Open Letter to All Home Educators

Submitted by Colleen Erzinger, President, BCHLA, July 1998

The BC School Act was enacted in 1989. Now in BC over 100 local homeschool support groups network under the B.C. Home Learners’ Association (BCHLA) throughout the province. Homeschool registrations have doubled from 1990 to 1996. About 5000 BC children are homeschooled (0.7% of the BC student populace). All is well… or is it?

For the past decade, BC home educators have enjoyed the best homeschooling law in Canada. We, as parents, have the maximum freedom and total responsibility for the ‘educational program’ of our children without requiring any prior approval or assessment by either Ministry or school district officials. We simply register our children as ‘receiving homeschooling’ (Form 1701) in the annual homeschool registration in September.

In Alberta, where homeschoolers some years ago sought and received government funding, all students, including homeschool students, at grades three, six, and nine must write standard achievement tests. The homeschool parent must also file an educational plan for each student and have twice-yearly consultations with a school district-appointed teacher in order to homeschool. The Alberta government this fall announced a planned change to Alberta achievement tests, thus forcing homeschooled children to be tested on Alberta public school curriculum.

If regulations are desirable, why are Alberta home educators lobbying against this testing change, and why are members of ACHBE (Association of Canadian Home Based Educators) spearheading research and discussions on how to deregulate home education across the country?

For seven years, BC government has allowed Nechako district E-BusTM to continue as a computer-assisted school district-funded program. A few other districts have copied this program or variations of it. BCHLA has been tracking this trend of district-funded ‘home-based programs’ (usually including home computer, resource centre, access to teacher/consultant, etc.). In the past three months, BCHLA has heard concerns from homeschoolers in three BC school districs now seeking funding to start ‘homeschool education programs’. In one district, seven ‘enrolled’ families obtained curriculum service from the district. Four months later, an Education Consultant was hired to (in her words) “visit these families in their homes” to “help them develop their education programs” which by September will be “much more organised” and be “according to the Ministry of Education learning objectives.” (The Education Consultant admitted not knowing any of the academic research upon which home education is based. BCHLA was able to educate this professional about home education.)

Why worry? In Kootenay Lake School District #8, for example, one strategy for deficit reduction is to entice homeschoolers to enroll in a district-funded program (Phoenix) or to enroll in a ‘traditional school’. Should homeschoolers accept these ‘carrots’ from the district? Please consider the bigger picture:

  1. Do you wish to retain your freedom (to determine how, what, and when your child learns) as a home educator? Our current homeschooling law assumes our competence as educators. We do not need to prove ourselves as ‘educators’ by ‘testing results’ that may be mandated in regulations for those enrolled in district programs.
  2. Does the state teach the child, or do you wish to retain your right to teach your own child? The current BC annual homeschool ‘registration’ acknowledges your authority over your child’s education. ‘Enrolling’ in a district program legally places your child into the public system (whether ‘alternate program’ or Distance Education School enrollment), because the government will not permit double funding of any student as a homeschool registrant and district or DES enrollee.
  3. If many (or some) homeschooling families enroll in a district-funded program, a clear precedent is set and a perception established of homeschoolers’ willingness to accept regulations as the accountability measure for funding/services/programs received from the district. If one part of the BC homeschooling community willingly accepts regulations, why not regulate all homeschoolers? Some might feel they can opt out of a program if regulations become too onerous. However, by then, the homeschoolers’ freedom may be ‘regulated away’.
  4. Will the move of some homeschoolers into the district-funded public system alternate program (e.g., Phoenix) create a negative public ‘backlash’ against homeschoolers (since homeschoolers may get a new home computer while families in the public school do not)? Could that start a move toward ending homeschooling by regulatory or legislative changes to the School Act?
  5. Who wins? The school district could gain funds from increased enrollment to help offset their deficit. The parent wins by getting a ‘good deal’ financially — a new computer and software, etc. But does the child ‘win’? Will a child find an educational program of computer-aided learning boring or challenging? Developing eye muscles can be unduly strained by too much time on the computer. Is there considerable academic research which proves that the proposed Phoenix program offers a sound, excellent program more effective than other teaching methods, including working one-to-one with your own child? Also, how is one computer to be used by several students of school age in one family?
  6. If graduation diploma/credits are an issue, there are now several avenues open to BC home educators, such as Course Challenge, Advanced Placement, Adult Basic or Continuing Education, GED, or SAT scores, plus favourable admissions policies of some universities (e.g., TWU) and colleges. BCHLA monitors admissions standards of BC colleges and universities, advocating for ‘homeschool friendly’ admission standards.
  7. If getting a computer and having your child(ren) develop computer literacy is important to you, there are options available which preserve your freedom as a home educator. Local support groups can bulk-order computers or negotiate an ‘educational discount’ price for home computers (or science equipment). BCHLA is working on a discount package of services and products for BCHLA members. As for District Resource Centres, some local BC homeschool support groups form their own resource centres and library collections geared solely to home educators.

With the ‘bigger picture’ and long-term consequences in view, BCHLA has to date not sought any form of government funding, because with funding comes accountability, which ultimately results in regulations that limit freedom. BCHLA takes the position of retaining the maximum freedom afforded in our current law which prevents interference from local district or Ministry officials. Please join, or renew your membership in, BCHLA, the only provincial organization representing home educators. Political strength is in numbers, and BCHLA needs strong representation in all regions of BC.

BCHLA is run by a board of veteran homeschooling parents who volunteer their time to represent you. BCHLA’s board of directors welcomes your comments on this issue.