Success on Graduation Requirements

Thanks so much to all of you who supplied comments and wrote your Board of Education members about the revised graduation requirements. They CLEARLY heard our concerns. I spoke on the phone today with the policy director for the State Superintendent’s office. She confirmed that the regulation would be edited and reissued for comment. When it is reissued they will remove the offending language that made it appear as if homeschoolers would be required to follow all of the regulations in the proposal in order to graduate. This is great news!

Also, they did want to include the option to have homeschoolers request a diploma from the State Superintendent’s office. We have talked through what changes would need to be made to the language in order to make it clear that this was optional for homeschoolers and in no way required by the District. If that can be made clear I think it will provide a good opportunity for some homeschoolers. Under the proposed new regulation, if you wish to receive a diploma from the State Superintendent then you will need to comply with their requirements. The requirements may change a bit between now and when the proposal is reissued, but they are fairly typical requirements for most college-bound students. OSSE has not yet begun to discuss how homeschool courses would be evaluated. The regulation leaves that up to OSSE and will probably have to be negotiated once the regulations pass. Because this is entirely optional and your own parent-signed homeschool diploma will still be fully legitimate, I feel like we have plenty of room to work out the specifics.

So it appears that your efforts have paid off and that all of our concerns about this regulation will be addressed. I have been promised a copy of the rewritten document before it goes out for comment again. When I receive it I will make it available for all of you.

Thanks so much for your efforts.

Good News on the Proposed Graduation Regulations

I received this today from the director of policy in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education:

To be clear, the mention of homeschooling in Section 2200.2 was a drafting error.  We are removing homeschooling from the section, and the version put before the State Board for a vote will have homeschooling removed from 2200.2.

That is great news. This statement was actually written to Ward 1 board member, Patrick Mara, so I will trust, but verify, its truthfulness. 2200.2  is the section that specifically stated that homeschoolers were included in the graduation requirements under this code.

There is a bit more to the story, however. The reason only 2200.2 is mentioned is because we are still talking about ways homeschoolers might be included voluntarily and optionally in other sections of this code. OSSE says that homeschoolers were included in this legislation because “we heard from parents and others in the homeschooling community asking and advocating for a diploma.” To be honest, I very much doubt that there were multiple parents asking about this. OSSE’s staff members clearly misunderstand how homeschoolers graduate. Apparently word started spreading around OSSE and the Board that the only way homeschoolers could graduate would be to attend a DC school for their final semester. (Yes, this was bizarre.) I did my best to correct the confusion, so I think that now they understand that we don’t need a state-sponsored diploma in order for our kids to genuinely graduate from high school.

With that cleared up, however, OSSE thinks, and I might agree, that having an option for homeschoolers to receive a diploma from the District might benefit some. One thing I like about these new graduation requirements is that they have guidelines for “competency-based” credit. This would allow DC students to earn legitimate high school credit by demonstrating competency in an area through testing. Having an option like that might make it easier for some homeschoolers to graduate from high school earlier.

With that in mind, I asked the OSSE policy director to remove all other references to homeschooling from the regulation and insert this paragraph instead:

2204.7 A student from a home school program operating under Chapter 52 of Title 5 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) shall be eligible to receive a high school diploma from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education if such student has been certified as eligible to graduate pursuant to  §§ 2202 et seq. Alternatively, home schooled students shall be deemed graduated and may receive a home school diploma when their course of home study is completed in compliance with Title 5, Chapter 52 of the DCMR. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to suggest that such home school diplomas are not an equally legal and appropriate form of proof of high school graduation under District of Columbia regulations.

Because they have so much experience with the application of homeschool legislation nation-wide, I have been in contact with attorneys from HSLDA. They are quite supportive of this language and would prefer to have it included in the proposed regulation.

I would like to hear what you think. Please feel free to post on our Facebook group or Google group, or e-mail me at dchea@dchea.org.

I will update you all again on Monday. I think we are past the worst on this, but there are still some loose ends that need to be tied up before I will feel thoroughly comfortable.

Ethan Reedy

New Imposition of Control over DC Homeschools

It has been quite a few months since I have posted on this blog. Things have been quiet on the DC legislative and regulatory front for a few months now. Today, however, I received a copy of a new proposed regulation that should be of great concern to all DC home educators.

First, a little background: Before 2008 DC had no official set of regulations pertaining specifically to homeschooling. District citizens did homeschool their children, but we did it under a section of the law that said that students could receive “private instruction.” In 2008 the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) proposed a whole new chapter for the regulatory code – Chapter 52. The original proposed regulation was very problematic and we spent months working with the SBOE to improve it significantly. As difficult as that process was, this much was positive: the final regulation made it clear that homeschooling was legal, that it was to be directed by parents, and that we would have a lot of leeway to educate our children in the way we saw fit. All of these regulations were contained within one coherent and consistent chapter of the DC code.

Fast-forward to 2013 and the SBOE again tried to include homeschooling within its regulations, this time in an entirely different area of the DC code. They tried to include homeschoolers within the attendance requirements that they were developing for public, charter, and private schools. The result, as you would imagine, was preposterous. The SBOE couldn’t recognize that there was a huge difference between the institutionalized, assembly line approach that large schools have to take to education and the flexibility and freedom that we have as homeschoolers. Thankfully, many of you contacted the Board and testified at meetings, and homeschools were removed from the regulation and were no longer defined as “Educational Institutions” under DC law.

NOW, however, the SBOE has returned with a new regulation, this time on graduation requirements. The proposed regulations make several drastic changes to the DC law:

  1. It makes the DC State Superintendent of Education the legal “head” of all DC homeschools, not the parents. Here is how it is defined in the regulation: “‘Head of the Educational Institution’ means the legal entity or designated representative with authority to act on behalf of the educational institution in an official manner. . . . In the case of private instruction where a student is home-schooled, the ‘head of the educational institution’ would be the State Superintendent of Education.
  2. It requires homeschool students to take the same mandatory classes that public schoolers have to take. This includes following the same policies for determining credit hours (“Carnegie Credits”) and for determining which courses to take. This new regulation would require all students to take Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry, and three full years of lab sciences, even if you felt they weren’t the best courses for your children. This is particularly problematic for the many homeschoolers who keep their children at home who have an educational disability. Many homeschoolers do that because such children have a hard time learning in the institutional setting of a school.
  3. It defines homeschooling as an “Educational Institution.” Here is what the regulation says: “This chapter shall apply to an educational institution as defined in this chapter to include any elementary or secondary educational program operating in the District of Columbia.” Because the regulation goes on in several other places to mention “home schools” by name, it clearly, for the first time, brings homeschooling into a section of the law that has not applied to it before. When you search the District Municipal Regulations for the term “Educational Institution” it returns 118 hits. These include references to absenteeism, dress and grooming standards, site evaluation visits, and educational requirements. We must make sure that the District doesn’t continue to try to fit us into their institutional mold. We had to fight this less than two years ago with the attendance requirements, and now we are having to fight this again.

So what can you do?

Most importantly, go to the published proposed regulation and provide your comments about them. The page can be found here:

http://www.dcregs.dc.gov/Gateway/NoticeHome.aspx?NoticeID=5208141

You’ll see a button on that page that says “Make Comment.” Click there and tell the State Board that homeschools are not institutions. Our kids do not come off of assembly lines. We need different rules to cover a very different situation. Those rules already exist in Title 5, Chapter 52 of the DC Municipal Regulations. All regulations pertaining to homeschooling should appear there, and those regulations are not in need of any changes right now.

Second, write or call your State Board of Education Member. Mary Lord is the “at-large” member for the entire District. Her e-mail is Mary.Lord@dc.gov and her phone is (202) 257-3226 Here are the other State Board members:

Patrick Mara (Ward 1)
patrick.mara@dc.gov
(202) 276-5859

Jack Jacobson (Ward 2)
jack.jacobson@dc.gov
(202) 251-7644

Laura Slover (Ward 3)
laura.slover@dc.gov
(202) 277-6787

Kamili Anderson (Ward 4)
kamili.anderson@dc.gov
(202) 355-3695

Mark Jones (President, Ward 5)
mark.jones@dc.gov
(202) 304-7294

Monica Warren-Jones (Ward 6)
monica.warren-jones@dc.gov
(202) 431-5369

Karen Williams (Ward 7)
karen.williams5@dc.gov
(301) 641-1926

Tierra Jolly (Ward 8)
tierra.jolly@dc.gov
(202) 812-1464

Thanks so much for your efforts to keep homeschooling free and fair among all of the citizens of DC.

Ethan Reedy,
President, DCHEA

Why DC Promise Matters

ALSO: How to Show Your Support

In the last couple of months you’ve heard a lot from me about the DC Promise Establishment Act. Most of it has related to making sure that homeschoolers were not unjustifiably excluded from the program simply because we had chosen to educate at home during the middle and secondary school years. That is a fairly uncontroversial stance in the homeschool world. Most homeschool organizations support equal treatment for homeschoolers in government spending, especially at the college level.

However, now I’m asking you to consider a slightly more controversial position. I think that District homeschoolers should actively support the amended DC Promise Act. As we all know, the District is not a state. That fact, and the reality that we only encompass 70 square miles, means that we cannot maintain a high quality public university system. Instead, students tend to leave the District and often establish residency somewhere else in order to eventually get in-state tuition benefits elsewhere. District students pay a much higher out-of-state tuition rate, at least for their first years at a public college. In the end they are less likely to return home because they have established residency elsewhere.

The Promise Act works to combat those problems faced uniquely by District students. The Act would provide enough assistance to District students so that they will be able to afford out-of-state public schools at something like the in-state tuition rates. In addition, the Promise Act would broaden the options for District students by allowing them to consider private schools rather than just the public ones. The Promise Act would put District students on an equal footing with other students in our region when it comes to being able to afford an excellent college education.

Is the program costly? Yes. It will likely cost between $50-100 million dollars. However, DC currently spends $2.3 billion on education. Spending an additional 3-5% to make sure that our students finish well seems reasonable. Does the program threaten DC-TAG? Hopefully not. DC-TAG provides federal money to District students to help with the cost of attending an out-of-state public college. DC-TAG was great when it started 13 years ago and provided $10,000 to help pay tuition at an out-of-state school. The problem is that it is still providing that same $10,000 while the cost to attend those schools as an out-of-state student has more than doubled. We need something more than the DC-TAG program. Hopefully Congress will not cut the program just because we have tried to step up to fill a gap that they have ignored.

If You Agree, Please Show Your Support!

The future of the DC Promise Act is precarious. It has the public support of all of the members of the Committee on Education, but they make up less than half of the Council. Many of the other members have not yet committed to the bill. The media has not covered this legislation well, so many District residents are unaware it is even being debated. The Council needs to know that District families support this legislation.

Supporters of the bill have created a petition you can sign to show your support. You and your older students can sign in support of the bill (probably not your 5 year-olds!). If you support this legislation, please sign the petition and encourage others to do so as well.

Vote Yes on the D.C. Promise!

I realize some of you may not support this legislation. If you don’t, please let me know. I want to hear from the District’s homeschool community. You can send me an e-mail at dchea@dchea.org.

Progress on DC Promise

ALSO: Your Help Is Needed

I am very grateful for the attention that David Catania’s staff on the Committee on Education has given to homeschooling in the ongoing debates about the DC Promise Act. In the first proposal, as you will remember, all private school students and homeschool students were prohibited from receiving Promise Act funding for college. Catania’s Committee on Education changed that policy in the draft bill before Christmas. That change demonstrated their willingness to listen to criticism and respond to the needs of their constituents.

While I appreciated the Committee’s inclusion of homeschoolers in the Promise Act, I was still concerned that we were not placed on the same footing as other DC students. A homeschool diploma is as legitimate as any other high school diploma, yet the most recent draft of the Promise Act still required homeschool students to pass a GED to prove that they were legitimate high school graduates.

So here is what Catania’s office did this week that really impressed me. You all know that homeschoolers constitute a small percentage of families in the District. We are easy to ignore politically. In spite of that, I have received a number of phone calls from the Committee on Education. They want to work with us and have agreed to propose an amendment to the bill at the next Council meeting to address our concerns. I have seen the language they are proposing and, interpreted properly, it will put homeschoolers on the same footing as other students in the District.

Your Help Is Needed

As I said, homeschoolers constitute a small percentage of District families. Even though David Catania and the Committee on Education are willing to put forward an amendment addressing our concerns, the Council as a whole may find it easier to ignore the proposed amendment and let the bill move forward without changes. We need to let the Council know that homeschoolers care and that they should pay attention to our concerns.

I am hoping that a significant group of homeschoolers will show up at the next DC Council legislative meeting where they will be working on this bill. Please bring your students — they are encouraged to come. We will be there to support the full and equal inclusion of homeschoolers in this bill. Finally, if you are planning to come, please let me know by filling in the form below. The Council would like to have some idea of how many students and families they should expect to attend.

When: Tuesday, February 4th at 10:00am

Where: 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Rm. 500 (Across from Freedom Plaza)

Please RSVP:

Troublesome Legislation Keeps Coming

Earlier this year Councilman Marion Barry introduced Bill 20-178: The Compulsory Pre-School Attendance Amendment Act of 2013. This bill would require compulsory school attendance beginning at age three. The current compulsory education age in the District is five years old. This is the lowest age in the country, shared by fewer than ten other states. When the bill was initially introduced it appeared that it was dead-on-arrival in the Committee on Education. Today the bill moved forward to a committee hearing. It may be that the legislation will still go nowhere. It doesn’t currently have the support of Councilman Catania, or possibly even the support of Councilman Barry, since he didn’t show up for the hearing until the last few minutes. Even a few of the “educational experts” who were there to testify more broadly on pre-school education issues said that they didn’t think it was a good idea to extend the compulsory age so much lower than the rest of the country.

Nevertheless, this would be a great time to let your Councilmember know that the home is a perfectly appropriate place for all children to learn the basic skills of life that are normally “taught” in pre-school. Government shouldn’t be insisting on a course of study for three year-olds.

If such a bill were to pass, how could the government possibly apply the law to homeschoolers? Would we be required to teach a class in “Playing Well with Others” or “Story-time Listening”? This is preposterous. While many of us start our young children on academic subjects early, no professional educator is going to start requiring all children to begin reading, writing, and math before they turn five. On the other hand, some of us have legitimate philosophical disagreements with the idea of starting intentional education early. In fact, many countries are going the other way and are beginning to ask whether we place too much emphasis on education before age seven and too little emphasis on play.

Let’s do what we can to make sure that this legislation goes no further. Please contact your Councilmember and the At-Large Councilmembers. Urge them to vote against this measure. Council e-mail addresses can be found here:

DC Councilmembers

It is most important that we contact the members of the Committee on Education. These include At-Large members Catania and Grosso, Ward 6 Councilman Wells, Ward 7 Councilwoman Alexander, and Ward 8 Councilman Barry. So especially if you live in Wards 6-8, please e-mail your Councilmember.

Resources:

A Large Measure of Success

Congratulations to all. Thanks to you making your voices heard it appears that the DC Promise Establishment Act will now include homeschoolers and students from District private schools. The bill has undergone a fairly significant change from the original version. The grant award amounts have decreased by 40%, but the bill still provides a significant amount of funding.

I am hesitant to declare a complete success because the current version of the bill does not treat a homeschool diploma as a legitimate high school diploma. It would require homeschoolers to also get a GED or some similar stamp of approval from an external organization. The bill specifically requires a “recognized equivalent” to a high school diploma. This is unnecessary when we are already able to provide our students with an actual high school diploma, not the “recognized equivalent” of one.

Please stay tuned for further information. The Education Committee is having a mark-up meeting on the bill on December 10th at 1:30. You should be able to watch the meeting live here: http://dccouncil.us/granicus

I have had conversations with the Committee staff who are drafting the legislation. I am hoping that the language will change sufficiently to be able to be entirely supportive of the bill. As this process continues I will keep you informed.

Resources: