April 23, 2012

How to Jump Through the Hoops of a Charter School or How to Make a Charter School Work for You?

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First of all what is a charter school?  

A charter school is a public school that is exempt from most regulations that bind school districts except where those regulations are specified  by law.   Charter schools are usually created by teachers, parents, and community leaders and are sponsored by school boards or the state.   Goals and expectations are agreed upon by the charter organizers and sponsoring group and written up in an agreement or charter. 
A charter school is a public school.    Just like all public schools, they may not charge tuition, teach religion, nor discriminate against any pupil based on his ethnicity, gender, or disability.  Unlike other public schools, charter schools are schools of choice.   Parents have a choice to enroll their children there, and teachers and administrators have a choice to provide education in a nontraditional manner.   Which brings us to homeschooling….

Many, but not all, charter schools are set up to provide support to the homeschooling family.   That support differs from school to school, but many home-based charter schools provide support by funding tuition purchases, providing extra-curricular activities, opportunities for social activities and field trips, and over-site by certified teachers.   All charter schools provide transcripts and the standardized testing required by the state in which they are set up.
Many homeschoolers consider those that use charter schools to not be homeschoolers.   And legally they are not homeschooling; those that are enrolled in a charter school are public school students.   What constitutes a homeschooler differs state by state.   For the purposes of this article, I am going to refer to those using a home-based charter school as homeschoolers simply for the reason that school is happening at home! 
The question I’ve been asked to answer: How do you make a charter school work for you when you have so many hoops to jump through?
Some of the hoops (or requirements) that I’ve had to jump through to utilize charter schools in the state of California are education specialists visits, work samples, restricted curriculum choices, meeting state standards, and standardized testing.   My specific experiences relate to the state of California, but most likely are similar to other states’ requirements.  

Education Specialists Visits  Once every 20 school days an education specialist (commonly referred to as an ES) is required to meet with you, the teacher, and the students to discuss work accomplished, plan further work, and collect work samples.  She or he is a certified teacher and is part of the process in place to make sure students are making progress. 

Once every 20 days usually works out to be once a month that our ES come to visit us.   Our visits are about 20-30 minutes in length and in addition to going over the work we have planned, she answers any questions we have about school policies and helps us fill out all required paperwork.    I prefer to meet at home as this interrupts our day less, but other families choose to meet their ES at the school office, a local library, or another public place.     Know what your charters requirements are for what goes on at ES meetings and let your ES know if you feel they are over stepping those requirements.   Also know that you may request another ES  if your family does not mesh with the one assigned to you.   Feel free to talk to the office staff about what you are looking for in an ES.   I’ve found different ES have different educational philosophies just like homeschoolers.   If you love to use a stack of textbooks at home, an ES with the viewpoint of school at home might fit your family better than an ES with a preference towards classical education. 

I look at my ES visits as a time to make sure I’m organized and on track with plans for the year. 

Work Samples   Work samples required differ charter school to charter school.     The charter school we are using now requires one work sample from each subject we are working on with each ES visit.    Keep in mind that a work sample does not have to be a worksheet or test!   Some of the things I’ve turned in for work samples include maps, posters, lab sheets, power-point presentations, mp3 files of speeches and music performances, journal entries,  and pictures—lots of pictures.   I’ve turned in pictures of sporting events, performances, gardening projects, science experiments, bulletin boards, art projects, timelines, history notebooks, field trips, math projects, and any other hands-on projects we’ve worked on.   And I will admit that occasionally it’s time for our ES visit, and we have nothing to turn in to our ES, so we complete a worksheet just for our work sample.   That doesn’t happen too often and doesn’t take up too much time when it does happen.

Restricted Curriculum Choices  As a public school a charter school can not appropriate curriculum or materials that are religious in nature or even allow religious teaching as part of their program.   I do use a few curriculum choices that are not secular which I purchase with my own money.   These are subjects are that are adequately covered without these religious  based materials, so  I am able to supply work samples from other materials used.   

I also include scripture, hymn, and other religious study in my home.   I do not consider these studies to be part of our school time, but rather our family time.   This family time happens with my children who attend a public school as well as my children who stay at home for school.  

Meeting State Standards   Just like other public schools, charter schools are required to teach to the state standards.    Looking at this list of state standards will leave most feeling confused and  overwhelmed with the task of teaching these standards.   Many charter schools will provide a parent friendly list of standards written in everyday language that is easy to understand.   If your charter school does not provide this list, many are available on the internet.   Here is a complete list of California state standards in easy-to-understand language.  

Another way I’ve come to understand exactly what is expected of these standards is looking at the educational portion of museum websites.   Looking at The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s educational website, I can see that visiting the gold display and discussing what we see meets state standards in math, language arts, and science.   

To be honest, I’ve found that most state standards are met by simply completing our normal educational activities and do not require much forethought.  One area that is not always the case is the social studies standards.   I do not teach social studies, but rather teach world history on a four year rotation.   California state standards require American history almost every year.   I’ve met these standards by teaching about American history through patriotic holidays.   When Memorial Day comes around we read a book or two from the library about that holiday.   Standard met!    Remember most standards do not require depth of learning and are easily met with an introduction and discussion about the topic. 

And that brings us to Standardized Testing.    Public schools in California (and most other states) are required to prove their worth through testing.   This is especially important for charter schools as they usually do not have other regular assessments to prove their students are progressing.  That being said---I do not teach to the test.   I do teach my children how to take tests, a skill I feel is important.   Also keep in mind that you may ask to have testing spread out over several days and may also request private testing for your child.   And last but not least----the scores your child earns are not a grade for you the teacher.   Rather they measure your child’s success on a test one day of the year on material he or she may or may not have learned. 
The key to utilizing charter schools is to research and learn all you can about their requirements.   Know the rules and expectations.    As the case with any public school, you, the parent, must be the one that advocates for your children.   Learn what services are available.   Learn what is required and what is not required.   Be willing to speak up when needed.   

What have been your experiences with charter schools?    Does anyone have a simplified list of state standards for other states than California?    Any other questions I just didn’t answer?   

Emily Tan blogs as MissMOE at Homeschooling While Living the Life of Easier.   She is currently recovering from a few too many weekends out of town and plans to take the next few weeks easy.   


10 comments - Add a comment below -:

Anonymous said...

How flexible is a charter school compared to a typical homeschool? Can you take time off when you want to? Do you have to finish certain material by a certain time? Can you school year round? Can you have a child enrolled in a higher grade level in a subject they are better at, or does it have to be 2nd grade curriculum for all 2nd grade aged kids?

MissMOE said...

Wow, it seems like I missed a lot in my post! How flexible is a charter school compared to a typical homeschool? A charter school has a school calendar that one must follow. My charter school requires that I show learning happens during each of those scheduled days. Today happens to be a scheduled school day, and my children's learning consisted of watching a DVD of a Shakespeare performance. So I am able to take a day off as needed and to plan on continue learning during the summer though those days will not count as official school days. And could I plan on taking a two week break during the scheduled school year without any learning taking place? No.

MissMOE said...

Do you have to finish certain material by a certain time? That depends on the charter school. Some homeschool charter schools provide curriculum and a plan to use that specific curriculum. Other charters allow parents to decide on what curriculum is used, how it is used, and when or if it will even be finished.

MissMOE said...

Can the curriculum used vary according to ability? Again it differs according to the charter school. I have heard the charters based on K12 are not that flexible in placing kids in multiple grades. Anyone have specific experience with a charter like K12? The charters I have used which allow me to pick our own curriculum have been vary flexible when working with differing abilities. In fact I first started homeschooling with a charter because my oldest son had reading difficulties, but was working 6 years ahead in math.

Anonymous said...

I have been lucky enough to find an amazing Classical Education charter school started this last fall in my hometown. My son attends school on Tuesday/Friday, 9-2:30, where he is taught science, history, and art. The other three days a week we "homeschool" with Math and Language Arts. I receive a $250 stipend for curriculum purchased through the school, and I can purchase anything else on my own.. His classroom is a 2/3 blend, and they frequently combine with the jr. high group for class projects or art assignments. My soon to be kindergartener will begin as an "independent study" kid in the fall....I receive an extra $250 to buy his curriculum, but he stays home with me full time. I have to provide work samples every 6 weeks that show progress, but that's easy. It has been a great program for us. I think charter schools can be a great option for many people. Jeannie

Katie said...

We are enrolled in a charter school here in Southern California, too. Our curriculum seems to be as flexible as I want it to be. We adjust the difficulty of the schoolwork to match the needs/desires of our students. I even changed math curriculum midyear because what we were doing just wasn't working. Our school has a warehouse full of materials that are available to us, so it makes it easy to utilize many different resources without having to find money in the budget. My husband appreciates that part a lot! As a new "homeschooler" I appreciate having a teacher letting me know we're on track, because that is always a concern when you've got a lot going on!

Heather H said...

We use Utah Virtual Academy, which uses K12 and have liked it. I really fought with the decision to keep our oldest home when she got ready to go off to kindergarten, we applied to most of the local charter schools and it was hard after praying about each one to turn down the ones she was accepted at. I knew she wasnt suppost to go to the local public school so I was really struggling with what it was I was going to do for school for her. Then I saw an ad for UTVA and the rest is history. She has completed her kindergarten year last year and this year has completed her 1st grade work and moved up to second grade at the beginning of the month. At least with UTVA there is a bit of flexibilty with scheduling and working ahead of grade level. We have taken vacations and days off for birthdays and such, sometimes we enter "educational" hours on those days, other times we treat them as real vacation days. There is a certain number of hours you are suppost to attend each day and thus each school year but it has never been a problem for us. I believe you are only allowed to work ahead one grade level but we just adjust some of the lessons to be more challenging if needed. I really like the idea that she will take the same tests that all the local school kids will take. All that said my next child will be starting at the local school in the fall as a kindergartener, and we are excited to start that adventure with him.

MissMOE said...

Heather, I've heard of students being able to move ahead a whole grade with K12 charters, but can students work on multiple grade-levels?

Chelsea said...

It seems like a lot of work to have to use a charter school. I didn't see anywhere what a positive would be. Is it easier for you to have each day/week/month laid out for you? You said you still pick the curriculum, so if you are still being the teacher and doing everything a homeschooler does, what are the perks of having to answer to a charter school too, besides having curriculum paid for? It seems like you are moving the school to the home with all the "hoops" as you called them. I didn't see these things addressed, just wondering how this has been helpful for your family!

MissMOE said...

Chelsea, the money is a nice incentive, but the reason my family uses a charter school is for the transcript or official record. I had planned to homeschool all of my kids all the way through high school, but things didn't work out that way for my family. My oldest son lost a year of schooling when enrolling in a public high school program. The school district choose not to accept his first year of high school credits, so he had to repeat those 6 classes. With a charter school transcript that didn't happen when two of my other children ended up going to a public school.

I lay out my own lesson plans and plan our schedule for the year. Since I have two other children in a public school, it makes sense for us to follow the school schedule anyway. When my children were younger, I did enjoy having the freedom to school whenever it worked for us and not to follow a schedule. That won't work with a charter school.