For homebound-ed answers, ask the right questions

Quality screen time: Digital online instruction is an increasingly effective option for homebound students.
By HARRY AURORA //

The distressing fact about American education is that the deck is stacked against many children before they open their first textbook.

Much of the nation’s attention, as it relates to solving inequities in public education, is focused on whole school districts. But what about individual students for whom attending a traditional school is simply not possible?

Whether it’s a student with disabilities or social/emotional issues, someone dealing with a family crisis or a student on long-term suspension, there are viable and effective options that parents need to understand to support their children’s academic experience.

One is homebound instruction, through which a child receives class lessons from a teacher or tutor in the home for a set number of hours per week. In this educational model, the school provides in-person instruction that extends classroom capacity beyond the schoolhouse, until the child is ready to return to the classroom setting.

While the homebound concept is solid, its execution, in too many instances, is ineffective. There are no set guidelines on best practices for setting up homebound instruction, and as such, the implementation is often scattershot, resulting in questionable academic benefits for the student.

Harry Aurora: Home team.

Outside of Early Childhood Special Education, few professional preparation programs even address the delivery of homebound instruction. In addition, individual school districts may not even have their own specific standards for providing at-home instruction and addressing the unique challenges presented by homebound students.

Lacking universal standards, it’s imperative that parents question their school district’s protocols and the accommodations it will provide to ensure the efficacy of the homebound instruction.

Many school districts don’t have the physical or fiscal resources to provide full-time, at-home instruction with teachers. In these districts, the next option is an online service, and it’s also critical for parents and guardians to investigate the particular online services being offered by a district.

Ask about the technology: Is it flexible enough to meet the unique needs of their child? Does the service offer one-to-one learning, or is it a packaged program? Does it provide individual instructors certified in the different courses, or is it one instructor trying to teach everything? Is there accountability? Transparency? A visual record of the instruction?

Online tutoring options are also changing the dynamic of homebound instruction. Instead of a strictly traditional setting – where distance is a factor – or having to rely on a single teacher to cover multiple disciplines, today’s digital-learning options give students the opportunity to work with certified instructors from all over the country, matching their specific needs and providing an unprecedented level of homebound education.

It’s also important for parents to be aware of the social impact of homebound education and the measures school districts are taking to accommodate student needs. Studies have determined student-to-student interaction to be critical to educational success, and students receiving homebound instruction have traditionally had little interaction with peers. In addition, many have reported having difficulties adjusting to homebound instruction, either because of the social impact or their medical situation.

Advancements in technology are beginning to address this issue as well. In 2008, a high school student with muscular dystrophy was no longer able to physically attend classes and was placed in his school’s homebound-instruction program; to stay connected with his peers and virtually attend classes, the student first used Skype on a laptop which was carried from classroom to classroom by a teacher. Eventually, he utilized a remote-controlled VGo robot, which allowed him to virtually attend classes and other social events.

Not every case will follow this route, of course. But the underlying theme is important: Families of students in homebound instruction must make sure the students are still interacting with their peers, and there are options available to do so. Technology has come a long way since 2008.

Virtual homebound instruction has rescued many students from the abyss. As technology grows, so, too will the possibilities for nontraditional, outside-the-classroom instruction.

Schools and parents must become more aware of what is available and what would best support students. Things will only get more complicated, not less, and a guiding set of principles for how to best utilize homebound instruction is essential. Only then can we have confidence that our most vulnerable students, rather than falling through the cracks, will thrive academically, emotionally and socially.

Harry Aurora is the founder and CEO of Jericho-based digital-education innovator iTutor.