Everything that looks like home education is not. The lines between educational options are becoming increasingly blurred. Some parents who are speaking on your behalf, who call themselves home educators, are actually parents of private or public school students. It is important to know the differences.
Why do the differences matter if parents are teaching their own child in their own home? It matters because the laws governing each educational option are different.
Home Education is parent-directed and parent-controlled. Parents set their own school calendar, determine the number of days and instructional hours, select and purchase their own curriculum (religious or secular), and decide when to teach each subject. They are not required to follow the Sunshine State Standards, take the FCAT or teach on grade level. They can use any method of instruction they choose, including field trips, videos, computerized courses, unit studies, books, co-ops, tutors and life experiences. They are only required to keep a portfolio of their educational activities and prove annually, through their choice of assessments, that their child has made educational progress.
Also, home education parents can select individual high school and college courses from a smorgasbord of free public options:
• Florida Virtual School (www.flvs.net) is a state-owned public school offering interactive online courses in grades 6-12 taught by Florida-certified teachers. Courses range in rigor from standard to AP courses. Parents decide which course is right for the student.
• Dual enrollment is available to students in grades 11 and 12. Parents decide if and when a home education student is ready for college courses. If dual enrollment is a good fit, a student may be able to earn an A.A. degree before graduating from high school.
• Some school districts allow home education students to take classes at their zoned public school.
Home education students may participate in extracurricular activities in either their zoned public school, in a home education cooperative or at most private schools for a fee. They are also free to volunteer, apprentice and participate in community service activities during the school day to help them learn about themselves, their interests and a future career.
Parents maintain the home education student’s records and submit the transcript to colleges and scholarship programs. A home education transcript may look a lot different than a transcript from a traditional school. Most institutions accept a parent’s affidavit, recognizing that home-educated students do not receive a state diploma. However, the military currently does not accept parent- generated diplomas or a GED.
Private School at Home (what some call nontraditional private schools) cater to parents who want to teach their own children at home. By law, the student is a private school student and must comply with Florida private school laws. Parents are unpaid instructors in the private school and must teach 180 days per year and a specified number of hours per day, according to the grade level and school calendar. Parents work with the school administrators to choose the student’s courses and curriculum each year. Students are in a specific grade, with high schools following the same course requirements as public school students. The school determines if the student can participate in FLVS or dual enrollment. Some private schools offer classes for their students, and most offer testing. The parent/teacher submits documentation of the student’s work and grades to the school office that maintains the records. The private school submits the student’s transcript to colleges, vocational schools, the military and scholarship programs, such as Bright Futures.
While some flexibility is lost, having a private school transcript and diploma has advantages, especially for special-needs students and those wishing to enter the military. However, students currently cannot participate in extracurricular activities offered at any other school.
Public School at Home is a free, full-time program offered through the school district, and the student is a public school student. The district selects from a list of state approved vendors, and the curriculum must meet the Sunshine State Standards. The parent, who agrees to be the “learning coach,” receives no compensation or employee benefits for teaching in a public school. Online daily lessons are provided by a virtual teacher assigned to the parent and student. Periodically, parents must submit designated samples of the student’s work and must document four to five hours of instructional time per day for 180 days per year. Conference calls with the teacher are required at least once a month to assess the student’s progress.
Currently, high school students are not eligible for dual enrollment or FLVS, though the provider may offer AP courses or career programs. Students will receive a diploma from the school district, which will provide a transcript to colleges, the military and scholarship programs. The program is very structured, and the full-time program offers little flexibility. Students are taught on grade level, must take the FCAT and are only eligible for extracurricular activities at their zoned public school. Some curriculum providers offer field trips for elementary grades.
It is important to educate your legislators about the differences between these options so that home education as we now know it won’t be redefined. We must protect the future rights of home educators who want less structure and more freedom from state mandates and assessments while maintaining the rights of parents to utilize an “at home” public or private school option.
Written by: Brenda Dickinson
As president of HEF, Brenda Dickinson lobbies full time in Tallahassee on behalf of home schoolers. For more information, visit www.flhef.org