Portfolio Reviews Are Here

On Sunday night a thread began on the Capitol Hill Homeschoolers e-mail list. Apparently a couple of people had used the new online system created by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to submit their annual homeschool notification, and shortly after submitting their forms they received a notice that they had been scheduled to meet with OSSE staff to have their homeschool portfolios reviewed. This was the first I had ever heard of someone having a portfolio review, so I thought I should do some checking around to see what was driving this change. Here’s what I’ve discovered.

For quite a few years now Stephanie Thomas has been the person at OSSE responsible for managing relations with the homeschool community. I spoke with Stephanie today and she told me that she has, indeed, stepped up her schedule for reviewing homeschool portfolios. She says the program has been going on for some time now, but that she is increasing the number of reviews she does this year. She promises that there is no rhyme or reason to her pattern of picking people, she does it at random. If you receive a request, she wants to see a sample of the work you’ve done in every subject over the past three months. Stephanie will actually do the review herself.

That is the official story. Here’s what I would request on behalf of DC homeschoolers — if you are chosen for a review, please tell the community as much information as you are comfortable with about how it is conducted. The more information we share with each other the less likely we are to be caught off-guard, and the more likely we’ll be able to provide useful feedback to Stephanie to make the process work better over time.

The Portfolio Regulations

Chapter 52 of the DC Official Code is the law that establishes homeschooling regulations in the District of Columbia. There are a few portions of that chapter that help explain what OSSE can expect to find in a DC homeschooler’s portfolio. First, let’s look at what the instruction requirements are according to the regulation:

1) We must spend a sufficient amount of time teaching our children. What is a sufficient amount of time? Well that is largely up to us, the teachers. The law requires that we “Provide thorough, regular instruction of sufficient duration to implement the home school program.” As with most of these laws the homeschool community wanted them to be open to interpretation. We didn’t believe that we had chosen to teach according to the dictates of our conscience only to have the content and style of that education be prescribed by the DC Board of Education. It is up to us to determine how much time we need to spend to accomplish thorough teaching. We should be able to give a reasonable defense that our schooling is thorough, regular, and of sufficient duration.

2) We need to cover, during the course of a student’s education, a fairly standard range of subjects that should include “language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education.” Again, we should be able to defend our choices about the specific content and range within each of those areas. According to the regulation, the goal of our education should be to “ensure that children participating in a home schooling program receive thorough, regular education that will enable them to function as productive members of society in the 21st century.”

Those two points describe what DC’s regulations require that we do during a school year. We must teach a range of subjects and we must teach them thoroughly. So where do the portfolios come in? The regulations require that you “maintain a portfolio of home schooling materials for each child which includes evidence of the child’s current work, such as examples of the child’s writings, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, assessments, or any other materials that demonstrate that the child is engaged in thorough, regular educational activities in a range of subjects.” This material must be maintained for a year. This does not mean that you have to maintain everything your child writes or colors, nor does it state that you have to maintain a portfolio that covers EVERY subject. You need to maintain a sample of material from a range of subjects that helps demonstrate that you are covering those subjects thoroughly.

Finally, the regulations explain how a request may be made to review a student’s portfolio. The process is fairly straightforward and explains the goal of the reviews:

5206 REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS

5206.1 The OSSE may, at its discretion, request to review the portfolio of home schooling materials described in Section 5205, provided that the following requirements are met:

(a) The request is made in writing;

(b) The review is held at a time and place mutually agreeable to the representative of the OSSE and the parent or legal guardian;

(c) There are not more than two (2) reviews conducted during a school year; and

(d) The purpose of the review is to ensure that the child is receiving thorough, regular home schooling instruction, consistent with this chapter.

Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to require a regular periodic review of all portfolios.

I hope that as these reviews become more common, as I assume they will, DC’s homeschool community with come together to share information about the process. It would be especially important for someone to share if they were to receive a “Notification of Deficiencies” letter. Such a letter may simply represent a lack of knowledge about common homeschooling procedures and the community may be able to help educate OSSE.

If you have received a review notice, or if you have any questions or comments about the portfolio reviews, please do share thoughts on the Google Groups e-mail list or on the Facebook Group.

Why I’m Sticking with Paper

August 15th is quickly approaching, so in accordance with the DC Homeschooling regulations I submitted my “Notice of Intent to Home School” form today to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, otherwise known as OSSE. I was rather surprised when I almost immediately got a reply from the program analyst in their office who oversees homeschooling. She said she would be happy to accept my form, but she wondered if I might rather submit the form online instead. Hey, I’m no troglodyte! I’m all for government innovation and efficiency. So I figured I should take a look at the online form to see if it really was better than submitting a paper copy.

Sadly, from the start I was rather concerned. The initial registration page for the site requires you to check a box that says, “By checking this box I agree to the terms of the DCMR 5200 Homeschooling Regulations.” That seems innocent enough, but I find it interesting that I was never asked to check a box that says that I agree to the terms of the District’s codes against murder, yet I can’t go out and kill someone. I didn’t ever check a box that said that I agree to the terms of the District’s rules of the road, but I still got warned the other day when I didn’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign. The point is that no one should be expected to “agree to the terms” of a legitimate law. We are all held to a legal standard whether we agree to it or not. However, it is possible that I may need to assert some day that I believe a particular law or regulation to be invalid. If that is the case I wouldn’t want to have already asserted that I “agreed to the terms” of that invalid law. Strike one against the online form.

Strike two came when the form asked what my “reasons for homeschooling” were. There is an assumption inherent in that question. The assumption is that being in public school is the typical, accepted, natural, and proper place for children to get an education. The only reason someone would teach their child any other way is because something must have been wrong with the default option. Of course this isn’t true. To be fair, I tested the form and you aren’t required to submit any answer at all. There is no red asterisk next to the question like there is for most of the other questions. On the other hand it doesn’t specify anywhere that the question is optional nor does it say something like, “The Office of the State Superintendent of Education finds it helpful to understand the education choices of parents in the District. Accordingly we request that all of our parents voluntarily fill out a few survey questions to help us better understand the educational landscape in the District.” I could live with the question if it were phrased that way. As it is, it looks like the question is required of all homeschoolers and it is invasive and unnecessary.

The form lists seven answers to the “reasons” question, plus an option for “Other.” Not surprisingly most of the answers indicate that you have a problem with the default, appropriate choice of rational parents — putting your children in public schools. So perhaps you fear bullying or you are not satisfied with the school’s curriculum. The point is that there isn’t an option that says, “Homeschooling is a superior choice for my child.”

The third strike against the form is a bit more picky, but again, it shows the government reaching for more information than they need. DC homeschool regulations require that homeschoolers have a high school diploma or that they request a waiver of this requirement. The online form should state, “Please upload a copy of a diploma indicating that the parent has a high school degree or greater.” Instead the form specifically requests the parent’s “highest educational achievement” — information not required by the law. We have always submitted my wife’s high school diploma as the minimum required by law. Yes, we have both earned a college diploma or higher, but the law doesn’t require that information.

So there were the three strikes against this new online form that convinced me that I should just turn in the paper form instead. But what bothered me even more was that no one asked for our community’s input when developing this online form. I understand that OSSE can’t view any specific organization as “the voice” of homeschooling in the District, but I also know that they have repeatedly run into problems that could have been avoided by trying to involve the homeschool community first. I know that OSSE can easily contact me, and they know that I can contact others. This could have been avoided with an easy attempt at communication.

So for the 2015-2016 school year OSSE has a scanned copy of the paper form “Notice of Intent to Home School” that lists the names of my three children who will be homeschooling this year. The form is still available on OSSE’s site. I would encourage other DC homeschoolers to follow the same practice. Perhaps next year the online version will be more appropriate.

Remember, forms are due in by August 15th.

Links:


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: