Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Response on Charter Schools

I recently came across a blog post on a subject I have heard over and over again- the debate on charter schools and homeschooling in California. Generally, I try to focus on things that bring people together, and don't see the point in trying to define who is a "real homeschooler," but I did want to respond from the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the fence.

As a family whose children have lived in California and homeschooled their entire lives, we've rotated between complete independent  homeschooling and using charter programs based on what our family was looking for at the time. My children have never gone to school, nor have we done "school at home" either.

To get right down to business, why did we ever use a charter? Yes, it was about money. But, before you start throwing stones, in all honesty, why do people have jobs? Hopefully people enjoy their work, but in the end, don't they jump through hoops for money? I am always a little taken aback when people use the term "selling out" in regards to charters and wonder if they feel that all people who work are "selling out" too? Do they think their husbands are "selling out" their lives as they head out every morning? I know I've met countless adults who hate their jobs and seem to be "selling" a lot more of their lives for money than we ever have by using a charter program.

When making any big decision for our family, I base it on whether the benefits will be worth any drawbacks, and as weird as I may think another families decisions are, I try to trust them to do what's best for their family rather than judging them.

I know a number of independent homeschoolers who are far more structured and use much more "set curriculum" than we have ever used, even though we have gone through a charter. In some cases, these parents have lectured me about being directed by an outside force, which I find interesting because they pay money to make their children follow another persons outline, and we pretty much do what we want when we want.

We strongly lean towards an eclectic / interest  led style and would not even consider a program that wanted us to follow a set curriculum. I value our lifestyle immensely, and try to avoid time wasting, soul sucking experiences as much as possible, whether it is for me, or my kids. If ever a program didn't meet our needs, we'd bail and move on.

Currently, my daughter loves to dance and wants to take several classes, which are expensive. In order to give her that opportunity (which she is thriving with) I could choose to work more hours away from home, or use a charter.  My kids didn't want me to work more, and frankly, neither did I. Again, I value my freedom.

So, we researched and talked and found a program and facilitator that have really enriched our family. The paperwork is much less than many people do for their own portfolios, and my 13 year old actually does her own. We have never been given an assignment nor have any of our samples even been questioned. She is fine with taking a once a year test at this age, as she plans to go to college, where tests are a part of life, and she feels the paperwork is worth the dance classes. She treats it like a job and actually enjoys being organized with it. Most of the time, she is really happy with the arrangement, and I would say if you are happy with your work most of the time, you are luckier than many people.

So this year, for me, using a charter actually gave me freedom to spend more time with my kids. I know some people would have no problem working more or asking their husband to work extra hours at a job he hates to fund their kids classes. I don't get it, but it's not my life, my family or my choice- it's theirs. I just find it odd that some will judge me for doing a bit of paperwork instead.

Charter schools aren't for everyone, all the time- nothing is. Like homeschoolers, charters come in many different styles with many different requirements and offerings. Parents have choices, and that is the beauty of it. Right now it's a helpful tool for us, but as we look at high school, we may fly solo just depends. Just like a job, I try to find opportunities that we enjoy, pay off and that are worth our time.

I'm sure that schools and teachers exist who try to dominate your choices, just like in any profession. But, others also exist who know the beauty of a life learning experience and enjoy helping families with enriching resources. It's not really fair or accurate to lump them all together any more than it is to lump all homeschooling moms into a category of minvan driving women in denim jumpers.

I too am sometimes sad or worried about other families who don't seem to be empowered enough to make their own choices, don't know they can say no, choose their own path, make learning and life fun etc. This isn't limited to people who use charters though by any means, and I prefer encouraging people to find their own way over judging that they are choosing a different route than me.
In the end though, if people are really concerned about outside forces making decisions for their family, and wanting to preserve their freedom, then shouldn't they honor other people's choices and freedoms with their families too?


  1. It's wonderful to hear so many sides of a topic. There are very few clear cut right or wrong situations in this world, perhaps none.

    I am happy that you explained what was in your heart as everyone's perspective is equally important.

    Thank goodness there are many paths available to homeschoolers in the US as one size does not fit all. And thank goodness that we all can express our own perspectives along with hearing other people's.

    There's a lot to think about in regards to this topic and a lot to learn. Again, thank you for sharing your perspective.

  2. I appreciate your perspective. As an Oregonian, this is an issue I was pretty unfamiliar with until Melissa brought it to my attention. I'm not sure what I would do if the option were available here, but I do agree that having choices is a really good thing.

  3. I, too, homeschool through a charter in California. I find this less stressful than trying to do it all myself. I have a wonderful teacher who collects my paperwork each month without question as too what they are. She is there in case I need any advice on teaching my two girls. My choices for how/what I teach my kids has never been questioned. In addition to the money I receive each year to spend on books, extra curricular activities, or whatever, my special needs daughter receives wonderful therapy. We did not choose to go through a charter school because of this however. There are so many different ways and organizations people can go through to homeschool. I can't understand why someone would judge how another family would do it.

  4. Thank you for that great post! I agree that we are lucky in California to have so many choices. We have done a mix of being completely independent and enrolling in charter schools. We just finished enrolling in a charter for this year, which was a big decision for all of us. When I read Melissa's post I felt judged and criticized for doing that, even though I knew that so much of what she said was just not true.
    I like the way you compare it to a job. My boys really wanted the whole lego Mindstorms kit and software to build and program their own robots. It was not something in my budget, at over $600 to start. They agreed that it would be worth needing to sit for the state tests in the Spring to get supplies like this that they want.

  5. Thanks for all of your positive comments. It's nice when we can hear each others points of view and respect them, even if we don't necessarily agree.
    I love knowing that we have options available to us, and can change what do as we need to.
    I think one of the best lessons that we can share with new homeschooling families is that they can do what is right for their kids and their family. We don't have to stick with something that isn't working, whether it's a math book or a charter school- if it makes you or your child miserable, you have the freedom to find another way- and that is a blessing indeed :-)

  6. I love our charter school! My sons teacher meets with him once a wk to check in & also give me tips/suggestions ! The state allots $750 a yr. For all school related materials/classes/lessons & clubs! As a first time homeschooler who didn't know if we could do it, this is the perfect opportunity! I was also allowed to pick out my own curriculum, as long as it wasn't completely bible based.

  7. I use a charter school here in California also that gives me a lot of freedom in the way that we school. Having been told by some that what I do isn't homeschooling, I was very careful when seeking out a support group to hang out with. Thankfully, I found one that is very welcoming to me and my daughter.

  8. I see that anonymous said that they get $750 per child to spend. I know that it varies a lot from charter to charter. What I am wondering is if most of that variance is due to the amount the school system in question spends per child or if each charter is very different in how much they take for their profit. Some charters in CA give each student $1600 to spend. I have heard $1200 as well. I think $750 is the lowest I have heard of so far.

  9. @ Anonymous- Thanks for bringing up another very important service that charters can provide. While I feel confident flying solo- we have done it before and may do it again- many people really seek and benefit from guidance, and would not be homeschooling without it. If the guidance is in the end bringing them closer together as a family (not all guidance does, of course) then I think it has a real positive impact.

  10. @ Melissa- yes, there is a huge amount of variance in what families are offered, although I don't think as a government agency the schools can end up with a profit. I think they have to spend the money one way or another (whether on salaries, paper clips, textbooks, or kids classes)
    In my area, there are a number of charter schools (site based as well as homeschool based) Some follow more of an independent study model (school at home), some are more geared towards personalized learning etc.
    Ours doesn't state a set amount for curriculum for each student, but tries to meet each families needs within the overall budget. We return non consumables when we're done and they go in the library so others can check out for as long as they need. We are in a geographically large, spread out and rural area so it's really nice that we can do library requests online and a bookmobile makes regular drop off / pick up trips to set locations.
    Our charter does offer a set monthly amount for "vendors" which are local approved (meaning fingerprint cleared and not religious) activities / classes like dance, art, music, karate etc.
    Other local charters may offer less "vendor money" but they have more site based classes, both elective and core. It really just depends on what a family is looking for, and I know that not all areas have as many choices as I do.

  11. Pamela, there is a profit being made by the company who runs the charter. That's where a lot of the money "per child" goes.
    I should have been clear about the charters I have researched, the $1600 I was talking about is for vendors.
    How often do you meet with a representative from the charter? I know a lot meet once a month.

  12. I'm not familiar with charters run by companies. Perhaps they are like the the online K-12 or something?
    There really seems to be a lot of variance. The charter schools in my area are all sponsored by local school districts (who get a chunk of the $, I believe) but they operate independently (meaning not having to use district curriculum, materials, methods, a separate school board etc.... still, it's a beaurocracy and I imagine more money goes to it than the kids get) With our school, private businesses like dance studios and curriculum providers probably make a lot of money from the charter, but they're contractors- they don't run it, and they provide the same stuff to the general public too. Also, the school to renew their charter every 5 years, at which time things can always change.

    We're "supposed to" meet with our facilitator about once a month, but often we see her at homeschool events etc around the community anyway (she is also a homeschooling mom who has kids close in age to mine so we tend to run into each other) I like her and so do my kids, so the meetings are easy- If we didn't like visiting with her, I'd switch facilitators or we wouldn't use the program.

    In my area, there are also a number of site based charters specializing in different areas like a school of arts, one of science, technology etc, but none are run by companies to my knowledge. It's awesome for kids who "go to school" to have options that fit them too and it seems to have made the regular public schools more competitive with keeping music and art programs alive etc- they know parents have choices and can take their kids elsewhere.


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