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Posts Tagged ‘homeschool review’

Homeschoolers in Montgomery County who choose to do their review with MCPS rather than under the auspices of a homeschooling “umbrella” organization (my choice when I homeschooled) are discovering that although they have opted out of the the county school system, budget cuts are impacting them nonetheless.  Letters recently went out to homeschoolers informing them that the twice yearly reviews, previously held in MCPS field offices around the county, are now going to be conducted in the auditorium at MCPS headquarters in Rockville on one of four appointed days, with numerous reviews happening in the room at the same time.

Hmmm.  According to the Maryland State Board of Education Regulations, “the review is at a time and place mutually agreeable to the representative of the local school system and the parent or guardian.”  Will be interesting to see whether any parents feel that this setting is not mutually agreeable.  It also potentially raises privacy and confidentiality issues…but then again if you’ve ever attended a mass parent-teacher conference in a middle school gym, with parents lined up three feet from the table, maybe this doesn’t seem so bad.

But while I’m on the topic of MCPS homeschool reviews, let me just repeat that it frosts me the way the  MCPS website homeschooling FAQ misrepresents homeschooling requirements and needlessly scares/stresses out new homeschoolers. For example, MCPS says:

Do I need to set up a classroom in my home?
No, but you need to provide an area that includes a desk or work space with suitable lighting and ventilation. Resource and instructional material should be available to your child.

The COMAR says nothing about the homeschool setting.

MCPS says:

Am I obliged to follow the public school calendar?
You need to specify the hours, days, and length of your instructional year during the program review. Weekend, evening hours, and summertime also may be a part of the schedule if you desire. A minimum of 180 days (based on 5 hours of instruction per day, it would be 900 hours) per year of instruction is expected.

The COMAR merely says:

The home instruction program shall:  (3) Take place on a regular basis during the school year and be of sufficient duration to implement the instruction program.

MCPS also has a series of questions related to the program of instruction.

Should I develop a planning book for instruction?
Evidence of a planning book is included as part of the program review.

Should I keep a record of attendance and evaluations/grade given to my child?
Yes.

What sample of my child’s work should be available during the program review?
Examples of the child’s writing, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, and tests must be saved for the review. In addition, work should be dated as it is completed.

The COMAR merely says:

A parent or guardian who chooses to teach a child at home shall maintain a portfolio of materials which:(1) Demonstrates the parent or guardian is providing regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the areas specified in §C(1) and (2);

(2) Includes relevant materials, such as instructional materials, reading materials, and examples of the child’s writings, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, and tests;

No mention of  “evidence of a planning book,” or “attendance and evaluations/grade[s].” The COMAR calls for “relevant materials, such as [emphasis added]…” No specified materials which “must be saved” nor requirement for dated work.  You don’t even have to demonstrate that academic progress is being made. Just that “regular, thorough instruction” is being offered.

The MCPS form letter sent to to parents in conjunction with the review is also misleading, in my opinion.  It tells parents that they “should plan to bring the items listed below…. dated relevant work samples in each curricular area….Complete list of textbooks and workbooks used…weekly instructional schedule.” Again, none of these are spelled out/required in the COMAR.

Yes, don’t get me started.  While I suppose our homeschooling regs in Maryland fall somewhere in the middle in terms of homeschooling nationwide, I chafe at some of the state educational establishment’s bizarre interpretations (college and other external courses have to be “supplemental” to material taught in the home by the parent?) and misconceptions about homeschooling and what actually constitutes an  education.

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Homeschool review, already?!  That’s what I thought when I got the letter dated April 15th.  We only officially started homechooling on March 4th.  But no matter.  I called the MCPS field office.  They said I could come in as early as the first week of May.  I scheduled for May 15th.

In the intervening month part of me thought “I don’t need to sweat this…heck, it’s only 2 months of homeschooling and she’s actually done a lot.”  But then the Type A part of me was all, “I’m not seeing enough ‘product!!’ Where’s the ‘product?!’ I’ve got to demonstrate regular thorough instruction!”  I’ve been feeling particularly anxious about math.  M. is doing pre-algebra on Aleks and simply hasn’t been putting in the hours–that I would like, my husband keeps reminding me–to get her on track to start in with Algebra in September,  unless she wants to do math all summer.  I kept harping, “You need to do at least 5 hours a week.” But somehow her photography was particularly compelling, or she was reading The Secret Histories, or there was a particularly good documentary, or…. I have to keep reminding myself that this is why we’re homeschooling, right?  To be able to adapt and go at the student’s pace.  Breathe.

This past week I was really burning the candle on both ends, what with work and then blogging into the wee hours.  There were several nights where I only got 4 or so hours of sleep.  By Thursday night I felt like crap, but I still needed to pull together my stuff for the review at 9 a.m. the next day.   I stayed up until 1 a.m creating Word document resource pages from e-mails, drafting an overview–and then got up at 5 to drive Husband Dear to the Metro, C. to the bus, shower, dress and then frantically print out the final samples and supporting documents.

I rolled into the field office at 8:58 and behind me was a mom clutching large binders, dad juggling some large cardboard creation, and a child.  I was carrying a slim folder.  Deep breath.

A homeschool review, I’ve decided, is essentially a sales jobs and I can’t help thinking of  Mr. Roark:  “Smiles everyone!  Smiles!”  (Okay, so maybe that’s not the best metaphor.)  Go in dressed professionally.  Project enthusiasm and confidence.  Show that you completely know what you are doing.  And keep up a non-stop monologue as you casually slide over a few choice samples.

This was my first time with this reviewer.  She was pleasant, low-key and as she pulled out the file she said, “I can see you’re an old hand at this.” She said this at least three times during the half hour.  Was she saying it to reassure me or herself?  I confess it did sort of lower the bar and help me relax. (I was surprised that they would have files by family rather than by kid.)  I extracted three writing samples from my sheaf of papers to show her–more or less the sum total of M.’s written output over the past 10 weeks (think quality, not quantity!)–and then I ran down my overview.

Math
•    Pre Algebra – Courseware:  Aleks.com. Student navigated learning paths based on level of readiness, with assessment at regular intervals. (I showed her the printout where it’s mapped against Maryland content standards.  She liked that.  Didn’t get into how much progress she’s actually made since starting.)

Interdisciplinary Humanities (English & Social Studies)
•    Unit Study – Rise of Totalitarianism – Secret Histories, Animal Farm, Maus I and II. Ongoing and extensive multimedia exploration and study of the Russian Revolution, World War I, Rise of Communism (Stalinism), World War II.  Ongoing. (Mentioned our research paper plans for the fall and showed her my first assignment on narrowing the topic.  She liked that.)
•    Unit Study:  Ancient Greece – Extensive multimedia exploration of Ancient Greece.  Reading from K12 textbook, web resources such as the BBC, PBS, the History Channel and National Geographic, videos, interactive games.  Read D’Aulaires Mythology, excerpts from Young Philosopher’s Guide.  Field trip to the Washington Monument and Supreme Court to study influence of Greek Architecture. (I showed her a first person wax museum monologue on Artemis that M. wrote.)
•    Current Events—Daily reading and discussion of current events in the New York Times and satirical political shows, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report.
•    Eiffel Tower – Conduct research and write report. (I showed her this two page paper.)
•    Slumdog Millionaire – Comparison of the movie and the book upon which it was based.

Interdisciplinary Science (Science, Health, English)
•    Forensic Science – Units on Hair, Insects, Art Fraud, Autopsy and Dissection, Odontology, Fibers.  Field Trip to the Walter Reed Museum of Health and Medicine for their forensic workshop.  Read “Chasing Vermeer.”
•    Paper Bag Mystery – Write mystery based on several random items in a paper bag.  (Had the reviewer skim this. She loved it, commenting that she could tell M. had really gotten into the assignment.  By this point she was murmuring repeatedly about how much we were doing, that it all was really wonderful.  Just sliding to the close….)

Foreign Language
•    Middle School French 1 – Powerspeak.  Completed lessons 1-22.

Art
•    Photography – Produced photo essay with captions.
•    Drawing – Sketching Greek goddesses. (Showed her a sample.)
•    Field Trips – MOMA in New York; National Gallery of Art and Museum of the American Indian in DC; Wheelright Museum and Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.

Music
•    BBC Composer of the Week podcast series
•    Attended performances of Sweeney Todd and The Baker’s Wife.
•    Composition using Garage Band software.
•    Music documentaries such as “The Story of Led Zeppelin.”

Media/Art/Language Arts
•    Blog – Independently designing and authoring a blog featuring to include photos and brief personal essays and reflections.  (Just really getting started with this.  I’ll turn her into a blogger yet!)

Health
•    Incorporated into Forensic Science class.  Student also regularly reads the Health Section of the Washington Post and New York Times online. (I told the reviewer my  “Don’t smoke.  Don’t drink.  Don’t do drugs.  Don’t have sex until you’re older. There…Health is done.” line.  She chuckled.)

Physical Education
•    Fencing – Weekly private epee fencing lessons and twice weekly group classes.

Toward the end she asked just one question: what our typical day was like.  I told her that I expected M. to do math and French every day, but that we were still working on that.  Otherwise, “school” took place during the normal school hours, adjusted for pre-teen sleep rhythms.  When it was over she barely had written anything on the sheet.  Really.  Bottom line though, we passed.

I rushed to work, forgot my laptop power cord so had to come home after an hour or so.  Once home I decided to be “sick” for the rest of the day rather than work, went straight to bed and slept for four hours.

Finally breathing.

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So on Monday I had my third homeschool review (at least from this stint of homeschooling). As I noted earlier, I was wondering if they had forgotten. But they hadn’t, which gave me a few days to pull together the necessary materials. My husband–bless his naive heart–said I should save everyone’s time and just call and tell them that C. was going back into the school system, and a highly competitive program to boot. I told him, uh, it didn’t work that way.

Even though I should have been confident, I couldn’t help being nervous. All weekend I nagged C. to get me something on science. I was non-plussed to see that her agenda book had several empty swaths. I pulled papers together. For some subjects I felt we were more than good. In others…not so much. *Really* not so much. As in, well, nothing in terms of “documentation.” In the end I took a three inch accordion folder with about a half an inch of paper, the agenda book, her Geometry notebook, her college course binder. And at the last minute I stuffed in a sweater she had knit.

I was the first appointment of the day, with the same reviewer I had had in the fall. I definitely feel like I have lucked out in the reviewer department. She has a grandmotherly, Mrs. Claus-ness about her, which is reassuring…I can just imagine her up to her elbows in baking flour. She remembered me–and C.-right away when I walked in, asking how things were going. So that was good. (Just to be clear, C. did NOT come with me.).

Even though it was only a few days ago, it’s already feeling like a blur. I told her right away that C. would be be going to high school, hoping that would help set the tone (If she’s good enough to get in, what we’ve been doing must be okay.) I think we started with the UMBC course, then jumped to English, then math…with me rooting around for papers (it does take up time), passing them to her for perusal and jabbering madly all the while. Eventually I laid a few things out in piles–like a registrations for sports, C.’s evaluation by her Shakespeare teacher, math achievement certificates–and she picked them up while I jabbered some more. She murmured approvingly about how C. was doing so much, and asked questions about the UMBC course. Was it a full-on undergraduate course? Yes, I told her.

Somewhere amidst the jabbering, between that and EPGY, I noted ruefully that C.’s not much of a science girl. Then I pulled out the sweater and a speech C. had written for her coming of age project, which involved a knitting project for charity. Well, the reviewer *loved* the speech, shared that she herself is a quilter, and oohed over the sweater. We talked about how wonderful handicrafts are, and by then then time was almost up. She gave us a pass on music, as C. was clearly doing so much on the art side–clearly doing so much, period. As for science and health, I have to say I got off easy playing up all the reading C. does of the NYTimes and things she’s found online. No requests to copy anything this time.

Whew! We were in compliance. Walking out of there I definitely felt lighter. There’s just something about the review process that taps directly into my insecure, perfectionist vein.

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