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TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE: More I.D.E.A. Concerns

By Barry Peters

The Pitch: Idaho will pay home schoolers money to teach their own children at home. They can use whichever curriculum they prefer. They can teach the same way they have always taught. They can use the school district personnel, curriculum, and other resources as much or as little as they like. The parents run the show. Some restrictions may apply.

In the final analysis, it's the "restrictions that apply" that make the reality of the Idaho Distance Education Academy (I-DEA) program significantly less attractive than the wonderful specter described in its glossy brochure. Those who take the bait without counting the cost are destined for disappointment.

Curriculum Options: Any Color That's Black

Henry Ford used to offer his cars in "any color so long as it's black." I-DEA often gives the impression that the parents will have unfettered discretion in deciding which curriculum to use for each child enrolled in the program. Unfortunately, the Idaho Department of Education has a very different view.

It its evaluation of the I-DEA program, the Department of Education announced that funds for the program could only be used to purchase "curricular materials from the State Board of Education approved Idaho Adoption Guide." The only materials for which I-DEA can offer reimbursement are those that are on the state's official list of curricula that are permitted in the public school classrooms of the state.

One of the foundational truths that home school families have discovered is that one size does not fit all. The curriculum that works well for one member of the family may be a flop for other members of the same family. More importantly, curriculum developed for use in the typical public school classroom is rarely the best option for use in a tutorial setting at home. Limiting home schooling families to the use of materials developed for use in the public classroom setting will likely decrease the academic achievement of those home schooling families forced to operate within the constraints required under this program.

Before parents register a child with I-DEA, they should at least provide the program with a list of the curricula they plan to use and request a written confirmation that those purchases will be reimbursed under the program.

Faith-Based Curriculum: The Camel in the Tent

Another area where the Department of Education sees things differently than does I-DEA is on the question of whether parents can continue their use of faith-based curricula in those subjects in which the parents do not want their children to be taught from a materialistic, secular viewpoint.

I-DEA assures parents that they can supplement the secular curriculum with materials from a faith-based viewpoint. But even if the state would tolerate this approach, one must wonder at the wisdom of teaching science, for example, from both an evolutionary and a creationist perspective simultaneously. Even if the parent has the time and energy to teach the subject twice, the result will undoubtedly be confusing to the children.

But more troublesome is the state's expectation. The Department of Education's Legal Sufficiency Review of the I-DEA program concludes that, because of the requirements of Idaho's statutes and constitution, "it is apparent that no public school appropriations may be used to support a school that allows the teaching of sectarian or religious doctrine."

Since the I-DEA program and state law view I-DEA students as public school students, these restrictions apply to all instruction occurring in the home as far as the state is concerned. I-DEA's claim that the state curriculum can be supplemented with faith-based materials is out of sync with the state's view. As has been the experience of families in the virtual charter schools in Alaska and British Columbia, the early promises of freedom and flexibility have given way to a systematic erosion of those promises.

Although for the moment the rules have only allowed the nose of the camel of secularism into the tent, in due time the whole camel will be inside and all faith-based curricula will be unceremoniously evicted from the program. Sadly, if this change occurs slowly enough, some parents may end up tolerating that which, at the outset, would have been intolerable.

Conclusions:

There are many good reasons why home education has been such a remarkable success academically. Chief among those is the parent's freedom to tailor a program to the strengths and weaknesses of each child.

While it is true that, for a few families who are considering the home education of their children, the availability of the funds that this program offers may make the difference between being able and not being able to undertake this great adventure. But for the average family who is able to teach a child at home for an entire year for just $450.00, these funds are not really a make-or-break issue.

The I-DEA program, while promising the best of all possible worlds, invites parents to sacrifice that freedom and perhaps the family's own spiritual values for a few hundred dollars. When the Idaho Department of Education finishes the process of imposing its own will onto this program, the families participating in this program may find themselves to have been reformed into the image of our state's public schools.

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