Mountain View Whisman School District administrators are pulling the plug on a long-standing program that provided instructional oversight to home-schooling families in the district for more than 17 years.
The Independent Study Program (ISP) has provided resources, including an assigned teacher and field trips, to families who opt to teach their children outside of the classroom. Earlier this month, Assistant Superintendent Carmen Ghysels told school board members that the district will sunset the ISP in June 2019, calling it unnecessary and citing low enrollment numbers.
The ISP program served close to 50 students around the 2009-10 school year -- students from both in and outside of the district's boundaries -- but in recent years enrollment has dwindled to between 12 and 15 students. The smaller size comes from a conscious effort by district officials to downsize the home-schooling program, who saw the program as a money loser and a service that is not mandated by the state.
The current year's budget for the program is $57,647, a little over one-third of the $150,000 budget it had in 2009.
Under the ISP, students are assigned a teacher hired by the district, and parents serve as a sort of hands-on instructional aides to teach curriculum based on the standards set by California's Common Core, Ghysels said. Students are technically considered enrolled in public schools, with mandatory testing and required record-keeping imposed by the district.
Students and parents in the program also meet with the district's ISP teacher regularly, with several meetings scheduled each month at a school site to go over academic progress.
The program requires both administration and oversight as well as financing for field trips. Ghysels described the program as a carry-over from the former Whisman School District 17 years ago, and said that few districts have any sort of comparable program.
"We are the only ISP program of this kind in this area. Palo Alto does not have one, nor does Los Altos or any surrounding district," she said.
Ghysels said the district isn't interested in being the outlier any longer, and that the district does not have an obligation to offer oversight for parents who choose to home-school their children. What's more, the district no longer receives funding based on total enrollment -- a side effect of rising property tax revenue due to the way California funds school districts -- meaning the program went from bringing money into the district to costing it money. Board members agreed at the Feb. 1 meeting to close down the program effective June of next year.
California's home-schooling policies are some of the most lax in the entire country, allowing parents to teach their children as long as they file an affidavit establishing themselves as a private school. Home-schooling families are not required to have a teaching credential, following a hard-fought appellate court battle in 2008 that ultimately ruled in favor of home-school advocates.
The number of families choosing home schooling is also on the rise. The number of children ages 5-17 in the home-school setting rose from 1.1 million in 2003 to more than 1.7 million in 2012, now representing close to 3.4 percent of all school-aged children in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph told the Voice that parents seeking to home-school their children may have relied heavily on the district's curriculum and oversight back in the 1990s, but now there are plenty of easy-to-access resources from groups like the California Homeschool Network that render the ISP program redundant.
"ISP was built well before the home-school movement took off, and in this day and age when there are so many more options for home school, you no longer need district oversight," he said.
Lax oversight and enforcement of home schooling has been a hot-button issue in California following the arrest last month of two parents in Riverside County who allegedly imprisoned their 13 children in their home that was considered a private school under state home-schooling laws. The California Department of Education does not have the authority to inspect or oversee private schools, which some advocacy groups and lawmakers say is ripe for change.
Assemblyman Jose Medina, who represents Riverside area where the children were reportedly tortured and starved, said in a statement Jan. 17 that he was "extremely concerned" about the lack of oversight the state has in monitoring private and home schools. Medina said he plans to introduce a bill this year that would "provide a legislative solution and prevent a situation like this from occurring in the future."