My wife and I don’t receive much mail, so we were fascinated when an eighty-page full-color program guide landed in our mailbox. The guide promised us that our children would have “success today” and “success for life.” It said our children could attend this online school from home. And best of all, it was free!
An attractive option
It’s not surprising that such programs, called virtual charter schools, attract Christian homeschool parents. The creative photographs portray children enjoying learning and being prepared for future careers. Virtual charter schools operate in many states. This option allows parents to shield their children from the vicious bullying that goes on in the public schools and give their children an education in the safety of the home, and all at a price point similar to that of the local public school—free.
A dangerous option
So why not? Why not keep our children safe at home and give them a free education? Is this a legitimate homeschool option for Christian parents?
As I flipped through the guide that evening, I thought about how attractive it made the program appear. But not everything in a full-color guide is as it seems. There are three things these virtual programs are not.
1. It’s not education
Virtual charter schools promise an excellent education with all the flexibility of being enrolled in an online school. However, a Stanford report in 2015 found that students in these schools performed worse than those in brick-and-mortar schools. In fact, these programs had an “overwhelming negative impact on student growth.”
That might be because children don’t engage with the content. An in-depth study of one virtual charter school by Education Week found that most children didn’t use the online software. The online school’s handbook said that children should spend “between 25 and 30 hours a week” on the program. But Education Week found that only 1 percent of students spent more than twenty hours a week and 55 percent never used the program during a typical week. One child enrolled in the virtual charter school said, “I have pretty much ignored school.”
That’s not education.
2. It’s not homeschooling
When parents enroll their child in a virtual charter school, they’re not homeschooling. They may be at home with their child all day long while schooling happens at home, but they are, in fact, enrolling their child in a government school.
All of the educational choices for a child enrolled in a virtual charter school are made by someone miles away from your home. These secular educators are the ones choosing your child’s curriculum and setting your child’s learning goals.
All virtual charter schools are government funded. As Israel Wayne puts it, what the government pays for, the government controls.
That’s not homeschooling.
3. It’s not Christian
Christians find these programs interesting and inviting because they can have their children at home. That way, they think, they can teach their children the Bible and Christian ethics while their children learn math, science, and history online. It feels like Christian homeschooling.
However, this is the very heart of a secular education. Secularists willingly acknowledge that you are entitled to your personal religious beliefs, but religion has no place in school.
Children enrolled in a virtual charter school may pray with the parents before meals. They can read Bible together as a family. But then the children log into their classes to learn a secular view of history, a secular view of literature, and a secular view of science. Right there in their own living rooms, they’re learning that God didn’t create the world.
That’s not Christian.
The high cost
Virtual charter schools don’t cost Christian homeschool families any money, and they allow children to stay at home. But when families enroll their children in these programs, they pay a high price. In exchange for free school at home, they hand over control of their children’s education to a government entity. That’s too steep a price to pay.