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.