Although it started as a grassroots movement in the early 1980s when it was not legal to homeschool in some states, the number of homeschooled students in America today has grown to more than 2 million children. Colleges have taken notice of both the standardized test scores and the well-roundedness of homeschoolers and now recruit them. Publishers cater to them, and huge conferences and trade shows center on them.
Public school districts have also taken notice of homeschoolers – and the lost dollars in state funding they represent. And what is public education’s answer to the homeschool movement? The answer is charter schools.
You want to teach your children at home? Great, we’ll help you, says your school district. In fact, we will provide you with free books, free materials, free online classes, free evaluations from an accredited teacher, maybe even a free laptop.
And what’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing, if your intent is to have your child enrolled in a public school at home. Everything, if you want to maintain the freedom of choice that probably motivated you to homeschool in the first place.
A homeschool and a charter school education have fundamental differences, and the blurring of the two is causing our freedom of choice as parents to be eroded. Let’s look at how and why.
First, let’s define our terms. “Homeschooling,” both in this article and by most standards, refers to an education provided chiefly in a child’s home that is directed, planned and implemented by a child’s parent. The family chooses and purchases curriculum, sets the schedule and has complete control. According to the National Home Education Research Institute  (NHERI), finances associated with traditional homeschooling represent more than $16 billion that US taxpayers do not have to spend since these children are not in public schools.
Homeschooling can and should encompass a wide variety of methods and styles of teaching and learning. Ideally, the experience of homeschooling should be as diverse as the homeschooling families themselves. No two families should approach it exactly the same way, since no two families are exactly alike. In fact, the NHERI reports that a diverse variety of people homeschool , including a growing number of minority families, as well as all religious groups, all political groups, all income brackets, and parents with everything in the way of education from no high school diploma to doctorates.
A “charter school” is a public school packaged for the home. By offering planned curriculum, standardized testing, virtual classes, teacher monitoring and some on-site group extra-curricular offerings, charter schools utilize taxpayer funds to appeal to home-educating families. The arrangement sounds attractive to families who would like to homeschool but may be worried about the costs, the time commitment, and the question of whether they have the ability to teach their kids in certain subjects. In return for giving away all this taxpayer-purchased “free” stuff, the school district gets state funding for each child enrolled in a charter school, without having to spend all the money in teacher salaries, building upkeep and other costs involved in having that same child enrolled in a brick and mortar school.
If it sounds like a win-win situation, think again. Government handouts always come with strings attached.
Charter school families lose some of the freedoms homeschooling offers. First of all, charter schools determine what you teach your child. Forget religious education as being part of the curriculum. One of the reasons many families choose to homeschool has to do with faith or family values. With charter schools, you have textbooks more than library books and worksheets more than conversations.
Forget the freedom of tailoring your curriculum to the needs and pace of your child. With a public school curriculum, it’s a one-size-fits-all system. Charter schools set a schedule that includes testing and evaluations by district teachers or other district personnel.
Secondly, with charter schools, homeschooled kids lose the benefit of experiencing the creativity of their parents’ teaching. One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that parents get to spend time with their children. A loving parent, who has been the child’s first teacher from day one, knows his or her child better than anyone else. Who is more qualified to teach a child than the parent?
With homeschooling, parents can tailor a child’s education to the child’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing a child to learn at his or her own pace and spending more or less time on a subject as needed.
The Home School Legal Defense Association  (HSLDA), a national organization that defends the rights of homeschool families, has consistently cautioned parents against enrolling their kids in charter schools. “The same education establishment that fought home schooling years ago is beginning to see benefits of home-based charter schools,” the HSLDA states in an article on its website. “Is that because they are beginning to see the benefits of home schooling? The answer is a resounding ‘No!’ The issue is money  and control. “
The more control the government has over kids schooled at home – no matter what the method – the less control parents have to make their own informed choices. According to the NHERI, homeschooled students score about 30 percentile points higher than the national average, irrespective of their parents’ level of education or their family’s income. Homeschoolers have shown that state funding and state regulations are not required for academic excellence.
This article is not meant as an indictment of public education. Public schooling, at its best, can offer a fine, balanced education. In addition, charter schools can offer a viable alternative to going to school for some kids — children with illnesses, children who have been victims of bullying, children who travel throughout a school term can benefit from a charter school plan, for example.
What this article is meant to discourage, however, is the misconception that home education and a school at home (aka charter school) are one in the same thing. The early homeschooling warriors, who suffered through visits from the police and child welfare officials because they dared to keep their kids home, deserve better than that.
Read your state homeschooling law. Know your rights. Most importantly, consider that when you accept the “free gift” state funding provides for your school at home, someone is in charge of your child’s education, and it is not you.