Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Homeschooling for Hire?

As a preface to this article, Plush Duck admits to being a self-described homeschooling purist, meaning she believes that homeschooling should be done by parents, not private tutors, online virtual schools, community college courses, or the occasional public school class if permitted by local education officials.

As the coordinator of a homeschool support group, I receive my fair share of phone calls regarding homeschooling and, normally, these inquiries come from families investigating home education as a viable commitment for their family. Recently, however, I have received several phone calls from professional public school educators, some retired, some actively employed, who have faced the question, “May I hire you to homeschool my children?” My advice to these individuals: insist on a legally binding employment contract, enumerating your duties and responsibilities as the instructor, and the parents’ duties and responsibilities as the employer. Then have the contract signed by both parties in the presence of an attorney or, at the very least, a notary public. This sounds heavy-handed and legalistic, I know, but as a professional educator, it protects you from an accusation of “educational neglect” if your students do not perform as well as desired by the parents, and it gives you a way to hold the parents accountable if they fail in their duties as an employer. Of course, it also gives the parents a vehicle by which to hold you accountable as well, but I digress…

As a veteran homeschooler, my more pressing concern is this: when did home education by parent-teachers become “homeschooling for hire” by certified teachers, whether or not the parents work outside the home? Important news flash: this is NOT homeschooling; this is the creation of a private school within the physical confines of your home! Please, do not call this type of education “homeschooling!” The mere fact that student instruction is occurring in a location outside the physical boundaries of a public or private educational institution does not mean, by default, that such instruction is “homeschooling.” Homeschooling is education that occurs in a private home with the majority of instruction being given by the parents.

When parents decide to homeschool their kids, they are actively retaining the authority to educate their children, rather than delegating that authority to a public or private school. Likewise, any time parents make someone else, be it the public school or a private tutor, responsible for the entirety of their children’s education, then they have delegated their authority to direct the education of their children to that other entity or individual. It boils down to who is responsible, and these boundaries need to unequivocal. When the parents tackle the instruction, they are responsible; when the child attends a public or private school, the educational institution is responsible. When parents decide to “homeschool” their children, but hire out the entire instructional task to other people, who is responsible then? The parents? No. They aren’t doing the instructional work. They are merely acting as the general contractor for their “private school” and hiring a staff to teach various subjects. Is the hired staff responsible? No, not clearly. When a child is withdrawn from school and a notice of intent is filed, the parents take on the educational responsibility of their children; it is the parents’ names on the dotted line, not those of the assembled teaching staff. Hence, my earlier comment regarding an employment contract.

Now, before all the homeschoolers out there attack me from the “what about hiring a tutor for one or two classes” angle, that is not what I am speaking about here. I am addressing what I see as a growing trend of parents who believe they can hire out the homeschooling of their children. If you currently homeschool and realize that physics, for example, is not your forte, then ask a fellow homeschooler in your community to teach just that subject to your child. This is where that statement “the majority of instruction being given by the parents” becomes key. If you as the parent-educator are handling more than 50% of the course instruction for your child, then you are considered the responsible party and you are assumed to be homeschooling. If you have chosen to delegate more than 50% of your instructional load to someone else, be it a private tutor or an educational institution, then you are not necessarily assumed to be homeschooling. Another important news flash: if you fall into this second category and you require the services of an attorney where your educational responsibilities are concerned, an attorney who specializes in homeschool law may NOT necessarily take your case. When it comes to the education of your children and your parental authority, why take the risk? Teach your children yourself and let the professional educators do their job where they are needed most --- in the public school.

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