Whew! Got through my homeschool review with the county yesterday. (For those who are curious, here are the Maryland Homeschooling regs.) It was my second since starting homeschooling a year ago. I felt both confident and nervous, so to give myself and extra mental boost I put on my work clothes and my high-heeled boots. I guess it worked, because when I walked into the MCPS field office the secretary thought I was an MCPS worker, there for a meeting.
It was a coincidence, but my review came on the same day that the tragic, gruesome local story of four dead children discovered in the home of their clearly psychotic mother was starting to reverberate. The fingers were starting to point and as I sat that kitchen table yesterday reading the Post, I predicted that homeschooling in the District — and elsewhere — was in for a whole lot of scrutiny. And I wasn’t wrong. Today’s Times has the following story, “Lack of Supervision Noted in Deaths of Home-Schooled.” And today’s Post reports that Mayor Fenty “vowed to establish a system to track children who are home-schooled or who move from school to school.” The whole story is here. With another one here.
Looking particularly prescient is Maryland homeschooling doyen Manfred Smith. At a talk for area homeschoolers that I attended in September, he warned that the growing popularity of homeschooling paradoxically posed a threat, as new homeschoolers with less clarity of purpose — and less knowledge — were joining what had in the early days had been a choice stemming from deeply held values, whatever they might be. Increasingly families were seeing homeschooling as just another educational choice on the public/private/charter school menu. He sensed that the eyes of the authorities were growing more watchful, waiting to pounce should a tragedy, like the one in the District, occur. And now it has.
A few come-to-homeschooling-lately families, unfamiliar with the history and philosophical underpinnings of homeschooling, asked, “Why can’t we have access to public school facilities, teams, classes if we pay taxes? They do it in other places.” and seemed ready to trade some autonomy for greater state involvement. Others bristled at what they saw as escalating, quixotic demands by their reviewers and warned newbies not to go overboard with scrapbooks, portfolios, and documentation lest they make others look bad — to take a “just the facts ma’am” approach and adhere strictly to the letter of the law. Smith argued that the Maryland regulations were a finely calibrated compromise that allowed considerable autonomy for homeschoolers, yet provided sufficient safeguards to ensure that a tragedy like the one in DC didn’t occur, potentially jeopardizing homeschooling for all. On this Times graphic, it shows Maryland as being in the range of moderate oversight.
I went into my review with “just the facts ma’am” documentation. Because I had recently gone through the application process for high school on C’s behalf, I had two and a half pages of carefully honed course descriptions that included resources/curriculum used, plus a summary transcript that included recent SSAT testing results. In the hours before the review I had scrambled around assembling some additional supporting documentation should I be asked for it. (“C., give me something for science! Anything!”) I place a lot of the responsibility for homeschooling on C. She knows the subjects that need to be covered and that when the time comes for the review she needs to help me be able to document in some fashion. In return she gets considerable leeway in what she does. For example she keeps a daily log of what she does. I planned to take it along but getting ready for the review I panicked that she perhaps hadn’t been specific enough in her notation — just “French” versus “French, Chapter X section Y.” C. for her part said that I was completely stressing her out, obsessing.
- Easiest was English. I pulled the very impressive EPGY syllabus, a writing sample and C.’s grade of an A. I included an e-mail documenting her participation in a high school master class at the Writer’s Center and the end of semester report from her Shakespeare acting class. I was prepared to rattle off a list of books she’d read, things such as Northanger Abbey and The Gilded Age. Done.
- For math, I schlepped along her notebook ( C.’s doing Geometry with a local homeschool co-op), but also brought along an e-mail that showed her results from a recent math competition. Done.
- P.E.? A photo of her in fencing kit and a print out from the fencing club’s website.
- Art? A few photos of C. sewing and knitting, a print out from one of the many craft websites she visits. Done.
- Science…I was worried about science. Basically C. has been watching U.C. Berkeley “Physics for Future Presidents” lectures on the Internet and taking notes. I haven’t actually paper tested her although I’m confident she’s learning. I had also asked her to do a Times Learning Network science lesson which I brought along. Kind of thin, I admit. I also brought a sample of the notes.
- Social studies? I brought print outs of online political discussions she’s had on Cogito.org, plus some screen shots from Hippocampus. But mostly she’s just read, read, read and I had the books, magazines and newspapers listed.
- Health? Um. I was going to say that we planned to sign her up for a first aid class in the spring…and she did have that EPGY paper on the cervical cancer vaccine.
- Finally, music. Of all things I was sweating music. If C. were in school most likely she wouldn’t even be doing music as an elective. No doubt the homeschool regs were written when few imagined that kids would homeschool through middle school and high school, when there is choice of electives. C. does a ton of art…but music isn’t a huge interest, and last year’s reviewer had made a notation that because we had done so much art last year that we would put a larger focus on music in the coming school year. I had hectored C. to find “something” for music and she had chosen to listen to a music appreciation podcast by the Reading Symphony Orchestra, plus read a book on the African-American music scene in 1940s Los Angeles.
If the reviewer asked to see actual paper “tests,” insisted on a sequence of dated work product, I was screwed. I hoped the fact that I teacher her French — foreign language instruction is not required — would offset any perceived weakness. Overall, my strategy for the alloted half hour was to talk talk talk, to dazzle. In my cocky moments I figure, hey it’s middle school. C. could be playing tiddely-winks for a year and she’d be just fine.
The reviewer was a fifty-ish, friendly, maternal looking woman. I later learned that she had been a school counselor and I can well imagine her taking awkward teens under her wings. Going into the review there are these split-second micro decisions to be made. Do I take the chair by her side or across the desk from her? (I took the one beside her.) Do I actually give her the papers that I’ve brought, or do I hold onto them? The last reviewer at several points had asked if she could make copies of things, or have copies and I complied. This time I held onto it all, carefully doling out the stronger items. She led off with English/Reading which is our strong suit. She looked over that EPGY syllabus and murmured how advanced it was, and I mention that the next in the sequence is AP English. That followed by the master class and the Shakespeare class, dropping in the testing and how C’s on track for a college class, how hard our school journey has been and the tone was set. It actually ended up being a pleasant, supportive experience, with her saying that the school system really didn’t have an effective way to meet the needs of verbal kids as far out on the spectrum as C.
So, stress over…until my next review in 4 months. A little stress is a small and necessary price to pay to be able to homeschool.