Home schoolers and the public schools they long derided have been forging new alliances that provide bonuses for both.
Parents who teach their offspring at home can increasingly pick and choose what they want from their public schools, whether membership in the band or a weekday field trip. Schools get the state funding they otherwise would have lost, without having to find another pupil a seat in already brimming classrooms.
Thus, a San Clemente kindergartner sounds out words from a brightly illustrated primer at his kitchen table, then heads off to his local public school for music lessons. Irvine siblings absorb basic lessons at home, but take their standardized tests at school, as well as participate in the campus science fair and spelling bee.
"It's a movement that is becoming more and more mainstream," said Sheree Denee, principal of the Orange County Home Education Program, a charter school run by the county Department of Education and designed to help 1,500 home-schooled students. "Public school support is attempting to become the mainstay or the accepted way of home schooling."
There are at least 30,000 home-schooled children in California. That figure does not include thousands more students in the 25 or so home-study charter schools statewide and those whose parents have not notified authorities of their existence.
About 2,000 of those home-schooled students are in Orange County, and the numbers are growing, leading more schools to offer them educational goodies.
Irvine Unified and the county Department of Education launched their home-education programs about 10 years ago. This past summer, the county program gained charter status, creating a more centralized program and enabling it to serve more students. Capistrano Unified also piloted a program this fall. And a handful of other districts are piggybacking on these programs.
"Some kids spend 80%, 50% or as little as 10% of their day at their local school," said Capistrano Unified Supt. James Fleming. "We see it as a way to reach out to an ever-changing constituency."
One Laguna Niguel mother sends her sixth-grade son to a Capistrano school for three-fourths of the study day.
The 12-year-old attends school for physical education, science, band and almost every subject--except language arts and social studies. Because the boy struggles in those two subjects, his mother said she wants to work closely with him on those.
"History he disdains and I find it quite fascinating, so I want to impart that to him," said the mother, who asked that her name not be published because of the stigma she feels is attached to home schoolers.
Teachers who work with home schoolers said many families join the state-funded programs because they like the academic support and social activities that encourage the students to become involved.
"We plan workshops daily and field trips monthly for our families," said Peggy Frick, director of Irvine Unified's home-study program. "There are plenty of opportunities for these children to socialize with their peers."
In turn, public schools receive the same amount of money as if the students attended public school full time--in Capistrano's case, that's $3,850 a year for each pupil. And for crowded districts like Capistrano, allowing children to home school saves space. "This year we have 28 students in our program," Fleming said. "That's a classroom somewhere."
Home schooling took flight in the late 1960s. Two schools of thought forged the movement: Progressives and hippies wanted to educate their kids in an unconventional, carefree environment; religious fundamentalists sought to teach their children the word of God and insulate their young from society's ills.
Although their motives differed, both camps rejected public schools and blamed them for their children's lack of learning. They wanted to divorce themselves from fad teaching trends, parents said.
Public educators argued in turn that home schoolers wrongfully maligned public schools because of philosophical and religious differences. Teachers and administrators also contended that home-taught children would grow dependent on their parents and would not be properly educated.
But now all that is changing.
More than 13,300 California students last year were home instructed through a public school program, a figure that has more than doubled since 1993, according to the latest data from the state Department of Education.
Some home-teaching purists still strongly oppose any alliance with public schools. They characterize public school involvement as government control in a "private family matter." And, they add, public schools are capitalizing on home-schooling families by earning state money.
"I think this is motivated by financial reasons and that concerns me," said Michael Smith, vice president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Assn. "We protect and stand for the right of private home schoolers to exist separate from the public school establishment."