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Home Schooling Increasingly Popular in Rural Alaska

Families that live far from schools in Alaska are increasingly enrolling in distance-learning home-school programs, especially in the midst of winter when traveling to school can be challenging, according to a story by Alaska's Peninsula Clarion.

The Interior Distance Education of Alaska (IDEA), a home-school program based out of the Galena City School District in west Alaska, has seen its statewide enrollment rise by about 5 percent each year for the past five years. There is no mandated curriculum, so parents can choose what to teach their children. Students are still required to take state assessments.

Suzanne Alioto, a field representative for the program, told the Peninsula Clarion that the program eases travel challenges for rural students and also provides families with more control over education. 

"Parents want a more active part in their children's education, and at IDEA it is a public school but we are still giving parents all their rights and all their own curriculum they want to use," she said. 

Experts have called for a new model for the 62 percent of Alaska's schools that are rural, which is one of the highest percentages in the country.  In 2014, Diane Hirshberg, director of the Center for Alaska Education Policy Research, said that Alaska's rural schools should create an "engaging and hands-on Alaska specific curriculum." She also said that schools need to offer vocational, technical, and college prep programs to prepare students for post-high school opportunities, including such options as attending college or taking over a family business. 

More than 28 percent of students in Alaska attend rural schools. In the past few years, several small, rural schools in Alaska have closed due to shrinking enrollments, which means some students have to travel even longer distances to attend another school. 

Nationwide, rural students represent the highest percentage of the home-schooled population, although that number has decreased since 2007. In 2012, 3.6 percent of rural students were home-schooled, compared to 2.3 percent of students living in towns, and 1.6 percent of suburban students. In 2007, nearly 5 percent of rural students were home-schooled. 

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