In 2015, the Maryland State Department of Education began the process of reviewing and recommending changes to homeschool regulations. The proposed changes appeared to be nominal, with minor word changes and what appeared to be helpful language relating to dual enrollment with college. Upon closer reading, homeschoolers realized the changes had dire consequences.
In mid-November 2015, MSDE published the proposed regulations and the public had 30-days to submit comments. In that time, over 400 people sent in their thoughts and suggestions. MSDE compiled the comments and presented the Maryland Board of Education with the following chart on February 12, 2016.
The Board of Education voted to republish the amended proposed homeschool regulations, which appear on page 463 in today’s copy of the Maryland Register. A second Public Comment period will remain open until May 2, 2016.
We believe the 2 new proposed changes are good ones. First, parents will not be required to submit a “report card” for their homeschool child’s dual enrollment college courses. Providing access or a copy of student grades will remain an option that parents may exercise during their portfolio review. The second proposed change does not require families who review under an umbrella to be “approved” before their child can enroll in a dual enrolled college class.
Families may submit comments about these 2 specific changes to Michael Linkins at the Maryland State Department of Education by emailing michael.linkins (at) maryland.gov. Your comments can voice support or recommend yet another change to these specific changes only. The Board of Education will review community feedback and then vote to approve any further changes to the homeschool regulations.
What About “observe instruction”?
In the Fall, the Home School Legal Defense Association encouraged their members to submit comments about existing regulatory language that allows a county homeschool liaison to “observe instruction” as part of a homeschool compliance review. When MSDE originally proposed changes to the homeschool regulation, they did not address this specific section. Because this language was not part of the initial review process, MSDE is not in a position to consider comments about it – at this time.
If the homeschool community wants to see the “observe instruction” language changed, they will need to request that MSDE begin a new round of regulatory review.
Why Are We Not Defining “Home Instruction Program”?
MSDE reported that despite receiving over 400 comments, only 25 people requested that “home instruction program” be broadly defined in the regulations. The State Board of Education accepted MSDE staff’s recommendation that it would be easier for MSDE to draft guidelines that define “home instruction program”, rather than allow community input.
During the regulatory review process in 2015, MSDE staff created an internal document (forwarded to MDHSA by now-retired MSDE administrator Richard Scott) that begins to spell out how they may interpret what a “home instruction program” may include. You can see the scenarios below.
Scenarios #5, 6, and 7 show you were problems might arise. Should you be one of the fortunate people who knows a real life astronaut, then MSDE feels it will be okay for you to hire them as a science tutor for your child. If, on the other hand, you and a collective group of homeschool parents decide to create a small group class at your house, MSDE might see that as a problem. But what about if you enroll your child in an online class that is taught by another homeschool parent? MSDE doesn’t even acknowledge that as a possible home instruction option.
Is This Really a Big Deal?
It might seem like nitpicking, but laws and regulations always begin with a list of definitions. It makes sense because words can have multiple meanings. So, to avoid confusion, it’s just easier to define exactly how the words will be used.
In fact, over the last 5 years, MSDE has been revising other education regulations and redefining “program” to mean that course material must be aligned to Common Core.
Just as importantly, neither Maryland law nor regulations require homeschool parents to meet any minimum education or background requirement before teaching their children. Allowing MSDE to suggest – through an internally developed document that does not have community input – that homeschool tutors or teachers must meet an extraordinary credentialing requirement, like being an astronaut, before they can teach our children is absurd.
In Section D. Educational Materials, current homeschool regulations provide a model for language that can be drafted to create a broad and inclusive definition. In this section, everyone has a clear idea of what may be included in a portfolio – “SUCH AS [emphasis added] instructional materials, reading materials and examples of the child’s writing, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, and tests”.
The 2 words “such as” make it clear that no single item on that list is required of any homeschooling family. It simply gives an idea of the range of options that can be used.
Call To Action
- Complete our short survey to help us verify if more than 25 people originally submitted comments to define “home instruction program”.
- Contact michael.linkins (at) maryland.gov to say you believe the Board of Educational erroneously voted to disregard previous public comments and that you are requesting the State Board of Education include the following definition for the new term home instruction program in the final regulatory change. Be sure to forward your original email that addressed this issue back in the Fall of 2015 (if you sent one in).
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