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:


5206.1 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.

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:


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)
(202) 276-5859

Jack Jacobson (Ward 2)
(202) 251-7644

Laura Slover (Ward 3)
(202) 277-6787

Kamili Anderson (Ward 4)
(202) 355-3695

Mark Jones (President, Ward 5)
(202) 304-7294

Monica Warren-Jones (Ward 6)
(202) 431-5369

Karen Williams (Ward 7)
(301) 641-1926

Tierra Jolly (Ward 8)
(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

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.


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.


Yes, Other Promise Programs Include Homeschoolers

At last week’s hearing on the DC Promise Establishment Act numerous speakers challenged Councilman Catania to open the program to all DC students, including those from private schools and homeschoolers. The Councilman responded that including homeschoolers “is something that no other program like this in the country has done thus far.” It appears that he may not have had all of the facts.

Thanks to the research of an industrious DC citizen we now know that two of the largest such programs in the country do, in fact, accept all students, including homeschoolers. The Oklahoma Promise program provides a similar amount of money to low-income students in Oklahoma who meet the requisite criteria. The Oklahoma program accepts applicants from all schools and has specific information in their application for homeschoolers.

Even more interesting though is that the Washington state College Bound program accepts all students, including homeschoolers. This is interesting because Councilman Catania is clearly well-versed in this program. In fact, the first speaker at the hearing was a gentleman from Washington State who had traveled to DC specifically to talk about the Washington state program and the amazing successes they had seen. And the truth is that they had seen amazing success. The high school graduation rate for students who were a part of this program had gone from 59% to 78% in just a few short years. Councilman Catania was so impressed with this program in Washington state that he said, “This is a recipe for success and it is one I am eager to replicate city-wide.”

We wholeheartedly agree that a program showing such a clear benefit is the same sort of program we should establish here in the District. However, let’s not decide that we can just drop thousands of students from being able to access this program and still believe that we are treating the citizens of DC fairly. If we agree that Washington State has an excellent program that has demonstrated clear benefits, then let’s follow their example and extend this program to all of the citizens of the District.

Oklahoma Promise Application
Washington College Bound Q & A