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Homeschool vs. distance learning: What's the difference?

Posted at 2:12 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-08 16:15:28-04

With most school districts' TEA exemptions up for strictly online learning, many parents are deciding how they want to finish their children's education this school year.

"Except for getting rid of the virus, there’s no great answer," said "Claire," a local private school teacher.

Do parents want to continue distance learning? Which options do parents have if they decide they don't want to send their students back onto school campuses?

The good news is, several options exist. Distance learning is the method currently being used by CCISD and other area school districts, but homeschooling also is an option.

Distance learning isn't new -- it's just come to the forefront since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Driscoll Children's Hospital has a CCISD branch in which two full-time teachers and volunteers teach patients during their hospital stays.

"Anytime you have any kind of connection with a public school, it means that, by legal definition, your kid is a public school student," said local registered nurse Laura Quave. "And that can take place in a lot of different places. I mean, even before the pandemic, kids that were medically fragile would be educated at home through the public schools. And it's a great option. It generally doesn't cost the families anything and for those who, that's what they want is a public education, they have all of the materials provided, teachers teach, parents just kinda guide and coach."

Though distance learning lets students do their schoolwork at home, it is often confused with homeschooling, which local educators and experts tell KRIS 6 News are two very different things.

"Learning at home has no bearing or not on whether you’re being homeschooled," said CCISD Associate Director of Communications Lyndall Gathright. "I think that’s the disconnect. Elephants are mammals, but not all mammals are elephants. You can deliver the same method, but it’s not the same program."

In distance learning, the school district develops the curriculum students follow. It decides what students will be taught and the pace. One of the goals of CCISD's curriculum is for students to not fall behind if they have to transfer from campus to campus.

"What we have done, essentially, is tried to re-create the school day through online materials," Gathright said. "Basically, we’re just going to re-create the school day using technology, in the short term, until we are able to get back to face-to-face instruction."

That means teachers hold classes virtually, using a plan for study developed by CCISD, and students attend via teleconferencing, he said. Assignments will be available through Canvas, a learning-management system, that lets students interact with their teachers and ask questions.

"The information and the curriculum would stay the same," Gathright said. "Only the way we give that curriculum to the students is what has been altered, but not the curriculum itself. Essentially what we're saying is, in every way possible, we're gonna replicate the classroom."

Despite the school or school district doing a lot of the prep work for learning, "Claire" said a lot still falls on the students' parents.

"It does ask a lot of the parents," she said. "A LOT of the parents."

With homeschool, parents are responsible for planning their child's education.

"Distance learning is still dependent on the teacher and the school and the school district to provide the materials; to provide the curriculum, to provide the lessons, to provide the assignments and the checking of the assignments," said "Claire," who is also a former homeschool teacher. "So . . . that was where the responsibility was."


In homeschooling, all of that falls to the parent, who often doubles as the homeschool teacher.

"It redefines your role as a parent," said Quave, who homeschooled her three children. "You can’t just hang out and be a parent because you’re also a teacher for a good part of your day, and, so it changes a lot of your relationship dynamics within the whole home. . . . I think that’s the part that a lot of people don’t see, is how much it changes your relationship."

Parents who homeschool, under Texas law, are teachers, and the home becomes a private school district subject to its own rules and curriculum. The Texas Supreme Court's 1994 ruling in Leeper vs. Arlington ISD set the legal precedent for parents to be able to educate their children at home after the Texas Education Agency deemed homeschooling was not a form of private schooling. It was a period in history where children were removed from their homes accused of truancy and negligence, and had to fight court battles and lobby legislators in order to confirm their way of life was a legal one, Quave said.

The importance of the ruling, Quave said, is that homeschoolers were properly armed with a definition of what it is -- private school -- and more importantly, for homeschoolers, what it isn't -- public school, which comes with oversight homeschooling families say isn't required.

"That's where our freedoms come from to homeschool, and a right to homeschool," she said. "So when you have a lot of people conflating distance learning and homeschool terms like that, a big concern is that . . . people could use that to change definitions and therefore create more oversight for homeschoolers than is really necessary."

CCISD's distance learning has a set learning plan developed by teachers and administrators within the school district.

"Essentially when a curriculum is created for a subject, all of the lesson plans are . . . developed, the individual teachers take that, adapt them to their particular classroom and make sure students are on-track throughout the year and we cover all of the information that's necessary to meet TEA requirements," CCISD's Gathright said.

Homeschooling families, however, don't have to adhere to TEA standards and can build their curriculum as they see fit. Some come ready-made and can be bought and taught from straight out of the box. Others choose to tailor curriculum to their childrens' needs, pace and interests. It also can be built to include faith-based learning. But it can be expensive, Quave said.

"It takes a huge time and money commitment," she said, "because there isn't any public dollars to you to be able to buy curriculum. Just like you're not gonna get a check from the government to send your kid to an expensive private school. You know, when you send your kid to a private school you're gonna have to fund that out of your own pocket. Well, it's the same thing homeschooling."

One common misconception, Quave said, is that homeschooling hinders childrens social development.

"People that are not homeschoolers love to ask about socialization because, in general, you think it's like this huge issue for homeschoolers and you have to work really hard at it. But it's kind of a joke, and inside joke amongst homeschoolers, when people ask about socialization because it's such a non-issue, because our kids aren't home all day."

Quave said its common for homeschool kids to spend most of the day out of the house and around other homeschool kids because their school days are shorter.

"Most kids are just getting out of school at 3 o'clock -- my kids rolled into the downstairs at 10 o'clock, are done by 2, and then we're off to the library, the museum, the park. . . . the whatever to stay busy and find something to do with the rest of our day," Quave said. "And running into other homeschoolers. And interacting with other adults.

"They're not at all isolated. I don't have to look for ways for them to be social."