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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 6, May/June 2004

Online education is not the same as homeschooling

by Larry Kuehn

Newspaper headlines claiming that religious materials have been banned for B.C. homeschooling are wrong. No government policy—new or old—limits the resources parents can use to homeschool their children. Parents who register their children for homeschooling have total control of teaching their children. They can use any resources that they want—whether or not that right is a good public policy.

Why, then, the complaints from home-school parents that they can no longer use religious books to teach math, English, or social studies to their children? The problem is confusion between students registered for homeschooling and those enrolled in a school district’s online program.

Twenty-eight school districts are now running some form of online program. Most of them are run by individual districts, and nine are part of the Connect Program of the Regional Distance Education Schools. Students in the programs are "enrolled" in a public school, which is different from being "registered" for homeschooling.

A student enrolled in a district online program brings into the school district the same basic-education-per-student grant of $5,343 as a student registered in a neighbourhood school. What comes with that funding is an obligation to provide "a level of teacher service comparable to a neighbourhood school." [Quote from Bobbi Plecas, Ministry of Education, BCEd Online Conference, April 19, 2004.]

The educational service in a funded online program must meet four ministry criteria:
1. The school board is responsible for the education program of students enrolled in the school district.
2. Each student’s educational program must be supervised by a teacher.
3. The student’s educational program must follow the requirements that apply to students attending a regular school and be carried out by a teacher.
4. Students must be evaluated and report cards from the teacher (with letter grades after primary) issued three times a year, along with two informal reports.

Text of the policy is at www.bced.gov.bc.ca/policy/distance_ed.htm

The key to this policy is that the school board and the teachers it employs are responsible for the education of the student. The parent is not the teacher. Enrolling in an online program is not homeschooling.

According to the ministry, adequate supervision by the teacher must be demonstrated by five elements:
• Teacher course planning
• Evidence that a teacher is leading the evaluation and assessment of students
• Ongoing teacher reporting on student achievement
• Ongoing teacher engagement in student learning
• Ability to authenticate student work. (In other words, the student, not the parent, is doing the student’s work.)

In addition, "learning resources must be selected from the ministry’s list of recommended resources or through local approval processes within a district." (Plecas, 2004) This requirement is the source of the news stories of homeschooling parents’ feeling deceived.

Bobbi Plecas, from ministry staff, reminded her audience at the BCEd Online conference that from the very beginning, the school law in B.C. has declared public education to be non-sectarian. There is legally no room for religion in the B.C. public schools, except for comparative religion courses. This goes beyond just resources—"Resources or modules, assessments, assignment, homework may not include a particular dogma or creed." (Plecas, 2004)

Ministry policies are absolutely clear: online education offered by public school boards is not the same thing as homeschooling. Online education must follow the requirements for public schools. The BCTF has sent a letter to the minister of education commending the ministry for maintaining a clear distinction between online public education and homeschooling.

A detailed report on these issues is available on the BCTF web site at bctf.ca/ResearchReports/2004ei01/report.html.

Larry Kuehn is director of the BCTF’s Research and Technology Division.

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