Posts Tagged ‘Homeschooling’

Well the new school year is certainly shaping up to start with a bang, isn’t it?  Comes a story that could have significant impact not only on the discussion of gifted education in the county, but homeschooling too.

This week the Gazette ran a story headlined: Parent advocate says his daughter should be allowed to skip grades – School system would enroll her in advanced elementary classes.  I’m actually acquainted with the parent in question through my involvement with last year’s AEI Advisory Committee meetings and have a lot of empathy for him.  (You can relive the drama (referenced in the article) by trolling through my archives from the spring–or reading his own posts on the Parents’ Coalition blog).  Here’s the situation:

Caitlyn, who has been home-schooled with the Calvert School curriculum since leaving Seven Locks Elementary School in first grade, has the certificates to show that she can handle middle school coursework. Yet, the school system will not allow her to enroll in middle school, mainly because of her age.

Caitlyn, who lives in Bethesda, would go to Cabin John Middle School in Potomac, if allowed, despite the fact that she’s of fourth-grade age.

Her Calvert School certificates, obtained by The Gazette, show that she has passed the fifth grade and completed math at a seventh-grade level. According to her father, a staff member at Cabin John told him personally that Caitlyn should be enrolled at the school.

“I have proof that my daughter is beyond third grade,” Kumar Singam said. “We took her out of the system, and we’re asking the school system to place her according to her grade accomplishment.”

Martin M. Creel, the school system’s director of Enriched and Innovative Programs, said that officials have offered Kumar’s daughter the opportunity to take advanced courses in elementary school.

Although Creel could not speak specifically about her case, he said that the system buses students to nearby middle schools for advanced courses. And, because Caitlyn is certified to handle middle school math, “that is something that we would certainly offer in this case,” Creel said.

There’s additional information about the case in this Examiner op-ed, and in a blog post by the father.

Where to start?  So many questions.  But I’ll start with the one of most interest to GT advocates in the county:  What exactly, pray tell, are the “advanced courses in elementary school” that Mr. Creel has offered?

It seems that they are willing to bus Caitlyn to a nearby middle school for math (she’s working 3 grades above her age grade level).   Of course. They’re always willing to do it for math.

But what about everything else?  What about science, social studies, language arts?  Does MCPS propose 4th grade William and Mary and Jr. Great Books for a child who has completed 5th grade?  Have they offered her a seat in a Center for the Highly Gifted program?  A few days ago I asked Mr. Singam, and he stated, “I did press them for a clear articulation of “advanced” work they were proposing.  No reply.”

There is precedent for grade “skipping” in MCPS.  However the reporter gets it all wrong on two fronts.

While grade skipping can be useful for some children, it is not for others, said one parent on the GTALetters listserv, a forum that county parents use to discuss gifted and talented education. That parent asked not to be identified because his child finally was skipped after a lengthy battle with the school system.

First, by not citing any research on grade acceleration the reporter does a real disservice to readers, allowing the general bias against grade acceleration to hang out there.  The parent in question (a mom I know) referred him to the Davidson Institute for an expert comment, but he failed to follow up.  Second, the parent the reporter references did NOT have a “lengthy battle with the school system.”  Her journey to grade skipping for her child was actually incredibly smooth:  she asked for the grade skips, and got them, thanks to individuals in system who were willing to go do things other than the norm when they recognized that this was best for her child.  Imagine that.  (Her child is doing just fine, by the way.)

Regarding homeschooling and school placement, the Maryland COMAR says:

.04 Placement in Public School.

Upon application of a child for admission to a public school from a home instruction program, the local superintendent shall determine by an evaluation the placement of the child and any credits to be awarded toward high school graduation. The evaluation may include administration of standardized tests and examinations and interviews with the child.

However the Caitlyn was enrolled and warmly welcomed to middle school based on her school record and the judgment of the principal.  And it needs to be pointed out that her “home instruction” wasn’t some potentially questionable, loosey-goosey, mom-grade homeschooling thing.  Her parents were using the Calvert School homeschooling curriculum, a Maryland state accredited homeschooling program that has been around for 90 years.

MCPS is terrified of the precedent this case could set, which is why gifted advocates in the county are watching closely.

Caitlyn has completed 5th grade.  She was warmly welcomed to 6th grade before MCPS higher ups got involved.  She should be allowed to enroll in Cabin John Middle School.  Meet her academic needs–that’s what schools are supposed to do–and let her parents and school work together on any social emotional concerns that might arise, as they arise.

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So nice to see homeschoolers treated as, well, not-freaks by a respected publication. In this week’s New Yorker magazine Talk of the Town section, there’s a nice little piece about some young actors in a production of “Snoopy!!!” who happen to be homeschoolers.

For Mary Albert, who recently appeared in a musical production of “Snoopy!!!” as Sally Brown, Charlie Brown’s little sister, the challenge lay in embodying her character’s notoriously ambivalent relationship to the classroom, since Mary, who is twelve, has never actually been to school. “When in rehearsal the director would say, ‘How do you think, at this moment, you’d be responding to your teacher?’ I would say, ‘I have no idea’

There are some great quotes from the kids on homeschooling and regular school. They come across as smart and thoughtful. But the laugh out loud quote for me was this: “Regular school, Ben reflected, “can be kind of a dirty pleasure. It’s like watching ‘America’s Next Top Model.’ ”

Also funny….the timing, as I just came across this thread on the DC Urban Moms and Dads list, titled “Help me overcome my prejudice against home schooling.  Maybe this will help.

P.S.  This issue also has a great essay that reviews the Kindle.  A must read for book lovers everywhere.

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Check it out.  The Post reported on Thursday that Virginia has approved another Governors School:

In the works for two years, the governor’s school received the go-ahead from the Virginia Board of Education last week and is expected to open in September 2010 to rising high school juniors in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park. The rigorous school, which will be at George Mason University’s campus in Manassas and will eventually have about 150 students….

The governor’s school will offer a partial-day program, with students returning to their home school in the afternoon for English, government and elective classes, said Hubbard, one of the roughly 35 educators and parents who helped plan the school. The program will weave science, technology, engineering and math concepts together with the core curriculum focused on environmental issues.

And Maryland?  Nada.  We have nothing like this, on a multi-county level.  Why? I guess the assumption is that our schools are so fabulous that our gifted students are well served.  If anything, Montgomery County is going in the opposite direction, not “marketing” certain programs as targeted to the creme de la creme, and rather “spreading the wealth.”  That strategy, a la Malcolm Gladwell makes a certain amount of sense (Harvard is only going to accept X number of students from a single school).  But it doesn’t really serve exceptional students who would benefit from a concentrated grouping of peers and resources.

MCPS offers some opportunities for early college, mostly through Montgomery College, our local community college.  But they are largely targeted to at-risk kids and vocational training.  The Early College Scholars Program at Northwood High School has a relationship with University of Maryland, but states

It is NOT designed to shorten the time a student spends in college, but rather to provide a support for the student as they learn to navigate the demands of being successful in college.

All strictly lay out GPA requirements and the requirement of junior and senior status.  And in all these cases, parents pay:  $387.60 for each 3 credit hour semester class, plus books.  In contrast, look at Minnesota’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO).

The PSEO program covers all course tuition and fees and text books. It also covers consumable supplies that are required specifically for a class, such as art supplies, film, etc.

Notice who is eligible.  “The Minnesota Legislature established the PSEO program in 1985 to give students an opportunity to enhance the education that they receive at their local high schools, alternative area learning centers, charter schools or home schools. (emphasis added.)

The University of Maryland has provisions for dual or concurrent enrollment–even for homeschoolers–but man, is it complicated.  And there is that persistent obstacle to acceleration and early college for students who don’t homeschool, namely the four years of English requirement.  If you can’t accelerate a year somewhere along the way, you’re screwed.  It doesn’t seem to matter how advanced your English classes are, four years are four years.  Meanwhile, math acceleration in MCPS grows willy-nilly and increasingly we will have kids who “run out” of math at their high schools.  But provide a path for kids who are verbally gifted? Fuggedaboutit.

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Looks nothing like me

You’ve probably noticed that the feverish pace of blog postings has slacked off here.  Yes, it’s summertime.  On Friday I waved goodbye to the family as they drove off to Canada for a week to see my brother-in-law and his new wife. And what did I do for the rest of the weekend?

First off, I cleaned the house.  Reeeaaallly cleaned.  Something that doesn’t happen often anymore.  And then I savored the blissful, delicious notion that it will stay in this calm, pristine condition for days.  Since I don’t have our one car, I decided to play tourist and ride the bus to Bethesda, something I’d never done before (the bus, that is).  I strolled into Blue Mercury and bought makeup, taking as long as I damn well please, thank you very much.  I watched Gilda and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in one sitting.  I asked myself, “What do you want to do?” (One answer:  Not write a post about the barf-inducing Wash Post profile of Jerry Weast.)

Equally important, what didn’t I do:  worry about three other people’s schedule in addition to mine and make Trader Joe runs because there is “absolutely nothing” to eat in the house.  For an entire week I will endeavor to eat the food that is already in our cupboards.  Imagine.

All of which is why I read the New York Times Motherlode blog posting, Why Summer Matters with heightened appreciation.  Brooklyn-based children’s book editor Ruth Katcher shared her thoughts about why summer was so essential to her rising 5th grade son, “Snoopy.”  It’s heartbreaking.  Snoopy is clearly a gifted child, full of imagination and happy to amuse himself for hours.  Meanwhile,

In 7 weeks he’ll go back to school, to a 5th grade class we can only hope will be more suited to his nature than the previous grade…. Last year’s teacher assigned hours of mindless homework. At some point, she decided our son was bright (her term) and thus eligible for enrichment — but she was in no way capable of providing it, in a class of 29 children with extremely mixed abilities. Our son isn’t the only child in the class who survived 4th grade with a perfect report card and his self-concept deeply shaken.

The comments, both on the post and on listservs are interesting.  Some slam the mom–test prep in 4th grade?!–with little sympathy or understanding of the cutthroat calculus of New York City middle school admissions.  Others take her son’s story as a compelling argument against year round school calendars.  As for me, and a few others, I was practically screaming at the screen “get your mind out of the box!”  What is wrong with this picture, with you parents?  The case against year round schooling shouldn’t be built on the notion that school is a horrendous, mind-numbing, soul-crushing experience from which children need the summer to “recover.”  How has our culture come to accept this as normal, even something to celebrate?

In this particular case, the answer is right there, even if Katcher doesn’t want to see it.  She herself says:  “Sometimes this past year, I started to feel that our child is homeschooling himself, that his real education was taking place mostly on weekends.”  Why not be done with it and make it official?  (My guess, fego.  Her slice of Brooklyn is probably a lot like Montgomery County, with fewer trees.)  As for those who can’t homeschool, what is the answer?  Radical school reform, emphasis on the radical.  That could mean a year round calendar (which would still include ample vacation, and would address lower income “summer slide”) — but not with just more of the same.

I happen to agree that the standard American summer vacation is too long, and that at least a month of it could be parceled throughout the school year without appreciable loss of the summer “experience.”  Few families have the luxury of a “summering” somewhere, or 6 weeks of sleep away camp, or of a full-time at home mom/dad who can act as memory-making cruise director.  For most families, it’s a huge juggle to make sure that 9 weeks are “covered.”  It’s one of the reasons why even at my kids’ ages my husband and I are tag-teaming our vacations.  I say, let’s spread summer goodness year-round.  And at the same time tell our education leaders that the rest of the year shouldn’t be akin to a prison sentence.

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In the days of appointment TV

Today is the start of what should be an interesting three weeks.  Well, interesting for me at least.  This afternoon C. starts an official MCPS online course that satisfies a Maryland state graduation requirement.  I’ll be curious to see how the class is structured and what the interface is like.  The entire experience of it.  The course goes for three weeks, three hours a day (they say; hopefully less), bookended by two mandatory four-hour, in-person classes.  A semester’s worth of work.  Done.  Out of her schedule so she has room for more interesting things down the line.  Less cool is that we’re paying ($310) for the privilege, despite it being a mandated course.  Sigh.

Nonetheless, I am increasingly thinking this is the way to go–or at least one option that needs serious attention.  I am getting so tired of bogus online discussions about how to meet the needs of gifted kids–or more accurately why we can’t.  I’m tired of hearing how my kids (and kids like them) have to diffuse the pool of underachieveing students so as to improve the overall discipline of a school (this was actually argued on a gifted listserv over the weekend.).  I am tired of hearing how it isn’t cost effective (let alone “fair”) to meet their legitimate learning needs via grouping because “it’s just a few kids” yet people continue to  insist that there is something magic about arbitrarily grouping kids from the same birth year and zip code.

How about this?  Set them free! Teach a child what he or she is ready to learn.   Once they’ve learned it, let them progress to the next thing.  If they finish “early” so be it.  Let them go into the world to learn, to volunteer, to apprentice, to further studies at the college level, regardless of their age.

And psssst.  (Sotto voce) Welcome to the 21st Century.  There is this thing called the interwebs.  It is the opposite of appointment learning.  It uses things like VOIP and IM and blogs and webcams and “webinar” technology.  It allows people to connect whether they’re across town from each other or across the globe, to collaborate in real time–or not.  Problem is, if MCPS were to consider this, they’d spend a few years considering it, then a few more years piloting it to just a few schools, then issue a study, and then (maybe) consider it to be a viable means of meeting the needs of accelerated learners–but by then you and everyone who has kids in the school system would be long gone.

As it happens, online learning is in the news this morning.  A group of all-girls school, including local Holton-Arms, is piloting the Online School for Girls

For now, the online collaboration will allow the four participating schools — Holton-Arms, Harpeth Hall in Nashville, Westover School in Middlebury, Conn., and Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio — to offer classes that would not have generated enough student interest or teacher support in any one school. When the classes open to the public a year later, the educators hope that students around the world — including homeschoolers and girls at coed schools — will be able to take part in a version of the girls’ school experience. And they want to prove that single-sex online education works. They can’t find anyone who has done anything similar.

I don’t really have an opinion about the all-girls aspect, but the fact that this is being done by “hoity-toity” private schools is encouraging.  Maybe if MC”we’re the best”PS sees it being done they’ll consider it too.  Because if it’s a choice between an online class and my kid sitting in a real class being bored out of her mind (or disrupted by classmates who have no interest in learning), I’ll choose online learning any day.

P.S.  Check out what online courses MCPS currently offers.  The array of AP’s is quite impressive actually.  But why can’t kids take them during the school day?  Is it because then they couldn’t charge $700? Would they allow a profoundly gifted kid to give an AP class a go in middle school?  And of course there is the array of courses offered by CTY, EPGY and others that have been around for ever.  Has anyone ever heard of MCPS allowing a child to take one in lieu of MCPS classes?  Readers, what are the online options in your state or district, and how do they mesh with brick and mortar school?

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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.

•    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.

•    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.

•    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!)

•    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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For the second year in a row, girls have dominated the Intel Science International Science and Engineering Fair. You can read more about the competition here.

Tara Adiseshan, 14, of Charlottesville, Va. [Note: a DC area homeschooler before her family relocated]; Li Boynton, 17, of Houston; and Olivia Schwob, 16, of Boston were selected from 1,563 young scientists from 56 countries, regions and territories for their commitment to innovation and science. Each received a $50,000 scholarship from the Intel Foundation….

“The real end point of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is to elevate the recognition of achievement of the younger generation in academic and learning exercises,” said Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. “I hope that more young people will look at these students and realize they can be recognized for using their brains. You don’t have to be a quarterback, a basketball player or a baseball player to be recognized by your peers and the public.”

I’ll say.  Check out Intel’s wonderful, must-see celebration of brains:   “Rock Star” video (although too bad it’s actually an actor).

Meanwhile, winners of the 2009 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards receive, at most, $10,000 and the chance for publication or exhibition, with the ranks of sponsoring institutions looking a little thin (New York Times and…who?).

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