Editorial: Home education should be supervised by Alberta’s school boards

November 8, 2016
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

The decision by Alberta Education to immediately close the Trinity Christian School Association and halt the operation of its sister organization, Wisdom Home Schooling, has brought a number of issues related to home education in Alberta to light, while at the same time raising the ire of some who want to paint NDP Education Minister David Eggen as launching an ideological attack on choice in education.

The association, which operates a nondenominational Christian school in Cold Lake and administers the WISDOM homeschooling program from offices in Derwent, was ordered closed immediately on Oct. 25 after the minister received a report from department staff alleging a series of inappropriate supervisory and financial arrangements. The financial accusations are sure to raise eyebrows for anyone who has read the report.

In my mind, the most incredible financial allegation contained in the report relates to the leasing of a building from a private arts college that is operated by the same people who operate Trinity and Wisdom. According to the report, Trinity pays $10,800 a year in public funds to lease the space, despite having built the building that they then sold to the arts college for a quarter of the build cost. The $560,000 cost of the building was allegedly paid for out of funds granted to Trinity as part of the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement.

While the financial allegations should be concerning to all Albertans as taxpayers, teachers are likely to be particularly concerned about the allegations around inadequate supervision.

The report alleges that supervision of home education programs was conducted by a team of facilitators, albeit certificated teachers, who worked under contract to Wisdom. Alberta Education is concerned because the home education regulation states that the supervising school authority “must arrange for teachers employed by the associate board or associate private school” to evaluate student progress at least twice per year.

This supervision arrangement should be questioned. With 3,500 students and 12 facilitators listed on its website, ­Wisdom would have to have each facilitator conduct about 600 progress evaluations a year. When travel times are factored in, I can’t imagine any facilitator is spending much more than about four to six hours per year with any one child. I don’t see how comprehensive evaluation can be done in that way.
We should also be concerned about the employment status of the teachers involved. When the supervising teachers are paid by a third party through more precarious contract arrangements, I worry about their ability to act with integrity when site visits generate concerns. The fidelity of the supervising teacher should be to the employing authority, who has a vested interest in upholding education standards, and not to the de facto providers of home education services, who have a pecuniary interest in ensuring that parents keep their children enrolled in that program.

In my mind, this problem is exacerbated by the fact that Trinity had only 13 in-school students but enrolled 3,500 home education students. I feel that the point of having an accredited supervising authority is to ensure that the authority is experienced in delivering the approved program of studies and is committed to upholding the basic standard accountabilities that are required for all accredited schools. While the instruction of students in a home education program may not be required to align with the provincial program of studies, the program provides a necessary benchmark for evaluating the quality of education being provided and assessing student progress.

Trinity existed essentially for the sole purpose of providing home education.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association does not oppose home education as a viable delivery method under the umbrella of public education, but the organization does expect that the integrity of Alberta’s education system should be maintained throughout all delivery models. Many of our full and active members work for public, separate and francophone school boards supervising home education. They approach that work with integrity and professionalism, and their ability to do so is aided by having secure employment with an established school authority that has responsibilities that exceed those of supporting home education.

Requiring home education students to register with their resident public, separate or francophone school authority would ensure that education and accountability standards are kept high and uniform across the province, without eroding parents’ decision to provide a home education program that is consistent with their values. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.