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  New Statute Finally Addresses Homeschoolers’ Issues with Alternative Learning Experience Programs

After legislative authorities conducted an extensive audit and review of these programs, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) revised the ALEP rules to take effect for the 2005-06 school year. For a complete copy of the applicable laws and codes addressing these programs, as well as the complete joint report by the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Committee (JLARC) and the State Auditor’s Office (SAO), see the resources at the end of this article.

The Alternative Learning Experience programs are modeled after one of the ways we can legally qualify to homeschool, namely by using a supervising teacher who meets with a child on an average of one hour a week. An ALEP program is distinguished by the presence of the following: a child is registered for the program on school district forms; students meet in a public school building; school district personnel supervise the child’s work and progress; the child has access to district curriculum materials; the child has a student learning plan (SLP); parents keep records on hours spent on academic pursuit at home; the child is assessed by the school personnel; the child is expected to take the WASL; and records are kept at the school for the child. If the district is receiving full funding for a child, then that child is in a full-time enrollment ALE program, and is not homeschooling under the Home-based Instruction law.

WHO advocacy volunteers and many others worked hard for years to guarantee the inclusion of two important items in this new code. We are pleased to announce that both these items are addressed in the newly revised code:

1. Recognition of the part-time enrollment rights of homeschoolers in ALE programs. Part-time enrollment has always been guaranteed to homeschoolers and private schoolers in public schools. It’s specified in the law: RCW 28A.150.350 Part Time Students — Defined — Enrollment Authorized. All ALE programs must now allow part-time enrollment.

““(1)(a) Individual courses of study for students who meet the definition for enrollment specified by WAC 392-121-106. Students may enroll part-time in alternative learning experiences. Such enrollment shall be subject to the provisions of RCW 28A.150.350 and chapter 392-134 WAC.”

2. “Full Disclosure.” Parents must be given the facts, in writing, explaining the difference between homeschooling and ALE enrollment. This information must be given prior to enrollment in an ALE program.

““(3)(e) Alternative learning experience implementation standards: A school district that provides one or more alternative learning experiences to a student shall provide the parent(s) or guardian of the student, prior to the student’s enrollment, with a description of the difference between home-based instruction pursuant to chapter 28A.200 RCW and the enrollment option selected by the student. The parent or guardian shall sign documentation attesting to his or her understanding of the difference and the documentation shall be retained by the district and made available for audit.”

There should be less confusion on the part of enrollees in ALE programs as to whether they are enrolled as a public school student or are operating under the Home-based Instruction law.

WHO has some concerns, in general, about these ALE programs. The programs are being targeted almost exclusively at homeschoolers. In some districts, public school students are not eligible to enroll. Evidence suggests that some school districts are deliberately misinforming parents interested in homeschooling as to their legal homeschooling option under Home-based Instruction, and then misdirecting them to ALE programs as their only “homeschooling” choice. These programs present to the public a professionally supervised and government-regulated form of “homeschooling.” This re-definition of the term “homeschooling” to include supervised public education causes confusion among the general public, the press, and government representatives about the true nature of homeschooling.

Following is some basic information concerning ALE programs (taken from the JLARC report), and how the new law will affect enrollees:

ALE program rules prior to the new law included only two very general requirements related to curriculum: 1) all curriculum and course requirements were to be approved by the local school district; and 2) the course of instruction for each student was to be provided pursuant to a written learning experience plan that was “designed to meet the individual needs of the student.” Regarding curriculum, the learning plan was only required to include a description of the “learning activities” the student was expected to complete, and a description of the “teaching component” of the program. In addition to these requirements, OSPI staff noted that ALE programs must also comply with various statutory requirements related to all public education programs, even though program rules do not explicitly reference them. A key example is the statutory requirement that instructional materials be provided in accordance with a district-approved policy and approved by the local school board based upon recommendations of an instructional materials committee (RCW 28A. 320.230).

The revised rules clarify that religious-based curricula may not be used in an ALE program; they also establish several additional requirements and expectations regarding curriculum issues. Significant changes include:

  • ALE programs are required to satisfy the State Board of Education’s requirements related to both “courses of study and equivalencies” and high school graduation requirements.
  • “Curricula, course content, instructional materials and other learning resources” are required to be, at a minimum, consistent in quality with those available to a district’s overall student population.
  • Individual student learning plans must include more specific information related to curriculum, including:
  • A description of specific learning goals and performance objectives;
  • Identification of all essential instructional materials;
  • Identification of whether the course of study meets “one or more of the state essential academic learning requirements or any other academic goals, objectives, and learning requirements defined by the district;” and
  • Identification of whether, for high school students, the plan meets state and district graduation requirements.

The old program rules did not require the involvement or participation of certificated staff in any facet of a program’s operations or a student’s course of instruction. Student performance was only required to be supervised and evaluated by “school staff,” a student’s learning plan only had to be approved by a “school official,” and a student only had to have weekly contact with “qualified school staff.”

The revised rules now require substantially more direct involvement of certificated staff. Significant changes include:

  • Student progress must now be “supervised, monitored, assessed and evaluated” by certificated staff;
  • Certificated staff are now explicitly invested with “primary responsibility and accountability” for a student’s written learning plan;
  • Students are now required to have direct personal contact with certificated staff at least weekly;
  • Annual program reports must describe how certificated and classified staff are assigned management and instructional responsibilities within each program; and
  • The overall ratio of certificated instructional staff to students for each program must now be explicitly identified and approved by the local school board (although no minimal ratio is established).

Under the old program rules, ALE students either had to attend school for an average of at least five hours per week, or meet one-on-one with school staff for an average of one hour per week.

In its revised rules, OSPI completely eliminated all minimum in-class or contact-time requirements, meaning the requirement for at least five hours in school or one hour of face-to-face contact. Students will only be required to have “direct personal contact with school staff at least weekly,” but no minimum amount of time will be required. The contact must be for purposes of “instruction, review of assignments, testing, reporting of student progress, or other learning activities.” The contact is required to be face-to-face, but the rules grant local districts the authority to permit the contact to be by telephone, e-mail or other means if the local board determines that doing so will not compromise the educational quality or fiscal integrity of the district.

Under the old rules a student’s educational progress was required to be reviewed at least once during the first 20 school days, and then at least quarterly thereafter. The reviews were not required to be conducted by certificated staff.

OSPI strengthened these requirements in its revised rules. Each student’s educational progress is to be reviewed at least monthly by certificated staff, with the review based on the learning goals and performance objectives specified in the student’s learning plan.

The revised rules also require that the educational progress of all full-time ALE students be assessed annually using standard state assessments (i.e., the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL, test). Part-time students who receive home-based instruction, however, are exempted from having to take the state assessments.

Read the following two reports to learn how Public School Alternative Learning Programs measured up in a government audit:
Alternative Learning Experience Programs Study – Interim Report 05-6 by JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee) February 2005. See Chapter 3-C: Three Key Problem Areas and Appendix 3 for the State Auditor’s Report. www1.leg.wa.gov/reports/05-6.pdf

Alternative Learning Experience Programs Study - Final Report 05-17, November 30, 2005. See JLARC’s (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee) recommendations to the legislature and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. www1.leg.wa.gov/reports/05-17.pdf

Go here: www.k12.wa.us/AlternativeEd/default.aspx to learn how the Alternative Learning Experience Programs are to be implemented and administered. You will learn about:

Staff Qualification Issues
Instructional Materials
Part time Enrollment
Written Student Learning Plans
Enrollment Reporting
Reimbursement of Student Learning Expenditures
Documentation Requirements
Student Assessment and Accountability, etc.

RCW 28A.200.010 Home-based instruction — Duties of parents — Exemption from high school assessment requirements.
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=28A.200.010

NEA (National Education Association) Resolution opposing homeschooling. See Resolution B-75 Home Schooling
www.nea.org/annualmeeting/raaction/images/resolutions2006-2007.pdf

 
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