The Maryland Board of Education voted on September 22, 2015 to publish proposed changes to homeschool regulations. You can download and read a copy of the complete regulations. Words [marked in brackets] propose to remove that specific language from the current regulations. Highlighted words propose to add that new language.
On the surface, many homeschool families are scratching their heads about the proposed changes. While this blog is not written by lawyers and is not to be considered legal advice, it is written to provide you with important information to help you understand how the changes might affect homeschooling in Maryland.
The changes fall under three broad categories.
County homeschool liaisons will be required to provide families with a “written” notification of what precisely is lacking in their homeschool portfolio, should the family be found not in compliance with the regulations.
MSDE’s Rationale: None given.
MDHSA’s Opinion: This is a positive change. Any family who is found to be noncompliant with the homeschool regulations deserves to have written notice of what they’re expected to remediate.
Action: Support this change
Parents will no longer be required to “teach his or her child at home”. Instead, the change allows parents to “provide a home instruction program” for their child.
MSDE’s Rationale: As stated in an MSDE issued summary memo, “this change gives parents and guardians the option to teach their child(ren) directly or to arrange for instruction to be delivered by another person (e.g. family member, neighbor, private tutor) either inside or outside of the home (e.g. online, office space, library). Regardless of the method of instruction, the parent or guardian as the “provider” would be ultimately responsible for meeting all requirements in COMAR.”
MDHSA’s Opinion: On the surface, this appears to be a benign and welcome change. While MSDE’s stated rationale seems well-intentioned, we believe this change needs to be strengthened by additional language.
Because “home instruction program” is not specifically defined anywhere in law, it is left open to interpretation. Some families are concerned that “program” will be construed to mean that a family must use a formal curriculum or material that is aligned with Common Core. That concern is not unfounded.
From a legal perspective, when fuzzy terminology is challenged in court, judges rely on language relating to similar issues to help settle disputes. If you look elsewhere in Maryland’s education regulations, you’ll find that each subject area, like math and social studies, extensively defines what an “instructional program” must include – and that means courses MUST use Common Core. Maryland colleges also define “’Program’ as a structured and coherent course of study with clearly defined objectives and intended student learning outcomes . . .”
Action: Include the following additional language to the currently proposed change:
provide a home instruction program, such as but not limited to traditional curriculum and textbooks, unit studies, online courses, parent-constructed curriculum, tutors, dual-enrolled college classes, and or other instructional options chosen by the parent or guardian
MSDE will now explicitly allow homeschool students to be dually enrolled in college classes. In addition, families “shall” be required to give their homeschool liaison a copy of their child’s dual-enrolled college transcript during their compliance review. Finally, families who review under an umbrella will be required to obtain permission from their umbrella prior to dually enrolling their student in a class.
MSDE’s Rationale: “In recent years home school coordinators have received numerous inquiries about dual enrollment for home school students. Because the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) historically limited home school to instruction at home from a parent, dual enrollment was only available on a supplemental basis.”
MDHSA’s Opinion: Serious problems exist with this proposed change to Maryland homeschool regulations. We’ll explain that below, but we need to give you some background information, first.
A couple of years ago, the General Assembly passed the College and Career Readiness Act of 2013. MDHSA was aware of this bill but because it did not specifically address homeschoolers, we did not hold an opinion on it, one way or another. In a nutshell, CCRA seeks to have 55% of Maryland adults between the ages of 25 and 64 obtain an Associates Degree by 2025.
When MSDE staff introduced the proposed changes to the state school board at its September meeting, it did so with a lengthy prologue referencing CCRA. Staff emphasized the need to open up dual enrollment options to homeschoolers. So, what does CCRA have to do with homeschool regulations?
Technically, CCRA has nothing to do with Maryland homeschoolers. While this college readiness initiative includes financial incentives to public school students to attend community college for free, homeschoolers do not benefit from this free ride in any way. This was a point specifically addressed at the MSDE Board meeting.
Yet, when you look more closely at the language of the actual College and Career Readiness law, you’ll find what’s really at the heart of the matter.
Section 24–703.1 of CCRA requires that by December 15 of every year the Maryland General Assembly must receive a report that includes the number of dual enrolled students in the state, as well as the course name for each class a student is enrolled in.
You can also follow the money to see where this is leading to. Maryland is seen as a national leader in college readiness initiatives – and that means big grant money. Maryland has already scored a Complete College America grant from the Gates Foundation. As a Game Changer State, Maryland is now providing statistical information on all students who are enrolled in 2- and 4-year colleges.
Do you see where this is going? Maryland has a vested interest in reporting significant increases in their dual enrollment numbers.
What MSDE fails to be willing to discuss is that, under current regulations, Maryland homeschool students DO NOT need permission from their county homeschool liaison – from their registered umbrella group – nor from MSDE to enroll their student in part-time college classes. More importantly, homechool families have never needed to obtain permission from any state or local authority to exercise their right to homeschool their children or to use a specific type of instructional or curricular method.
Current practice across the state has created a mutual understanding between homeschool families and county liaisons that dual enrollment is an acceptable form of “teaching” that parents have opted for their children for more than 10 years. Existing regulations relating to public colleges already make it perfectly clear – and legal – that community colleges and public universities, like Towson, UMBC, and College Park, can admit students who have not yet graduated high school, as long as those students can pass the Accuplacer test or show some other documentation that they can handle the coursework.
Still, MSDE insists that “allowing” dual enrollment can only benefit homeschoolers. In fact, MSDE is so enthusiastic about homeschoolers and dual enrollment, that the proposed changes will require families to submit transcripts to their county liaison during their compliance reviews. [See proposed change to 13A.10.01.01.D(2)] This change is a significant departure from current regulations, which allow parents the right to choose what their child’s homeschool portfolio consists of. Families have never been required to submit grades or transcripts as part of their compliance review.
Think you have a choice in keeping your homeschool child’s transcript out of the state’s hands? Think again. Refusing to provide a copy will result in you being found noncompliant with homeschool regulations – which means your child will be promptly enrolled in school. [See proposed change to 13A.10.01.03.A]
MSDE administrators and the Assistant Attorney General for MSDE, in conversations with MDHSA, continue to insist that no ulterior motives exist for the proposed changes to homeschool regulations. Pacifying remarks about how these changes will make it easier for homeschoolers to dually enroll in college classes and obtain credits to be applied towards graduation requirements only serve to highlight the faulty logic that’s being served up to justify these changes.
Action: Request that all new language pertaining to dual enrollment and initially recommended by MSDE be removed from the proposed changes to homeschool regulations.
Maryland homeschool regulations?