”

A  rigorous set of commitments required of home-schoolers may be part of why student populations for such programs usually hover in the teens, Bloom said. Castaic Union has about 18 students, many of whom have schedule commitments that don’t allow them to attend class around a normal schedule.

“It’s definitely not just an educational choice,” Rivas said. “It’s a lifestyle choice.”


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