Since December I’ve been following the MCPS skirmishes of homeschooling mom Patricia Downey on various listservs and lately a blog. Her son is high school age, quite gifted and taking college-level courses.
The problem? At her homeschool review with the county she was told that only 20% of a homeschooler’s instruction could be carried out by someone other than the parent. Too many college courses and she could be found “out of compliance.” This ticked her off. Enough so that she contacted Jay Mathews and is the featured letter in this morning’s Extra Credit column in the Post, which reprinted her letter to MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast.
Dear Dr. Weast:
My husband and I have home-schooled our youngest son since kindergarten. Adrien is now in 10th grade and, for the past two years, we have opted for a county review of his educational portfolio. The three reviews I have had so far at the Spring Mill Field Office in Silver Spring have been a very pleasant experience, and my reviewer, Mrs. Karen Gross, could not be more professional and delightful.
At the end of my last review on Dec. 20, however, Mrs. Gross told me of a memo she and her fellow reviewers had received reminding them that home-schooled students could not receive more than 20 percent of their education from sources other than their parents. Mrs. Gross expressed relief that Adrien was learning so much at home with me that the two classes he was taking in college (one at Montgomery College in Takoma Park and the other at the University of Maryland in College Park) could be considered less than 20 percent of his instructional program. She said that she would hate to find us out of compliance with the state law, but would be forced to do so if we exceeded the limit stated in the memo.
When I came home after my appointment with Mrs. Gross, I called the Department of Student Services and asked to be provided with a copy of the memo. The secretary transferred my call to Ms. Kristin Leary, who confirmed that home-schooled students could not receive more than 20 percent of their instruction from individuals other than their parents. In fact, she warned me two or three times that I would be “found out of compliance” if my son took more than 20 percent of his classes from outside sources. Although I repeatedly asked for a copy of the memo, she refused to even acknowledge my request, and in spite of my repeated requests, never cited the language in Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) in support of her position.
After I reminded her that COMAR 13A.10.01.01(F) specifically bars local school systems from imposing “additional requirements for home instruction programs other than those in these regulations,” she said that what was presented to me as a rule was, on second thought, a mere guideline.
I take my responsibilities as a home-schooling parent very seriously, and I am familiar with the pertinent COMAR regulations (13A.10.01), the purpose of which is “to establish a procedure to be used by the superintendent of each local school system to determine if a child participating in a home instruction program is receiving regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.” COMAR will be my guide — not “rules” or “guidelines” from a memo that I am not even permitted to see.
As his mother, I have been my son’s primary teacher. In no way does this mean that we both sit down at the kitchen table while I “teach” him all day. I do not view myself as a purveyor of facts charged with filling his head with knowledge. Instead, I make resources available to him, based both on his personal interests and my conception of what a solid liberal arts education should be. Visits to museums, lectures at the National Geographic Society, the National Archives or other venues, field trips to wetlands sanctuaries, plays at the Folger or the Shakespeare theaters, concerts at Strathmore and operas at the Kennedy Center or (until recently) the Baltimore Lyric Opera House, and constant offerings of books, books and more books are among the activities that he and I have shared over the years.
This is what home schooling is about, Dr. Weast. I am Adrien’s primary teacher because I am the one who directs his education, not necessarily because I actively “teach” him. The only exceptions are in French (my native language) and Latin (a bit rusty) For the rest, my son either teaches himself or gets his instruction from other adults with appropriate qualifications. In either case, I provide supervision to make sure that the work gets done…. (continued)
One of the problems lies with contradictions within the COMAR. On the one hand, homeschooled students are required to take English, math, science, social studies, music, art, health and PE. In other words, a high school homeschooler would be required to take 8 credits of health over their 4 years of high school, 8 credits of music, 8 credits of art, etc. Ridiculous. On the other hand, homeschoolers are supposed to study what is “usually taught to students of the same age.” Show me a middle schooler, let alone a high schooler who takes this distribution of courses (Hello Eastern Humanities magnet!).
Clearly, when the regs were drafted folks never imagined people might be homeschooling all the way through high school. An update to the COMAR, to reflect this new reality, is needed. Meanwhile its seems to me that enforcement of the eight-subjects-every-year component of the regulation will make homeschooling untenable to some. Which is most likely exactly what the bureacrats at MCPS have in mind.
Meanwhile, HSLDA has weighed in: Montgomery County Imposes New 80-20 Rule?
There’s another untold wrinkle to this story as well. Evidently around the same time as Ms. Downey was going back and forth with MCPS, another parent was told by Montgomery College that students younger than 16 were no longer eligible for early placement. When she quoted the policy on the Montgomery College website, she was told, “That was the past. This is now.”
When Ms. Downey followed up to ask about this “new policy” (her now “underage” son was slated to take another MC course), no one could point to the new policy or say where it was available, or if this was even the case. However, she did later learn that an MCPS employee had placed a call to the homeschooling official at the Maryland State Department of Education, asking if homeschooled students were allowed to take college-level classes. Hmmm. Coincidence? Frankly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if MCPS was exerting pressure to close off opportunities for gifted students to go outside the system in order to get an appropriate education.
Meanwhile here is the current Montgomery College Early Placement policy as it appears on their website.