Homeschooling in Sisters hard to quantify


Last updated 10/31/2023 at 9:28am

Photo courtesy Commonplace Sisters

Sisters has a thriving homeschool community.

Homeschooling is on the rise nationally and in Oregon, and thus one might assume that to be true for Sisters Country children. In fact, the numbers of homeschooled kids within the Sisters School District has been nearly impossible to determine, according to those with a vested interest in knowing the number.

Curt Scholl, Sisters schools superintendent, is frustrated, as his team is currently trying to count the number. Homeschooling in Sisters is regulated by High Desert Education Service District (HDESD) in Redmond, headed by Paul Andrews, superintendent. The HDESD is a regional support system that links school districts in Central Oregon to state and national education resources.

Their programs help districts minimize duplication of services, preserve their local budgets, and receive special programs that might otherwise be unavailable to them. One of 19 ESDs in the state, HDESD is tasked by the State to track homeschooling in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties. The Nugget spoke with Andrews and Scholl.

Despite being the place homeschooling parents must go to register their children, HDESD has no official census of how many kids are homeschooled. Andrews says that in general terms the number in Sisters could be around 100 with the highest concentration in grades 4 to 7. The numbers for K-3 are low and by 10th grade, homeschooled kids transition to traditional schools or enter virtual learning, according to Andrews.

Scholl agrees. And this mirrors national trends. Remote and virtual education saw its largest spike in 2020, when schools were locked down by COVID-19. Most assumed that education would go back to normal after the pandemic. However, recent statistics and data show that homeschooling is gaining in popularity.

Homeschooling is generally defined as education given at home versus a traditional school. Strictly defined, even remote education is excluded from homeschooling, which is limited to schooling under the tutelage of parents or a visiting tutor.

However, recent changes in the education ecosystem have blurred the lines between homeschooling and online learning. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that there are 11 fully virtual schools in Oregon serving 7,250 students. Some of these students, who may be in Sisters Country, may be unknown to HDESD or Sisters School District.

When a child studies from home with the help of a remote tutor, or as a student of an online school, he or she might be considered to be homeschooled. The more control parents have over their children's curriculum, class schedule, and educational subjects, the more their education would fall in the homeschooling category.

According to National Home Education Research Institute there were 4.3 million homeschooled kids in 2022, up from 2.5 million in 2019. The compound annual growth rate is 10.1 percent over the last five years.

The HDESD sent Scholl a list of children it thought were homeschooled in Sisters.

"Forty-five of those on the list are enrolled in our schools," Scholl said, reflecting how elusive solid numbers can be.

The number is important to Scholl and the District, which gets about $13,000 per enrolled student from state funding. If there are only 50 homeschooled in the District, that's a loss of funding to the tune of $650,000. Were the number 100, the loss is $1.3 million.

The District has about 1,100 students, so if 50 to 100 are homeschooled or enrolled online that's anywhere from 4.5 to 9 percent of the total. Statewide the number is 3.8 percent or just over 22,000.

Oregon is one of 13 states where parents only have to file a notice of intent to homeschool once, not annually. Nor does Oregon have specific curriculum requirements for homeschooled children. Students are required to take a standard assessment test at the end of third, fifth, eighth, and 10th grades, and submit scores to their local education service district.

Amy and Nate Bennette of Sisters have four homeschooled children, and are typical of those The Nugget spoke with. They all had high praise for Sisters School District, especially the coaching staff, but for a host of reasons chose homeschooling. For the Bennettes it's all about flexibility and family engagement.

District homeschooled children can participate in Outlaws sports and extracurricular activities but pay for it, Scholl said.

The depth of homeschooling in Sisters may be more than meets the eye. Sixty children alone are part of Commonplace Sisters, a homeschool cooperative for 20 families. Parents and children meet on Fridays for socializing and learning, with two educational blocks covering science, arts, music, creative writing, and more, taught by parents.

Also in town is All Living, a bookstore and resource center on South Cedar Street catering to the homeschool market. By all indications Sisters has a thriving homeschool community.


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