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  • Writer's pictureTiffany Millen

A New Day for Charter Homeschoolers

As I’m sure all are aware, our charter school system in California has been targeted by legislation over the past year that threatens the school choice we have enjoyed for decades. Homeschool charters are seriously impacted by AB 1505 which passed in September and represents the biggest change in charter school law since 1992. None of our local homeschool charters will exist 10 years from now, if we, as parents, don’t make some changes.

I want to be very clear that I am not trying to pressure anyone into doing anything differently. What I am saying is that the choices have changed. If you want to utilize the charter system, it is going to require a new way of thinking about test scores. You do still have complete freedom to walk away from the charter system. Currently, no one is suggesting any changes to the private homeschool opportunities in this state which are among the least regulated in the country. Filing a Private School Affidavit is a great option and one I’m sure many will ultimately exercise.

Assembly Bill 1505 was amended in a compromise deal with the California Charter School Association. The heart of that compromise assures the best performing charters in the state will enjoy smooth sailing going forward, while poor performing schools will face closure. “Existing charter schools with two consecutive years of strong test scores, graduation rates or performance by English learners cannot be denied a renewal.” Conversely, “districts shall not renew a charter if it's received two straight years of poor ratings on California's Dashboard rating system.” The state average will become the benchmark for measuring performance, and schools with test scores below the state average will soon exhaust all appeals and be forced to close. The “deadline” will depend on the when our charters come up for renewal in their districts and will be different for each.

This chart shows the percentage of students who met state standards for each of our local homeschool charters for 2018, as well as the state average of students who met state standards for the year. As you can see, every one of our charters is well below the average pass rate in math. While English test scores are closer, not one of them reaches the state average.

Here we see the average test scores for our 11th graders compared to the state average test scores. I’ve included the comparison chart for each grade at the bottom of this post. The state average is the minimum charters must achieve to stay in business. It isn’t a lofty goal, but we have our work cut out for us.

I could offer several theories on why these disparities exist, but that won’t change the reality that we have to start caring about test scores if we want to stay in the charter system. The answer is not to switch to a higher performing charter. As homeschoolers, we can’t point fingers at the school for low performance. We demand the freedom to educate our children as we see fit so the responsibility is ours alone.

The narrative has to change. You will no longer hear me say that all you have to do to be part of the charter system is agree to allow your child to be tested. I have long advocated testing participation while saying that testing performance did not matter. Now it matters.

It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Statistically, we know that students with involved parents perform better than students with uninvolved parents. Multiple studies over the past 20 years have come to the same conclusion: “Regardless of family income or background, students whose parents are involved in their schooling are more likely to have higher grades and test scores.” (Link to article) Why then should the schools with the most involved parents (homeschoolers) all fall below the state average? If we were to break our test scores down by demographics, we fare even worse. The state average is negatively impacted by far too many students in this state who do not have a good support system at home, and lack the basic needs required for optimal learning. Our students face none of those challenges, yet our average test scores aren’t even rising to the average test scores that include students who do.

I am a huge advocate for homeschooling, and the biggest cheerleader for homeschool moms. I know many of you lay awake at night worried that you are failing your children academically. I know how gripping that fear can be because I have lived with it for years. You need assurance that it is going to be OK, and for most of you, it is. Our children are all different. Some will test better than others. Low test scores are not a life sentence. It is so dangerous to generalize, but there is no good reason we can’t do better as a whole.

English and math are crucial foundational pieces that every child needs. I don’t think we have to teach to the test to produce children who can beat the state average in these areas. But we do have to teach. If you are not providing your child with instruction in these areas, you are committing educational negligence and it is a form of abuse. Every elementary student needs solid, structured ELA and math instruction on a regular basis. Enrichment classes in these areas are just what their name implies - enrichment. They are not intended to be the core instruction your student needs for a solid foundation.

We often encounter students who simply don’t do their best on the tests because they have been told the results don’t matter. Taking a test can be boring and challenging. It is easier just to race to the end randomly picking answers, than to actually read the passages or do the problems. We have to encourage our students to always do their best without pressuring them or creating anxiety. On test day, doing their best is all that matters.

If we do our best and our students do their best, I think we can save our system. Our schools cannot do this for us. And those who are not willing to accept interventions to remediate low test scores are going to need to make different choices. I know it is difficult. I can just imagine what I would have said to any charter teacher who had suggested such an intervention to me. But this is the new reality. If you want to stay in the charter system, you have to be part of the solution. If you are not willing to adapt to the new requirements, going private is a great option.

This is a hard piece for me to write as I have always been a private homeschooler at heart. My willingness to be involved with the charters hinged on their willingness to let me do my thing, my way. Many will remember those times we sat around conference tables, lobbying charter administrators, demanding our educational philosophy rule the day. Now I am suggesting just the opposite. The charters have no choice anymore. Self-preservation requires they conform to the new rules. If we don’t want to conform, the only choice left is to walk away. I don’t think that is necessary. I think we can work together to find solutions to the test score issue. But test scores have to improve. They do matter now. It isn’t what we wanted, but it is necessary if we want to continue to reap the benefits the charters provide. We are all on the same team, and it is going to take a team effort if we want to preserve the system we have enjoyed for the past 20+ years.


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