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Homeschooling:  Caveat Emptor (Latin for "buyer beware")

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Searching the web for "military homeschooling" information

Anyone and (practically) everyone has a web site.  I know this because I have one, and if I can have one, then having a website is available to almost anyone. 

In searching for homeschooling information from web sites, it is easy to be convinced that a site has accurate, up-to-the-minute information provided by people who 'know what they're talking about.'  Fancy graphics are convincing, as are gizmos, and laundry lists of links, especially ones linking to experts.  However, as I can attest, anyone with web access, a bit of space, a stash of images, and either a site design program or enough HTML knowledge to make a page, can put up a credible looking site.

This topic came to may attention while I was doing a routine search for references contained in a homeschooling handout for installation commanders.  In the search results, I ran across some sites that say they are about 'military homeschooling' but, when the surfaces are scratched, are only a gleaning of available information.

The first site is hopelessly outdated.  The NHA hasn't been in existence since I was in Belgium, and we left there in 1999.  I was a member.  I got the disbandment notice.

The second site is an ad farm, something kind of like a virtual Yellow Pages.  If the company has money to pay for an ad, they're listed.

I've seen other military-specific web sites with 'military homeschooling' information that have been cobbled together by site administrators who know how to search, but who have no homeschooling expertise.  I'm sure they mean well, but people searching for truly 'expert' information may be left unsatisfied, or with an interpretation that is different from the interpretation of the same material by veteran homeschoolers.

An example of 'interpretation difference' is in an article by a company called  The body of the article is reasonably well done, although I'd change the recommendation to rely on HSLDA's interpretation of laws, to providing the URL of a site that links to the laws themselves.   The article's sidebar contains information about homeschooling laws in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain.  What isn't mentioned, in this article specifically for military personnel, is the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, and the provision of schooling by DoDDS.  The implication from the information in the sidebar is that military families are constrained by local law.  The reality, at least from my eight years of homeschooling in Germany and Belgium, is that military families are allowed to follow 'American custom.'  I'm assuming there is a similar pattern in the Netherlands for personnel in the country under the auspices of the SOFA.

Because of the way the World Wide Web is structured (i.e., anyone with online access can participate), these kinds of sites will be around, they will stay around, and they will be used as references.  All those of us who do have more connection with homeschooling can do, is point them out.

Buyer, be aware.  And good luck, out there.

Quality Child-friendly Cutting-edge Schooling, ONLY Pennies Per Day, that YOU Can Afford!:  Homeschooling Yourself to Read Advertising Copy

Oftentimes the first question a new-to-homeschooling-parent asks on an email list is "Which curriculum do all of you use?"   After the flurry of replies from the list-members about each one's method and strategies, the new homeschooler is often quiet for a long time trying to make sense of it all:  how could there be so many different ways to teach kids?  She doesn't remember schools being that . . . varied. 

Another situation is when a new homeschooling 'product' is released, and the producer of that product joins many email lists and posts what she or he feels are 'news releases' meant to bring succor to beleaguered homeschoolers.  "This is just what you've been looking for!" 

No, it isn't. 

And thanks, but we've got plenty of other choices with longer track records.  Still, every new business begins with no track record.  So how does the prospective homeschooler (or the homeschooler looking for change) make a decision?

As in homeschooling itself, there is no 'one right way,' but there are guideposts useful in navigating the increasingly commercial homeschooling waters.  We're a 'real market' and people looking to start homeschooling businesses -- regardless of their own homeschooling-savvy, know that parents care so deeply for their children that they'll go to great lengths to provide the best for them.  Business people write ad copy that speaks directly to that concern.  Be aware that homeschoolers are being 'marketed to' and we're being told what we want to hear.  The ed-business, not just the homeschooling business, is less about altruism than it is about cash, jobs and, according to January 2005 news stories, power.

Advertisers specialize in:
-- creating a demand where none exists
-- creating a message to 'influence' the 'prospect'
-- 'flash' (the 'hook' that keeps you reading, but this goes for all writers who want to be read)
-- using images that draw you in
-- 'harvesting' existing business

Google "ad copy" or "effective selling." After homeschooling yourself about selling, read the ads with an educated eye.  Of course there are people providing services who deliver what they say and the product is one of quality, but sometimes, the opposite is the case. 

When checking out an organization that is unfamiliar to you:

-- ask email-group list-members if they've heard of it, or have used the 'school'
-- if not, Google the enterprise: 
    ... if a website has various claims on it, use a search engine to see if those claims pan out.  If a 'school' says it is accredited by a particular accrediting agency, do a web search for the agency's name and use the search function at the site to see what the agency says about the 'school' claiming to be accredited through that agency.
    ... look to see where the 'school' is located, and put the address in a search engine just to see what pops up; full telephone numbers are searchable, too.
    ... go to the Secretary of State's website for the state that the school lists as its location and search under 'corporations' at the site (you may have to look around the site to find the information).  Entering the name of the 'school' should bring up it's business information allowing you to see who the responsible parties are, or perhaps the site will produce a school listing with the appropriate information.
    ... how long has the organization been established?
    ... does the 'school' have a physical location?
    ... is there homeschooling-related information online connecting the business-owner to other homeschool information (articles, interviews, or other reputable homeschooling sites keeping in mind that 'bigger' isn't always more reliable)

If you have any doubts, ask to see the product and get a specific breakdown of services.  When you're spending your money, you have a right to ask for full disclosure.  When you're educating your kids, you have a responsibility -- to your children -- to make sure everything is on the up-and-up.

This Curriculum Will Teach the Kids, Wash the Dishes AND Do the Laundry!
by Mary McCarthy on HEM-Networking, reprinted with permission

As homeschoolers we have a lot of products and services to choose from. There are a lot of really great companies and individuals marketing homeschooling supplies and services. There are also a few `bad apples' in our basket. How can you tell the difference, and how can you know whether the products or services are worth what you are paying for them?

When we hear about new products and services on an Internet list where someone is promoting them the first place to look is at the source. Is this person a homeschooler? Do they know the product or service they are promoting? Can they answer your questions? Are they paid to promote this product? Do they use it themselves?

You can also ask other homeschoolers if they've used the product or service and their opinion of it. That's the great thing about the Internet - there is almost always someone who has already purchased the product and can tell you what they thought of it.

When you are at a curriculum fair, you can examine the materials and ask the merchant questions, but when it's on the Internet or comes in the mail that's not so easy.

*If you are proud of what you are marketing, you put your name on it.*

It's easy to use the Internet to learn more about a product or service. To find the name of the company search the product literature or web site. Google is a wonderful tool to search for more information. I like to start by `googling' the name of the product or service and seeing what comes up. You can also `google' the name of the person that owns the company and learn more about them and their background and whether they have homeschool experience. If you can't find it, perhaps this person doesn't want
you to know who they are. "Google" the address given for the product. While it's not necessarily a bad thing to find out its a box at the UPS Store, it can give you pause to know there is no real physical address for the company.

Most states put their corporate filings on line. "Google" `secretary of state' and `specific state the address is in' and you should be able to find the corporate records. Most corporate filings include the names of the principle owners and their street address. While you are there search for other companies the individuals have registered. Do they go in and out of business regularly? Want to know if they've ever filed for bankruptcy? Ask . Want more personal information? Try .

If you discovered from the corporate records that the school was incorporated 3 months ago, does it seem reasonable for them to claim thousands of students are enrolled already? A staff of hundreds? If the product claims endorsements from unnamed experts, who are they?

What's in the Box?
Examine carefully the information you have. If, for example, you are looking at a curriculum that costs $600 hard-earned dollars, ask for a complete list of what you will receive. If it's a cyber or virtual school, find out if a computer is included (own? borrow? cost of shipping and returning if borrowed?) Will you have to pay for the Internet connection and possible long distance phone charges? Will you be expected to purchase more supplies, for example, science experiments or gym memberships? Do they tell you specifically what you will be receiving, both in products and services? Is there `assembly required"? Are there any additional fees?

It never hurts to ask the Department of Education if the school is licensed, and you can check the schools accreditation by going to the accreditor's web site and searching the list of schools it has accredited. Find out if the school includes written transcripts so
if you want to later transfer to another school, there will be a record of you child having completed their grade.

If you go ahead and purchase the materials only to find out they are  not suited for your child, is there a return or cancellation policy? Can you get all your money back if you are not satisfied?

If it's a curriculum, does it meet or exceed the requirements for you to legally homeschool in your state? If you state requires testing or a portfolio review, does the school provide those services and are they included in your cost? What about individual states that require state history be included in the curriculum? Is the curriculum compatible with your personal beliefs?

When it's your money and your child's education, you have a responsibility and a right to see that the products and services you need are provided and worth what you are paying for them.

Homeschool ID Cards

A new wrinkle in the products offered to homeschoolers is the "homeschool ID card."  With truancy laws still in effect, and with daytime curfews becoming popular in some areas, homeschooled teens who may be out-and-about on their own, and with their parents' knowledge and permission, are sometimes stopped by police officers or truant officers.  The question is the usual one, "why aren't you in school?"  The question should be easily dispensed with by a phone call to the parents.  Sometimes parents can provide the teen with a sense of security by providing a letter or card stating that the young person is homeschooled, and that the parents can be reached at the "following number."

But that's low-tech, and no one makes money from it.  Enter the ID business.

Two sides to the ID-provider business (and many other businesses) are that 'if there's a market, a product can be provided to fill that market,' and the other that 'homeschoolers are not homeschooling in order to provide others with a market.' 

As with many other 'areas of profitability' we all vote with our own dollars, but with the recent ChoicePoint problems, one must consider that the provision of the 'service' of providing you with a 2"x3" card you can print up using your computer, or even using the photocopy machine at the library, can be merely a way of compiling a database of homeschooling names to which to market other homeschooling 'services.'  This isn't to say that all ID companies do this, only that it is a possibility that must be considered.




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This site was last updated:  Wednesday, 10 March 2010