Home-schooling alternative

Home-schooling alternative

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2016 
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer

Some Kentucky school districts are eying virtual learning as the carrot that could attract home-schooled students back into the public school fold.

Harrison County Schools Director of Pupil Personnel Robert Switzer is preparing to reach out to home-schooling parents, surveying them to gauge interest in this virtual option. The district has met with a couple of companies that offer online learning management systems, but the cost has leaders looking for other options as well.

Harrison County Superintendent Andy Dotson said he wants to maintain a relationship with home schooling families.

“My No. 1 goal is to help the child,” he said. “No. 2 is to eventually lead these children to getting back involved and engaged in public schools. Because I do feel like public schools provide a wonderful learning opportunity for children, not just academics but extracurricular opportunities, the social networking that I feel like every child needs to go through.”

The district has about 140-145 home-schooled students compared with an enrollment of about 2,990, Switzer said.

He is not the only DPP gathering information about this possibility. Dr. Julie York at Clinton County Schools said the district is still weighing such a move. “So many of those kids maybe aren’t getting the support they need in home school, those high school kids,” she said. “I’m kind of curious to know if virtual would be something those kids would do. Some of the kids on home school, they don’t have the money to pay for a good virtual program on their own.”

York has been working on surveying her fellow DPPs to see which other districts may be headed in this direction or already have experience with using online learning for this particular demographic.

Both Clinton and Harrison districts report that their home-school numbers are going up.
They are holding steady, however, in Wayne County, which last year got a few home-schooled students out of about 65 to re-enroll through its virtual learning system; this year it’s a little more than that and “our plan next year is to really pursue this a little bit harder and try to get maybe 12 to 15 kids that have been on home school,” said pupil personnel director Allen Clark. Wayne County’s total enrollment is about 3,400.
In addition to teaching math courses at Wayne County High School, Brooke Gregory is the facilitator for its virtual school, which has been picking up some former home-schooled students. “Each child is different, but I still have high expectations for them,” she said. “I think our (virtual learning) program gives students a way to complete a milestone in their life, like graduation.” (Photo courtesy of Wayne County Schools.)

Board Chairwoman Donna Blevins said it’s been a “wonderful effort” thus far that she would recommend to any school district. The setup enables home-schooled students to remain out of the physical school setting, “but still lets them be with the school, too,” she said.
Having the district pay for the virtual curriculum is a selling point with home school parents, Clark said, “because they’re having to pay for whatever curriculum they’re using. So we will pay for the curriculum and then that student has to enroll back with Wayne County Schools. And if they pass a virtual school, we’re going to draw some ADA (state average daily attendance funding) off of them.”

That latter point is an important caveat: students must pass virtual classes for the district to receive ADA funding for them.

Selective marketing
Clark said Wayne County is not reaching out en masse to home schooling parents or guardians, but instead is aiming to help parents who are really trying to help their children with home schooling – “the ones we know are legitimately trying to give their kids an education.”

Similarly, Clinton County’s York said she is not concerned with winning back families who are doing a good job of home schooling, pointing to some in her district who are doing so for religious reasons.

“We have several of those and they do a phenomenal job with home school and the families work together. Those kids I know are in good shape.” However, she added, others “are hanging out there all by themselves and they need some more support.”

Dotson said Harrison County Schools continues to weigh its options, one of which might be to let home schooled students to sign up for online classes on a part-time basis. “Our goal would be to eventually build that into having a full-time student back in our schools,” he said.

A “great idea”
As more school districts offer online learning, more home schoolers may take advantage of the option, said Neil Watts, who handles home schooling issues for the Kentucky Department of Education.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said.

In addition to local district offerings, online learning also is offered through Jefferson County e-School and the Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning. KDE certifies the diplomas provided by those two programs.

BAVEL’s enrollment has been growing steadily since it launched in 2004. It’s now up to 400 students, 275 of whom are full time, said Co-Director Phillip Napier. Napier said the online school has “definitely” had some calls because of the state dropout age increase to 18.

Co-Director Melissa Owens said BAVEL also has fielded calls over the past several years from districts “wanting to look at the possibility of having an online program” in their system. BAVEL uses the Florida Virtual Schools curriculum and employs 36 part-time and one full-time instructor who are certified in the courses they teach.

“There has to be a support system in place,” Napier cautioned, “someone who, as the students are working on an assignment or as they’re working in their courses, they know they can go to if they have questions and there’s somebody there is who guiding them along the way to help them achieve those goals.”
Head count?

Neil Watts, who is the state education department’s point person on home schooling, estimates there are about 16,000 home-schooled students in Kentucky. That is reflected in the most recent figure available from the agency’s “Education Facts,” which dates back to the 2010-11 school year.

However, Watts estimates the number could be 10 percent to 20 percent higher than that because the state can only count students who are entered into Infinite Campus, the electronic student information system. That means a student who is enrolled and later withdrawn by parent or guardian for home schooling is counted and coded as withdrawn for home schooling. Children who are home schooled from the beginning are never enrolled and so are never logged into Infinite Campus.

State law requires parents or guardians to file a letter annually with the superintendent stating their intention to home school their child or children. However, that letter stays with the district office and the information is not submitted to the state education department for tracking.

“We have no way to count those numbers on those kids who are home schooled from day one and have never been enrolled in public schools,” Watts said. Because of that, a reliable reading on home schooling in Kentucky “is a hard number to quantify right now.”

He said he’d like to poll pupil personnel directors to find out how many annual home school letters superintendents are receiving to get a “true reading” on the total number.

Every district has some children who are home schooled, but the percentage varies from district to district, as does the rate of increase in that percentage, Watts said. He said he believes “it’s a very small percentage” of students who are using the home school option to do an end run around the state’s new minimum dropout age of 18.
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