This post reviews Carol Klein and Mary Poplin, “Families Home Schooling in a Virtual Charter School System” in Marriage and Family Review 43, nos. 3&4 (2008): 369-395.
Klein, a Teacher on Special Assignment in Anaheim, CA, and Poplin, Professor of Education at Claremont Graduate University, here offer the results of a survey Klein conducted of parents whose children are enrolled in the California Virtual Academies (CAVA).
Klein’s doctoral dissertation on the same theme was published two years ago as Virtual Charter Schools and Home Schooling. Poplin was her major professor. This article is basically a shorter version of the book. Though just published, it is based on data collected during the 2004-2005 school year.
Klein begins with a brief orientation to homeschooling, charter schools, and virtual charters. Her discussions here are cursory and, at least in the case of homeschooling, rely heavily on the advocacy research I have discussed many times in this blog, leading her say things about homeschooler achievement and demographics that are unwarranted. But that is not the main point of the article. Her main point is to describe the phenomenon of virtual charter schools–public schools that offer online curriculum and computers, all for free, to students in their homes. Virtual charter schooling is government-funded homeschooling.
After her orientation, Klein reports the results of a survey she made of parents whose children were enrolled in the California Virtual Academies (CAVA). When she conducted the survey, CAVA had six schools with a total enrollment of 2,051 students, coming from 1,422 families. CAVA’s main draw is its use of the very popular K12 curriculum.
Klein was given permission to have the students’ teachers email parents her survey. Of the 1,422 families who were mailed the instrument, 146 responded, a dismal return rate of just over 10%. All but three respondents were mothers. Over 90% were married. 70% white. 94% had at least some college education. 90% were Christian, mostly conservative Protestants (17% were Catholic and only 7% claimed no religious affiliation). Klein summarizes that these parents tend “to be more educated, more religious, and more likely to be married than the general population.” (p.379)
Since CAVA is a public school its students are required to take the same standardized tests as do other California public schoolers. Because the test results of 2005 “were not available at the time of the study” Klein used the results from earlier years. CAVA came out looking good in English Language Arts, with 15 of the 18 grade categories scoring above state averages. But in math things were not so good: 16 of 18 grade categories scored below state averages. Klein notes that CAVA has instituted a plan to address this deficiency, but that’s all we are told.
Klein found that parents are overwhelmingly positive about the CAVA experience, and that this positive feeling was the same regardless of parent’s race, class, educational level, and all other variables. Her instrument included some open-ended questions, and Klein found the following five reasons to dominate the positive appraisals of parents:
1. Parents love the K12 curriculum (61% mentioned this)
2. Parents like the flexible scheduling and pre-packaged lessons (50%)
3. Families had had negative experiences in traditional public schools (47%)
4. Parents like that it is free (18%)
5. Parents like that they can incorporate family and religious values into the school day (16%)
Though parents were very pleased overall, when asked what could be improved, 20% responded that more opportunities for face-to-face socialization should be provided.
After collecting and analyzing the surveys, Klein conduted more intensive face-to-face interviews with ten representative families. These interviews reinforced the findings of her surveys: parents spoke highly of the K12 curriculum and loved being able to skip a day or two and then make it up on a Saturday or during a vacation period. All but one spoke freely, unprompted, about their faith. Klein notes, “It appears that these parents are largely Protestant Christians.” (p.390)
Klein concludes with two observations: first, she is fascinated by how easily these families take a secular curriculum and seamlessly incorporate their own Christian values into it. Secondly, she hypothesizes that the Virtual Charter School movement is perhaps an example of a post-industrial reorienting of public and private spaces:
Could it be that our technological culture, born of the industrial revolution, has come full circle and offers again the opportunity to renew this integration of family, work, values, and schooling that was initially torn apart by the industrial revolution? (p.392)
I have to say that I was disappointed with this article, only because it adds nothing at all to what Klein said in her book. I read her book when it came out and found it very helpful, and I was hoping here for an update or follow-up study telling us what has transpired since 2004. But instead it’s only a rehash of the same material. She does have a footnote that sounds like it was written in early 2006. In this footnote she includes what was I think one of the most helpful insights of her book, that when cybercharters are first opened in a state they tend to attract people who had been homeschooling before. But as they mature they increasingly draw families out of public and private education.
If you haven’t read the book, however, this article serves as a fine substitute.