Finding the Best Homeschool Umbrella

The Maryland homeschool regulation, COMAR 13A.10.01, requires families to participate in up to 3 portfolio reviews each year. These compliance reviews serve to confirm that a family is providing their child with “regular, thorough instruction.” Families may opt to review for free through their local county school district or they may pay for an umbrella service.

Umbrellas are organizations registered with the Maryland State Department of Education who agree to provide homeschool oversight for families who educate their children at home. COMAR allows for three types of non-governmental entities to provide homeschool oversight to Maryland families.

  1. Nonpublic school with a certificate of approval from the Maryland State Department of Education
  2. Church-exempt school
  3. Education ministry of a bonafide church organization

While COMAR provides some guidance for how homeschool umbrella portfolio reviews must be conducted, currently, no state regulatory oversight exists umbrella groups. In other words, it’s a buyer-be-ware market for homeschool families.

If you are considering an umbrella for your homeschool compliance reviews, the following questions can help you evaluate which umbrella may be the best fit for your family.

Interview Questions When Considering an Umbrella

Umbrella prices vary from $60 per family to $3,000 for your first child.

Some umbrellas allow peer reviews, which means you are required to find your own reviewer within the homeschool community. Most umbrellas hire current or former homeschool parents to conduct reviews.

Most reviewers have homeschooled their own children for at least five (5) years. Not all reviewers have actually homeschooled one child throughout their entire K-12 education. While a homeschool reviewer is not required to have a formal background in education, a college degree in a related field may help the reviewer make more thoughtful suggestions on how you can improve your homeschool program.

At a minimum, you should be required to provide a sample of schoolwork that each child has completed. If you only review once at the end of the year, demonstrating “regular and thorough instruction” should involve a minimum of one work sample per month in each subject.

Umbrellas do have the option of imposing additional requirements on families, such as teaching some kind of religion.

At a minimum, you should receive an extended intake telephone consultation and an end-of-year review. Some additional services you may receive include monthly support group meetings; a mid-year review; help with maintaining a transcript; a graduation ceremony; and/or discounts on other support services.

Be wary of umbrellas who respond with statements such as: “Every child learns differently”, “It’s okay if your child isn’t reading by 9. They’ll learn when they’re ready”, or “Just take them to your local public school for testing”. These types of statements show a genuine lack of understanding that learning disabilities exist and should be taken seriously.

Some umbrellas offer diplomas to families who review with them for all four years of high school. However, a diploma issued by an umbrella registered as a church-exempt school OR as an education ministry for a church or other religious body is no more valid than a parent-issued diploma.

Reviews may be held in an office, library, or the family’s home. Some umbrellas will host a family fun day and conduct reviews at a playground or amusement park. NOTE: Effective August 2019, COMAR no longer requires umbrella reviews to be held at the place where homeschooling takes place.

Be sure to get the name and address of the sponsoring body. Per Maryland regulations, umbrellas must be [1] education ministries operated by a church, temple, synagogue, or other established religious body, including Wiccan; [2] church-exempt schools, such a a parochial school; or [3] a non-public school registered with the Maryland State Department of Education, such as Calvert School. Homeschool families should be aware that some individuals have created state-recognized “churches” with the sole purpose of running homeschool umbrellas. These umbrellas often have little to no oversight by a governing board of directors.

Maryland has no independent umbrella accrediting agency that can objectively verify that the organization is in compliance with state regulations or that they offer a quality service. Additionally, the state of Maryland simply registers umbrellas. Umbrellas are not currently regulated by the state.

Last modified on July 22, 2020