• To home school a child, a parent need only file an affidavit with the state creating a private school.
• State education officials have no accurate count of home-schooled children.
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• Nationally, the home-school movement is growing, though still a small number overall.
• Resourceful parents form co-ops to share costs, classes.
• The state won’t validate private home schools when colleges, employers call.
Michael Cox has a master’s degree in education administration and his wife has a teaching credential, but the Madera County couple long ago decided to bypass the public education system and teach their children at home.
“We were determined to home school before we got married,” Cox said. “We went through that door and we never looked back.”
But the world of Cox and other home-school parents is an educational netherworld, where children are educated without any state oversight on curriculum, standards, testing or textbooks.
These parents need only file an annual affidavit with the state to become, and remain, a private school. It’s the same affidavit filed by private schools such as San Joaquin Memorial, but in the case of home-school parents, the number of students are just their own children, possibly even a single child. Filing the affidavit frees parents from the state’s public school system and lets them educate their children as they see fit.
“They are supposed to teach the same subjects required to be taught in public schools,” said Jane Ross, education programs consultant for the state Department of Education. “But there are no requirements on content standards, curriculum or textbooks, no requirements for teachers. Nothing about minimum instructional minutes.”
California officially has no idea how many children in the state are home schooled this way, though unofficially they can venture a guess. They know how many private school affidavits were filed, and unofficially estimate those with five or fewer students are probably home schools. But, Ross said, “we have no count of home schools.”
But that’s not the only way to home school in California.
Parents who want to home school, but want some guidance and some connection to official transcripts and state-approved curriculum, can enroll their children in a charter school that caters to home-schoolers.
One is the Central Valley Home School, a Kingsburg-based K-8 school where parents are the teachers, but which provides support services such as books, curriculum, testing, field trips, assemblies, classes, enrichment programs such as music and tae kwon do and a master teacher to ensure both parent and student are on the right academic track.
A big difference between pure home schooling and enrolling in a home-school charter is that such schools are accountable to the state. The schools’ services are free for parents, and the district collects state attendance money for each student. Central Valley Home School has around 200 students and is part of the Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District.
“We don’t want our kids to fall behind because they’re at home,” Central Valley Home School Principal Misti Jennings said. Should parents decide to move their children back to public school, Jennings said, the transition would be seamless because the school’s program has benchmarks and accountability.
Cox, who home schools his own children, is also executive director of the Mountain Home Charter School and Glacier High School Charter, both in Oakhurst. The schools operate similarly to Central Valley Home School. Another similar operation is the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center in Visalia.
“We are committed to keeping the parents in the driver’s seat,” Cox said. “We tell parents that we are really about you driving this thing. We have a serious commitment to having the parents lead. When parents come in and don’t know much, we’re a lot more forward and hands-on. As they gain a vision and some competency, then we more and more hand it over to them.”
These students, while home schooled, are considered by California to be public school students because they are part of a charter school that receives state funds. State education officials classify them as being on “home-based independent study.”
A growing movement
Overall, Cox said, home schooling is still a minority schooling movement, but it is the fastest-growing education sector.
Nationally, 1.77 million children were home schooled in the 2011-12 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That is approximately 3% of the school-age population, the center said. It is a number that, at least nationally, appears to be increasing. In early 2003, the total was around 1.1 million students, and by 2007 it was 1.5 million.
“A traditional school is not for every student,” Jennings said.
Fresno resident Stephanie Ganzenhuber is a parent with a foot in two of the state’s home-school communities.
It all started when her oldest son, Gannon, asked to be home schooled after his first-grade year. Though Ganzenhuber had a teaching credential and five years experience in a Central Unified elementary school, she was still apprehensive. Home schooling was a foreign world to both her and her husband, who also is a public school teacher, and she had the two boys and an infant girl at home.
She started off on her own with Gannon, forming a private school known as “Tiger Elementary.” Now, Ganzenhuber has signed Gannon up with Logos Christian Conservatory, a private organization that files the state paperwork and does a few other administrative duties for around 30 home-school families. Ganzenhuber then decided to enroll her two younger children, Zachary and Julia, in the Central Valley Home School.
All three of her children are taught in the family room.
“I would have never thought that this could have been a school room,” she said of the room in her north Fresno home, which has a couch and television, but also a white board, Egypt poster, numbers in Spanish and other tools of the teaching trade.
Gannon likes it, too, “because I can stay with my mom and she can learn what I’m learning. She knows what I’m being taught.”
Though Logos doesn’t hold classes, Ganzenhuber likes that they require her to report what she is teaching to Gannon, and they hire a trained proctor to administer tests. But she grades Gannon and produces his transcripts. The Central Valley Home School does that — and is answerable to the state — for Zachary and Julia.
For other home-schooling parents, that is too much. They do everything themselves, including tests. And they absolutely don’t want any state testing requirements or to be answerable to Sacramento bureaucrats.
Those who go it alone say they can do everything that is done by a home-school charter that answers to the state, or a traditional public school.
Yes, they must purchase their own supplies and develop their own curriculum. It can be expensive, and some colleges and employers struggle to know if the students actually learned the material. Some of these parents cope with the challenges of teaching tough classes or getting their children into music by forming loose-knit co-ops. These groups may hand down books or share resources, such as finding a teacher and then pooling money for a class that may be in a complicated subject.
Ganzenhuber pays for writing, science and Spanish classes through a co-op. Gannon, a sixth-grader, has some teachers who are moms, but his science teacher has a master’s degree in the subject.
“I’ve dissected a sheep brain, a chicken leg, a whole rat — like a really big one,” Gannon said. “That’s not all our science class does. We learn about the solar system. It’s pretty fun.”
It’s also the perfect setup, Ganzenhuber said.
“I know where my weaknesses are,” she said. “I’m not going to dissect with (Gannon). I’m not a fabulous writer ... (but) where you’re weak, somebody else is strong.”
Sometimes, the co-ops are more organized, like the Christian Home Educators of the Fresno Area, known as CHEFA, a nonprofit organization of home-school families that has a website and a board of directors.
CHEFA doesn’t offer classes or instruction to students. Intead, it supports families and students, said Steve Spalding, CHEFA’s board president.
For example, the organization has a library of curriculum that parents can check out for use. Parents that are part of the group either file their own private school affidavit with the state and take care of legal paperwork themselves, or register their children in Private School Satellite Program, which is a small private school umbrella for home-schoolers, Spalding said. It operates somewhat like the Central Valley Home School in that it keeps records, but caters to private home-schoolers and isn’t associated with the state.
The biggest thing CHEFA does is offer activities to give home-schoolers group interaction. One of those is Sports Saturdays, which has six-week seasons in flag football, soccer, basketball and volleyball. CHEFA also has a high school graduation ceremony, a yearbook for students and organized group field trips.
CHEFA’s website, for example, has a link to classes for Christian home-schoolers. Among the offerings for the current school year are ancient world history, Spanish, high school anatomy/physiology, high school chemistry and marine biology.
Ganzenhuber, who attended Fresno State on a track scholarship, has even pitched in. She started a running program that now has around 75 kids. Not long after Ganzenhuber started, she contacted someone she knew at Fresno Unified, and a short time later her home-schoolers were competing with Fresno Unified schools. Currently, 35 to 50 of the kids in her running program enter competitions.
The one thing all the different options have in common is, for whatever reason, parents who take this route want to educate their children themselves. Maybe it’s for religious reasons. Or their child was bullied or didn’t fit in at a large school. Some don’t like the authority. Others simply feel they can do the job better.
“We go year by year, but at this point I can’t see putting my children back in school,” Ganzenhuber said. “We love to learn together. It’s fun seeing those ah-ha moments happening in my home.”
Still, that doesn’t mean everyone succeeds.
“Home schools can be really expensive if you do it on your own,” said Jennings, the Central Valley Home School principal.
Ganzenhuber has had friends who have struggled to home school. For some, home-school public charter schools have been helpful, though like traditional public schools and well-established private institutions, they also have rules. Central Valley Home School has a noncompliance process in place, and the district has a set of expectations that students and parents must meet. Students are tested and transcripts are official.
True home-schoolers — who aren’t affiliated with a state-recognized charter — say they do all that, too. They test, they grade, they have classes and field trips and they even produce transcripts.
But Ross, the state Department of Education official, said they get home schooling-related calls from colleges, universities, military branches, employers and verification agencies working for employers. They all want the state Department of Education to “validate this was a legit school.
“We can never do it,” she said.
All the state can say is a private school — which may or may not be a home school — filed an affidavit on a certain day. The state cannot vouch for transcripts, curriculum, standards or anything else.
“There is no authority to do any more,” Ross said.