Kane County School District Seeking to Form Statewide Illinois Online Charter School

Northern Kane group wants charter for online high schoolCourier News Emilie McFarlan and Katie Anderson

“… Northern Kane also is asking for the board’s support to form the Illinois Online Charter School. If granted, this would expand access to the virtual learning programs used at Cambridge Lakes, making them available to students not just in District 300, but also across the state. A $1 million facility addition, completed this summer, has made physical space for the expansion, according to Fuhrer. And as many as 22,000 families statewide have expressed interest in the program, he said. But Stevens said he’s not sure how a statewide program would fit into Northern Kane’s current charter — or into the original concept it had shared for the Cambridge Lakes Charter School. And the school board pressed Fuhrer for details last month about the corporations it would be getting involved with, including the Illinois Online Charter School and Virginia-based K¹², its current partner for its virtual program.”

Learn more on this blog about the problems created regarding homeschooling and public virtual school perceptions.

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IL Association of School Boards Releases Homeschool Article

“With no one actually counting and only voluntary testing, no one knows whether the success stories offered by the Lanes, the Nicols, the Bluedorns and the Vanden Bosches are typical of the home schooling experience. And with no accurate numbers, the complete story of home schooling may never be written.” – IASB site – Ginger Wheeler

The IL Association of School Boards released an article focusing on homeschoolers in their July/August 2010 Journal.  Homeschoolers are not under public school jurisdiction, unless there is a reasonable question about a child’s educational neglect.  The conclusion is quoted above, and the mantra throughout seems to focus on the lack of homeschool counts in Illinois.  Illinois homeschoolers do not report to or notify public school authorities, unless they are leaving the public school to homeschool.

Rising home schooling: Who really knows?

Illinois is known in the home schooling community as a friendly place: there are practically zero restrictions or regulations on homeschooling families here if learning occurs in English.

Home-schoolers revel in this freedom, and it may attract them to move to and settle in Illinois. But the Illinois Regional Offices of Education find the light regulations troubling, and some ROE superintendents say some families are illegally using home schooling as a way to mask truancy. Their hands are tied to do much about it.

As the posts here on the IL Homeschool Freedom Watch blog note, various ROEs under the IL State Board of Education guidance make frequent attempts to snare homeschoolers, even with their “hands tied”.   It’s quite amazing that some homeschool groups choose to work with the Illinois State Board of Education, when the ISBE is blatantly demanding over-compliance from homeschoolers on their website with their creation of a non-mandated registration form.  Some, as with Keri Garrett in the ROE #13, have successfully attempted to inflict daytime curfews on homeschoolers because of this ‘concern’ cited in the Centralia Sentinel:

“We ask that they [homeschoolers] fill out a registration form, because people do call and ask about children they see out during the day, and the state board is asking for more information.”

Fortunately Salem homeschoolers in her ROE defeated this infringement on their rights.

Continuing from the IASB article regarding our Illinois homeschool freedoms:

And that’s just fine for home-schoolers. One home school mom, and now a grandmother, Laurie Bluedorn, of New Boston, said her family moved to Illinois from Iowa so they could home school unfettered by pesky government intrusion. Bluedorn’s family moved across the Mississippi when her oldest son, Nathaniel, was 6 in 1982, a time when the practice was illegal in Iowa. She home- schooled all five of her now-grown children, and now her daughter Johannah, plans to continue the tradition with Bluedorn’s grandchild.

Bluedorns moving to Illinois became a gift to us regarding their homeschool advocacy.  Harvey Bluedorn wrote this article years ago reminding homeschoolers why we should stay vigilant about ISBE and ROE attempts to regulate us:

Illinois Homeschoolers –  Eight Reasons Not to Register

By Harvey Bluedorn, New Boston, Illinois

1. Because there is no requirement to register in Illinois. Period. Administrators attempt to impose their will upon individuals through intimidation, harassment and coercion. They invent requirements which have no foundation in law. When our freedoms are infringed upon by government bureaucrats, they become emboldened to take the matter another step. Continued at Trivium Pursuit site

Ms. Wheeler says this in her article: In effect, any child who is home-schooled, is actually attending a private school, according to the state.

That statement seems unclear, and vague.  Any Illinois child who is homeschooled is actually attending a private school because of the 1950 Illinois Supreme Court case ruling.  We should all understand that the Illinois government sites are not always accurate, or blatantly misleading.  Use of the term, “the state”, does not explicitly pinpoint the judicial branch determination that Illinois homeschools are private schools, along with the legislative branch generally leaving homeschoolers alone since.   That is the set precedent.

PEOPLE VS. LEVISEN

There was also acknowledgement of virtual school potentials into the homeschool community.  We can assume the excitement is regarding more funding for public schools and more homeschool accountability to school bureaucracies.  Neither has been proven to increase educational success for children.

With the passage of last fall’s remote education programming legislation, which allows school districts to claim state aid for virtual coursework, the state may make learning even more accessible for home-schoolers, and help schools find new ways to get into the game and pay for it.

The K12 company has been incessantly lobbying for access to Illinois public school funds.  They provide curriculum for the Chicago Virtual School, which appears to be successful for many Chicago public school students.  I don’t believe there was a concerted lobbying effort from Illinois homeschoolers to gain access to this virtual program.  But the Chicago Teachers Union lawsuit side show revealed a great deal about some school authority opinions regarding home educators.  Stewart was the Chicago Teacher Union President at the time of the CTU lawsuit against ISBE, the Chicago Public School, et al.  From the Chi-Town Daily News:

“For them to think they can address the social and emotional issues of a child without being in the same room as that child is ludicrous,” Stewart said. “You can only adequately address these issues in a classroom where you have necessary peer support and peer interaction.”

Ms. Wheeler acknowledged the intense focus on school socialization, and provided homeschoolers’ feedback in the IASB article Socialization section.  It’s fascinating that there is almost always a socialization section pertaining to the education of homeschoolers.  The young adult homeschoolers addressed the issue well in the article,  including pointing out a ‘home-grown’ spoof play: Home-schoolers with Social Skills: Live!

Long time Champaign County homeschooler Elizabeth Nicol revised her style of homeschooling as the years have passed.  From the IASB Journal:

Nichol said her teaching style has changed over the years. “There’s a lot of flexibility about what can be taught, but through elementary school, it doesn’t really matter which year you learn about the American Revolution or about the solar system,” she said. “There’s so much to learn about and so you just sort of choose. We have an opportunity to go to Scotland, so we are learning about castles.

“My plans have changed. We do a lot of exploring. We take advantage of a lot of opportunities. We read a lot of books. (With the youngest son) it’s much more disorganized, but I’m comfortable with that, because I have experience. People who are just starting out, are a little more uptight about (the curriculum),” she said.

Many homeschoolers have discovered what Elizabeth knows.  That’s why we are grateful to not be tied into the testing regimen of the public schools, along with the school schedule.  This is despite the Regional Offices of Education attempts to limit us to 176 days a year, as just noted in the recent Will County ROE post, for instance.  Homeschoolers appreciate learning day in and day out, without the time waste of documenting that time.  That bureaucracy is not conducive to learning.

Illinois homeschoolers would like to protect their families from what didn’t or wouldn’t work for their families in the public schools.  There is increased attention by organizations like the Illinois Association of School Boards, along with the powerful teacher union disdain for home education.  Worst of all, the Illinois school authorities from the IL State Board of Education and Regional Offices of Education – who know better – along with the bullying principal or teacher telling families they need to put up and shut up; should give homeschoolers a heads up.  We need to fight all those little and big fires to waylay the institutional trend against homeschoolers, including watching out for the legislator and legislation that is not homeschool friendly.  The Illinois Association of School Boards has backed off from infringing on homeschool rights in the past.  I hope they continue that precedent.

Lobbying to Be Left Alone

Most Illinois homeschoolers are the rare breed of people who feel a duty to lobby in Springfield for nothing more than to be left alone.

The Virginia based K12 corporation has been lobbying hard in IL ($$) to create a state-wide virtual school. K12 already provides curriculum to the Chicago Virtual School, which appears to be satisfying many public school parents. Even as the Chicago Teachers Union fought its initiation in an ugly manner with a lawsuit they lost. CTU contended the Chicago Virtual School shouldn’t be publicly funded as it was a home-based homeschool.

Homeschoolers can appreciate the public Chicago Virtual School parents’ satisfaction with their children’s education.  But K12’s business ambitions have compelled many homeschool groups to keep K12 out of their homeschool conference vendor halls.  The reasons were exemplified by a high profile K12 spokesperson and former federal Department of Education Secretary, Bill Bennett.   He refused to understand the homeschooling way – as it got in his way.

From Home Education Magazine’s Larry and Susan Kaseman:

The major differences between Bennett’s goals and those of most homeschoolers can be seen clearly in Bennett’s comments during an interview by Mark Standriff on WSPD radio in Toledo, Ohio, August 16, 2002.

Standriff: What kind of opposition have you folks found?

Bennett: We found opposition from both sides of the political spectrum. Some of the homeschooling people have opposed us.

Standriff: Oh really, I would think this would be right in line with their thinking.

Bennett: Well it should be. Frankly, I’m disappointed. I’ve been defending homeschoolers for twenty years. But the principle I’m defending, Mark, is school choice, parental choice. The objection they have is that it shouldn’t be involved in public funding, at all. It shouldn’t be involved with government schools, as they say. But, I’m not prepared to relinquish $400 billion and just say, well never mind, this is not money that I’m entitled to. Parents are paying that money in taxes, they should have an option within the public school system that gives them a chance to educate their children at home, but be publicly accountable as all public schools should be.

Bennett’s entitlement project has caused huge headaches for homeschooling advocates, along with some homeschoolers who found the ‘free’ curriculum and computer took away their free time for educational enrichment.

A Virtual School Act sponsored by Representative Chapa-LaVia is sitting in the Illinois House Rules Committee. A similar bill (HB 3743) sponsored by Representative Chapa-LaVia came up just about a year ago, and it was a bit shocking to see homeschoolers referenced in this public virtual school bill again.

When I called Representative Chapa-LaVia’s office last year, I was told by an aide that she hadn’t discussed this bill with homeschoolers- before inserting mention of us. And here it is again, and here is the “home school” reference again.

One major concern is any “home school” reference in Illinois statutes. We have private school status via a 1950 IL Supreme Court ruling. Private schools in the non-home based buildings help protect our tinier minority of homeschoolers via coalitions and such. We could lose that umbrella protection with “home school” separation from other private schools by precedent setting statutes like this one. I know that was explained to Representative Chapa-LaVia’s office.

The Northwest Herald also had a guest column late last month –Trends point to bright future ahead – written by the Asst. Regional Supt of Education for McHenry County:

“Perhaps most interesting is the increased interest in virtual education. Currently Illinois has a virtual high school, and Chicago has a virtual charter school. While the Illinois General Assembly has entertained a statewide program of virtual instruction, the states of Kansas and Florida already have them. The flexibility of virtual public school is interesting a surprising number of parents. Parents become the primary facilitators for their child’s instruction as they work through lessons delivered online. The state would be funding a system that would facilitate the education of a child but be delivered by the parent with instructional software.”

This school official had kind words for homeschoolers and other private schools, but the combination of a powerful legislator and a ROE official pushing virtual education with a “home school” legislative twist can give a homeschool advocate an unsettling feeling. Representative Chapa-LaVia is the chair of the Appropriations-Elementary & Secondary Education Committee. Handling the IL school funding and appropriations is a powerful job, even if our Illinois government won’t balance our budget or pay bills on time as private citizens do.   Words via legal documentation do count and those words can take away freedoms.  Whether there is funding or not.

This was also posted on the Illinois Review and IL Home Education Network.

Chicago Virtual Charter School

The Chicago Virtual School’s approval by the IL State Board of Education in 2006 is covered in this article:

Chicago Schools Opens Its First Virtual Elementary School

Opposition to the Chicago schools’ new virtual elementary school stem from a variety of areas. Here are just a few:

• Computers will replace teachers and/or reduce their role in education, eliminating many teacher positions.
• The one-on-one attention that students may receive in a physical classroom setting will be lost.
• Virtual students in the Chicago schools will not receive enough social interaction, stunting their socialization skills.

The Chicago Teacher’s Union sued K12, ISBE (IL education governing body), Chicago Public Schools and other individuals, and lost. The lawsuit seemed to center around IL statute language that calls for “non-home based” charters. The K12 program is of course, built around the computer use being home-based. The Virtual also included a once/week science class attendance in a brick and mortar building. I imagine the brick and mortar classroom inclusion was to try and fend off the union’s concerns about the lack of social/emotional peer support in the classroom as quoted by the Chicago Teacher Union president:

“For them to think they can address the social and emotional issues of a child without being in the same room as that child is ludicrous,” Stewart said. “You can only adequately address these issues in a classroom where you have necessary peer support and peer interaction.”

More here:  Virtual Schooling on Fox News

Here’s the actual statute that the quibble is about.

(105 ILCS 5-27A-5)

Sec. 27A-5. Charter school; legal entity; requirements.

(a) A charter school shall be a public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, non-home based, and non-profit school. A charter school shall be organized and operated as a nonprofit corporation or other discrete, legal, nonprofit entity authorized under the laws of the State of Illinois.

For years, many IL homeschoolers were assuming that public school virtuals wouldn’t make their way into IL because of the particular statute phrasing quoted further down in this post;  that charter schools must be “new options” and that the charter will “create new, innovative, and more flexible ways of educating children within the public school system”. Illinois had already created a public Virtual High School. And I think homeschoolers were resting on their laurels in that public school virtual was already created, and therefore blocked “new options” for virtual public schools.

But the Chicago Virtual is for K-8th grade. AND the IL legislators who created the charter school act were contacted this summer by K12 and virtual school proponents about what they -really – meant with that language.

Here’s the  quote from the Chicago Public School lawyer concerning the legislators’ responses:

“Rocks, the attorney for Chicago Public Schools, said the restrictions on “home-based” charter schools mushroomed from concerns that home schools were trying to become charter schools simply to get public dollars. He presented letters from state lawmakers who voted on Illinois’ charter school law, and said their intent was not to block Internet-based schooling.”

Here’s part of the legislative declaration concerning “new options”:

(3) The enactment of legislation authorizing charter schools to operate in Illinois will promote new options within the public school system and will provide pupils, educators, community members, and parents with the stimulus to strive for educational excellence.

(c) In authorizing charter schools, it is the intent of the General Assembly to create a legitimate avenue for parents, teachers, and community members to take responsible risks and create new, innovative, and more flexible ways of educating children within the public school system. The General Assembly seeks to create opportunities within the public school system of Illinois for development of innovative and accountable teaching techniques. The provisions of this Article should be interpreted liberally to support the findings and goals of this Section and to advance a renewed commitment by the State of Illinois to the mission, goals, and diversity of public education.

So lesson learned, vigilance is eternal and question everything. IL homeschooling was dragged through the mud because of a public school issue.

Public School Programs Are Not Homeschooling

Virtual Schooling on Fox News

Here’s the link to the ~3 1/2 minute video from yesterday about public virtual schools: Virtual Schooling

Homeschooling came up immediately.

We all know home schooling is growing like wild fire spreading like — in this country. Tell me about — how virtual schooling differs from traditional home school ….

The guest responded accurately:

It’s full time public school so that differentiates from home schooling … home schooling is …not state funded. There are no report cards traditionally. It [virtual schooling] is public school and you abide by the test scene and — the requirements of the brick and mortar schooling.

She also gave a representation of the public virtual school advantages:

It’s self paced. It’s working at .. how they learn best and also you can engage in so many wonderful enriching curriculums that may not be provided — by your public school. “

They have more time outside the classroom with their family.

Illinois had a public virtual high school.  It is now called the Illinois Virtual School for grades 5 through 12, and is run by the Peoria County Regional Office of Education. Here’s what they say on their website:

Schools

The Illinois Virtual School partners with public, private, and home schools to provide online learning for students and educators.

Chicago has one public virtual school.  Information about the school is located on the private K12 corporation‘s site.

Here is a Chi-Town article about the Chicago Teachers Union lawsuit against this virtual public school. The lawsuit was dismissed last spring:

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Daniel A. Riley rejected both arguments. He wrote that although the school shares attributes of home schools, it is not a home-based school. Further, he said, because it is a charter school, it may define supervised instruction differently from state law.

“There are differences between the way we do education and traditional home schooling,” says Bruce Law, head of the Chicago Virtual Charter School. “On that difference — that’s where we were making our case.”

Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, says the difference was not enough to merit public funding. Since students of the virtual school spend most of their time learning at home, she says, they are essentially home-schooled.

“For someone to take public funds to home-school their children is not right,” she says. “It should not be on the backs of a majority of our students who are in our public schools.”