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Getting an education that's legal

State oversight of home-schooling approaches varies considerably

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Matthew Fazzino works on an online vocabulary lesson with his tutor Ellen Cate at his home on Nov. 16, 2017. Photo by Veronica Weber.

This article is part of a larger story on home-schooling in Palo Alto. Read the story here.

Home-schooling families have several options for complying with California education requirements: enroll in a public charter school or a local school district's independent study program, if available, or file an affidavit with the state to establish a home private school.

Locally, many families choose free charter school Ocean Grove, which is sponsored by the San Lorenzo Valley School District in Santa Cruz County but also serves students in Santa Clara, San Mateo and other Bay Area counties. Santa Clara County families account for almost half of the school's more than 2,400 students, said Director of Education Support Services Cynthia Rachel. There are currently 37 students from Palo Alto enrolled at Ocean Grove.

Palo Alto parent Annette Fazzino described Ocean Grove as "home-school in a box." The school provides structure and accountability through its educational specialists, all credentialed teachers. They monitor students' academic progress through regularly scheduled in-person meetings. Ocean Grove is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (the same organization that accredits the Palo Alto Unified School District) and can provide official transcripts to students. And like any public school, Ocean Grove is required to administer state tests at the end of the school year.

Ocean Grove also provides families with stipends for curriculum materials or to pay for extracurriculars, from music and language lessons to martial arts instruction and field trips, Rachel said. Each family gets up to $2,000 in instructional funds from the state per year to use at their discretion. This is often a boon for single-income families working to make ends meet while home schooling. Parents said home-schooling can quickly become expensive as the costs of private tutors and classes pile up.

Ocean Grove is also a popular option for families with special-needs students. The school's special-education department provides an array of services, such as specialized instruction and speech therapy, and like any public school is beholden to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The number of Ocean Grove students with individualized education plans (IEPs) doubled in the last year alone, Rachel said.

This parallels a rise in overall enrollment at Ocean Grove, which opened in 2005. The school saw an 11 percent enrollment increase last year and has a wait list several hundred students deep, Rachel said.

"Part of it is (people) becoming more aware of the opportunities available," Rachel said.

Parents who want more control over their children's education than they can get through a charter school can file a private school affidavit with the California Department of Education. This allows them to operate a private school within their own home, with the freedom to select and provide curricular, instructional and other materials. The affidavit exempts students from the state's compulsory-education law, which requires that children age 6 through 18 attend a public, full-time day school.

The Department of Education suggests that students receive instruction in the areas of study required in the state's public schools, but there is no legally required reporting or testing. (Parents who want to can pay for their own testing.)

Parents must file the affidavit form annually and maintain certain records, such as attendance and courses of study, according to the HomeSchool Association of California. An online affidavit form asks only for information such as the applicant's address and the ages and number of students enrolled. Parents designate themselves as school principals.

Jessica Galbraith, a Palo Alto mother of eight who currently home-schools her son William, a seventh-grader, said the affidavit process is relatively easy and the least-restrictive option in California for home schooling.

She started home-schooling her children in Utah, where she said state regulations are less stringent. (The family moved to Palo Alto nine years ago.)

At home, curriculum can be more progressive and flexible, Galbraith said.

"You can be more forward-thinking. A lot of our educational system is set up for some antiquated philosophies," she said.

Unlike families in other school districts, those who live in Palo Alto do not have access to any public independent-study program. No Palo Alto district administrators were able to speak to why this is or if the district has ever considered adding such a program.

The Mountain View Whisman, Cupertino Union, San Jose Unified and Fremont Unified school districts all have dedicated programs for home-schoolers.

Mountain View Whisman, a K-8 district, provides home-schooled students with access to curriculum, instructional guidance, enrichment classes and field trips. The program is small, with 11 families currently enrolled, said Chief Human Relations Officer Carmen Ghysels. Enrollment fluctuates from year to year but remains relatively low, she said.

Similarly, the K-8 Cupertino Union School District's home study program provides families with curriculum, materials and a coordinator who oversees the work they complete at home. Middle schoolers are also allowed to take one or two classes at one of the district's campuses and have access to activities like clubs and athletics.

The district launched the program in 1989, said Pam Pell, a credentialed teacher who coordinates the home study program, helping families with lesson planning and meeting with them regularly to evaluate students' progress.

Cupertino's program currently has 18 students enrolled. Pell said she's seen enrollment decline "considerably" over the years.

"There's a huge explosion of other programs and charter schools that have opened up over the years, giving families more options," she said.

Related content:

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2 people like this
Posted by Michele
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2017 at 6:46 am

Thank you for an interesting and informative article. My middle-school aged children are homeschooled and are current completing a very challenging and satisfying semester of classes, some at home and some through a medley of online and local teachers. It has been a rewarding experience for us and I appreciate the informative and fact-based reporting.

2 people like this
Posted by Indie-schooling
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 16, 2017 at 11:13 am

Wonderful addendum to what is probably the best article on Bay Area homeschooling I've ever seen. Thank you for this.

4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2017 at 5:05 pm

Interesting articles on homeschooling. The articles raise an interesting question: what are public schools for, anyway?

Where both parents work, kids continue to learn. But, besides that, it also allows kids to be learn things that their parents might not have a clue about. Not every parent plays musical instruments, AND, can teach calculus, AND, evolutionary biology, AND chemistry, etc.

Schools also, for both good and bad, give kids intense exposure to their age-peer-group. That was probably a good thing back in the day when the majority went to work in mass-production factories. Perhaps not so useful with today's much more varied economy of all kinds of specialized small factories and service industries.

The big tradeoff though, is that while lots of home-schoolers schooled by all kinds of parents may mean more diversity and less group-think, at the same time, it might also mean more people who never heard dangerous words like:

“vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

While the article gave great examples of kids who need home-schooling for very personal reasons, often health-related, it is a fact that some kids are home-schooled for reasons related to, uh, the political orientation of their parents.

3 people like this
Posted by Inquirer
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 16, 2017 at 6:42 pm

Do homeschooled kids get/have to take the standardized achievement tests the public schoolers take? What happens to the home school if its students do poorly on those tests?

Like this comment
Posted by kid
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 17, 2017 at 12:10 pm

You could homeschool with ocean grove and never ,ever have to teach your child a thing. There are so many resources, groups and camps, it is not homeschooling. It would be worthwhile for every parent to look at their vendor list and resources. At home or at school, every child needs to know how to get along with themselves.

I think if a HS has a Community college class on their site, they have to allow anyone to join. Not sure.

6 people like this
Posted by JMom
a resident of another community
on Dec 18, 2017 at 10:50 am

It is a knee-jerk reaction and misplaced faith in a failing public school system to assume that homeschooled children “need” testing.

Homeschoolers with Ocean Grove and other charters do indeed take standardized testing like their public schooled peers. Homeschool families who file the private school affidavit do not. However, when you only have one or two students, it’s very easy to know where they are with their studies and what they have learned by what they can do afterwards, or through conversation and assessing comprehension at the time of learning something, as well as retention later on.
Testing evolved because teachers have dozens of students in their class and don’t always know where each one stands on their progress. When you only have one or two kids to consider, testing isn’t necessary. Having said that, some homeschoolers do pay for testing regardless. We did the WRAT at one point and many homeschoolers take the ACT and SAT tests.
If my child can do algebra, he can do it, I don’t need to test him on it, for instance, because I can see that he knows it. After learning a history lesson or attending a live reenactment, we discuss what we learned and what we experienced, and the learning is much deeper and retained better. I don’t need my children to answer a bunch of questions on a piece of paper to know they experienced a wonderful learning opportunity.
When you are taught something new at your job, unless you’re going to be a surgeon or lawyer and absolutely need to be tested, frequently you simply learn the thing and you demonstrate mastery by doing it. Occasionally, my children are tested in some of the various online classes they take, and they are able to do it. But my point is, it’s not always necessary.
Public school children are restricted by whatever a committee told them they need to learn and teachers are always complaining that they feel very restricted because they have to teach to the test rather than teaching interesting things or things that the children are inspired by.
Of course, we always cover the basics, but there is a lot of wiggle room in there to learn all kinds of amazing things. Homeschoolers are usually going for an overriding basic knowledge as well as retaining a love of learning and diving deep where our children’s interests are. I’d like my children to graduate with a love of learning, basic knowledge about math, science, art, history, and literature, be able to write and speak and communicate well, be able to find information and discern what is good information, be able to socialize and be leaders, take care of their world, and be happy and successful in life. What I’m not worried about is if they know what general fought a specific battle on a certain date in a certain war. That, is information they can look up. I want them to have a real education, not just learn facts that can be spit out on a test.

Also, the idea that homeschoolers are mostly homeschooling so we can shelter our children from other ideas is ridiculous in this day and age. The homeschooled students I know of in the bay area or more well-rounded and well spoken than any public school child I’ve ever met. They’re not locked in a classroom five days a week, only exposed to 30 children their same age. Homeschoolers are out and about, meeting adults and other children and going on field trips, attending park days, exercising together, and doing classes and volunteering and meeting all kinds of different people of all different ages all the time. They are much less sheltered, actually, than an average public school student. I run Nerf battles that attract 80 to 100 people, I host teen nights every month, we are involved in a drama program with other homeschoolers, and we are volunteering in our community, etc.

It’s time to let go of these tired, inaccurate stereotypes.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2017 at 2:09 pm

JMom, you wrote:

"Also, the idea that homeschoolers are mostly homeschooling so we can shelter our children from other ideas is ridiculous in this day and age. The homeschooled students I know of in the bay area or more well-rounded and well spoken than any public school child I’ve ever met. They’re not locked in a classroom five days a week, only exposed to 30 children their same age. Homeschoolers are out and about, meeting adults and other children and going on field trips, attending park days, exercising together, ..."

"It’s time to let go of these tired, inaccurate stereotypes."

I can't seem to find a reliable research article that is accessible (not behind a paywall) that has statistics on this. I have seen a number of complaints from "escapees(?)", such as those contained in this article:

Web Link

I don't know what fraction it is, but, superficially, many parents who homeschool their children apparently do so because they want to inculcate Right-Wing-Authoritarianism in their children.

Perhaps you have some statistically reliable estimates of the fraction of different kinds of homeschooling out there, and, the motivation? I agree that public schools have to teach to some kind of average, and, kids who are exceptions for all kinds of reasons (disabilities, gifted, physical and mental health, and many more) sometimes don't fit. And, I agree, the more time spent around adults, generally, the better.

But if a large fraction of kids are educated in opposition to our representative form of government and the rule of law, they, and, we all, will suffer. I think it is an issue-- don't you?

5 people like this
Posted by Indie-Schooling
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 21, 2017 at 2:43 am

@ Anon,
You appeal for open-mindedness but your message starts from old assumptions, stereotypes, and less-than-open-mindedness about homeschooling. I would highly recommend reading the main article at
Web Link

So, first of all, you have assumed that homeschooling means being divorced from public education. The article points out that many students homeschool through accredited public programs, including public schools, working with experienced teaching (public and private) professionals. Many districts in our area having homeschool/homestudy programs. The homeschool charters are all public charters. This is about educational options and an expanding world, not a contracting one.

You have provided an article about an extremist side of our society. That’s not what this article or educational philosophy are about. I could provide you with a really disturbing look at some New York or DC public schools — would this have any bearing on whether our own local schools or public schooling in general are valid educational options?

Check out these more mainstream articles from KQED:
Web Link

Or The Techies Who are Hacking Education by Homeschooling in Wired Magazine
Web Link

Web Link

This isn’t your mother’s homeschooling, as they say (double-meaning intended). Parents can homeschool without doing anything like that. I don’t teach my homeschooler those subjects, they teach themselves or they take classes online, or from independent vendors or community college. A lot of kids will take courses from Coursera or MIT’s free EdX, or many respected universities offering online courses. Nationally, homeschoolers use community college at far higher rates than the general population. Community college populations tend to be a more diverse group on the whole than local high schools.

Because homeschoolers have the freedom, they can also take things like advanced linguistics, cardiac and pulmonary physiology and anatomy, medical ethics, scriptwriting, regenerative medicine, comparative science fiction, improvising gypsy jazz and swing, and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into a course description. Often they have more time for service, jobs, internships, and real experiences rather than just learning about them in a classroom. In this area, many learn alongside their learning-disabled peers who have less stigma or, in some cases, roadblocks than in local schools.

I know parents who both work and “ala carte” school their kids, as described in the article.

5 people like this
Posted by Indie-schooling
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 21, 2017 at 2:45 am

Or watch these TED talks:
Hackschooling (btw, Logan LaPlante went back to high school as planned, something many homeschoolers do, go to school when it meets their needs, too)
Web Link

Sir Ken Robinson’s Bring on the Learning Revolution
Web Link
And his “I am a Fan of Homeschooling”
Web Link

Studio Schools
Web Link
(Homeschoolers may not have these opportunities but realize they can create many of the benefits themselves.)

You are absolutely right that there are people homeschooling in some places so they don’t have to hear things they don’t want to hear. That’s unfortunately happening in schools in those places, too (speaking from direct knowledge). There are public and private schools that you could say exactly the same thing about — does this mean we indict all public and private schooling? Of course not.

The growth area of homeschooling, what’s being described here, is mainly people trying to innovate in their own educations. Take advantage of the broader range of resources. Educate with far more experiences in the “real world”. At least in this area, this tends to be a pretty forward-thinking kind of person — I have far more wide-ranging and welcoming discussions with parents in homeschooling discussion groups than among school parents (whom I love, too, don’t get me wrong, but if you want to spend time with a heavily censored group, try a local-school-parent list, speaking of not wanting to allow “dangerous” discussion).

This is what homeschooling has done for our homeschooled child:
-Learned to love writing again, do far more in-depth research and writing
-Learned to love math again, take accelerated coursework
-Take a much broader array of coursework than we could have ever imagined
-Go into far more depth, finish projects that don’t fit neatly into a school calendar but span years
-Become confident again
-Improved test scores to the top 1%, despite almost no prep, never the case as a PAUSD student
-Read many books every year, sees many plays, films, concerts, lectures, museums, conferences, interesting events
-Time to see family and take off when opportunities to see family arise
-Develop a positive, trusting, supportive relationship with teachers
-Become comfortable with all age groups
-Time to develop mastery in areas of personal interests
-Becoming self-directed, learning to make progress when no one is pushing

-Time to volunteer, hundreds of hours total, that would never have been possible with school
-More time for friends, family
-Learned it’s possible to try different interests now rather than putting them all off until being done with school

Is it perfect? Far from it. I wish it were possible to take some classes in district schools while homeschooling. One reason the district should want homeschoolers is that homeschoolers often bring an attitude of love-of-learning into classrooms. Seeing that blossom again has been priceless.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2017 at 5:47 pm

Some of the references make interesting reading, but, they don't answer my question. For every article with five anecdotes, I can find an opposite article with anecdotes like the one here:

Web Link

What I don't see is an article with hard data showing what fraction of kids are being homeschooled in which environments for what reasons. The only data I have indicate somewhere upwards of 2/3 of kids are homeschooled because their parents want a stricter religious education, but, most surveys seem to shy away from tough questions of authoritarianism. I've seen a few articles that appear to look at the question, but, they are well-hidden from the general public.

A few well-educated techies homeschooling their creative children make for interesting evening reading, but, anecdotes about them don't answer the question of how many children are being raised by poorly-educated parents with authoritarian motives.

Perhaps you have access to some articles with hard data?

4 people like this
Posted by Indie-schooling
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 21, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Dear Anon,
There isn't hard data. If only. You are providing anecdotes or data that do not even remotely apply here or nationally. I have data showing that a third of homeschoolers are “unschoolers” which is anathema to what you describe. (The totality of homeschooling not remotely just unschoolers and religious schoolers, especially in the Bay Area, by a long shot.)

You have missed that many of the homeschooling programs in the Bay accounting for a large segment of the homeschoolers are PUBLIC SCHOOLING PROGRAMS. I happen to be homeschooling in the Bay Area, and I can tell you that what you are describing is not even something I have contact with in any of my homeschooling circles, in years. Haven’t witnessed it, haven’t experienced it. Many independent educational vendors exist for ala carte schooling — not a single one has ever seemed even remotely related to what you describe.

What you are trying to talk about may be an issue somewhere, but it is not an issue here in the Bay Area, or for people who are unschooling or innovating their educations.

What you think is hard data probably comes from the DOE questionnaire which asked if students were homeschooled, and then defines this as anyone who was taking NO classes at all at public or private institutions. **This eliminates virtually all of the sector profiled in this story.** And indeed, the further questions show that this question captures mainly the religious sector, i.e., they asked a question to capture who was homeschooling without involving other educational institutions, and not surprisingly, found a large segment homeschool for religious reasons. I have written to the DOE and been told that they are aware of the limitations of their questions and redesigning them. (By the way, the DOE data inexplicably only report one small, one large, and one medium city nationwide and extrapolate to the entire nation, when that would not even give an idea of what is going on in the South Bay.)

My own homeschooler could not check that they were homeschooled in a recent standardized test because the question excluded anyone taking classes from a public or private institution (possibly including online), as could none of the students in the same (public) program, and virtually none of the other students in homeschooling groups reported here. Ala carte schooling by definition would be excluded from the data.

By the way, in my homeschooling networks, we sometimes discuss articles about things like this, about people who homeschool sometimes to hide abuse, about the use of homeschooling by weird sects, etc. But these are not an aspect of this innovative Bay Area (and national) educational movement. You are still tarring an innovative educational approach because of a sector abusing and taking the conversation away from discussing what could benefit kids here who need something better for themselves than what they are finding in the schools. My homeschooler is far happier, far more accomplished, far more confident, far healthier, far more independent and autonomous, and far more socially adept than when in school. I see this repeated in so many of the homeschooling communities we are in.

The data you have do not apply to the Bay Area and do not apply to this issue. It's as if I had data on a sect in Waco Texas, or even an extreme but common denomination in another part of the country, and was applying it to all religions or to denominations in the Bay Area. In the state of Texas, they voted to teach Creationism in school. That’s 5 million students. Does this therefore mean that public school as an educational structure in California and nationally is bad? Can you answer how many public school students in Texas “are being raised by poorly-educated parents with authoritarian motives”? In other red states? Probably a lot. It doesn’t mean that is the result of public school, it is the result of politics.
Web Link

Your concerns are probably valid somewhere, but misplaced here. This article is about how it is possible to legally allow your children to create the education they want and need. It has nothing at all to do with weird political/religious sects that are just not a going concern in this area.

This is about: significant energy toward educational innovation, customizing of children's education, less stress but better outcomes, more diverse experiences, more challenging courses, more real world education, better preparation for life.

I have been there, where I had an epiphany realizing just what was possible, and how much better off my child was, and asked why I never knew about this educational option — I know what it’s like to be on the other side of that and susceptible to believing myths and stories that simply don’t apply here.

I have friends who homeschooled out of a public program in San Diego that had a facility that was like a K-12 community college. Families could go there for labs, to take part in theater productions, take other classes as desired (not mandated), have recess and sports with other kids, get advice from experienced educators, etc. This program must have been decades old at the time. The reason it existed was because of the military families in that area, and how many homeschooled because of the transience from their service. If you took data there, you might think homeschoolers were mostly military families.

The fundamental aspect of this is freedom, autonomy, customization. Even the school district aspires to that. (And again, many here homeschool through public programs.) Worldwide, people can see freedom and autonomy as good or bad, but in democracy, overall, we aspire to support the good. That’s what this is about.

I will say that one indicator is probably statewide homeschooling conferences — which are focused on the educational innovation, and just as with vendors, absent the fringe political sector you are worried about. (I think good people SHOULD be worried about that issue, but in political spheres, and involving schools, too.) No need to taint what is a beautiful, working, innovative educational model with that.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2017 at 9:11 pm

Dear Indie-Schooling:

You appear to be arguing with someone else, rather than me. I'm not anti-(home/indie/un-schooling).

I just would like to see real data regarding those kids who are not in public schools and why they are not. I am all in favor of freedom and autonomy. It isn't clear to me whether the impact of homeschooling increases, or decreases, the aggregate freedom and autonomy. Since you are obviously an enthusiast, and also, participate in various in-person and online forums and activities, perhaps this is something that you can discuss with other such enthusiasts.

4 people like this
Posted by Indie-schooling
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 21, 2017 at 10:47 pm

Dear Anon,
You are preaching to the choir about wanting to see more data. As someone who has become immersed in this, though, your suggestion is a little bit like telling a boyscout that perhaps he should discuss camping with his troop. The DOE person who is revising the questionnaire (note I am telling you about an endeavor to understand homeschool data collection to encourage better and broader data gathering) basically told me they don't take it too seriously because homeschooling is only 3% of the population, after telling me that they get that their question is flawed and excludes a large segment of the growing homeschool population. Private schools only enroll 9% of students, and only 6% are in charters -- and I've seen other data showing homeschoolers are a greater percentage than those enrolled in charters that are like traditional public schools.

It's really too bad that this is the focus. I'm not sure what you mean about whether homeschool increases or decreases aggregate freedom and autonomy. This depends on what happens next. Homeschooling absolutely increases freedom for those who choose to homeschool that way, which is the mainstream focus of homeschooling in the Bay Area. I know kids whose homeschooling allowed them to star in major opera company operas, pursue careers as professional dancers, in one case, a runway model (like a parent and grandparent) in major world cities, travel around the world. For our student, it has allowed such an expansion of what learning and education mean, it has become difficult to find good colleges because finding a place to continue such a broad and deep education will be tough.

When we started, we first compared what we thought the advantages and disadvantages of school were with what we thought the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling were. We simply assumed we would be living with a certain amount of real world negatives for choosing to step into this unknown. The surprise was learning all the negatives our child had been covering from school because of a really poor fit in the academic environment, and how dependent they had become on external direction nevertheless. Our student absolutely rankled at being told what to do all the time in school (and after via homework), but at the same time, was overwhelmed by meaningless work and deeply unhappy. It's amazing how it changes when the work isn't meaningless anymore because the child chooses it, has control of when and how to do it, etc. In some ways, we are still working at undoing some of the negatives, but feel like our lives flashed before our eyes had we not realized what was wrong this early.

Our child is 1000% happier and prepared to be a more productive citizen than if we had not found this. It has been amazing to watch the competent person emerge in so many areas of life, personal and academic. It's not for everyone, but neither is brick and mortar school, we found.

There isn't a lot of data on homeschool testing, but the largest study showed no achievement or gender gaps, which makes sense because of customizing everyone's educations. If this bears out in further study, there are certainly lessons to apply to school. There are any number of documentaries currently looking at the Prussian model of education and how to reform it to allow for more independent, accomplished, flexible, and creative graduates. Homeschoolers are not waiting for pie in the sky reforms at some indeterminate time in the future, they are creating these benefits now.

I am not suggesting you give up any of your concerns, but I do hope you will take a deeper look at the innovation and benefits. It's really exciting, actually.

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