Thursday, August 20, 2009

Massachusetts cannot require 900/990 hours from homeschoolers

I've seen Massachusetts listed as one of the more difficult states to homeschool in. I don't know enough about regulations in other states, but it seems to me we're somewhere in the middle between states like Texas that don't require registering homeschooled children at all, and states like New York and Pennsylvania that have specific academic requirements. One of the difficulties in Massachusetts is that each homeschooling family is required to report to their school district superintendent, thus guaranteeing different treatment in different towns, and that there are not laws, only case rulings to govern the regulation of homeschooling.

At any rate, I'm not going to reiterate Massachusetts homeschool law here -- see the experts for opinions. I recommend MHLA and AHEM.

And I do highly recommend that you brush up on the case rulings, particularly what they don't include. My district, and I think others, provides me with paperwork, which from my reading of the case law, includes many inaccuracies, starting with the first paragraph: "The Massachusetts General law requires the School Committee to determine that a home schooling program meet with the minimum standards established for public schools in the Commonwealth prior to approving such a program."

In fact, there is no reason to believe that homeschooling must meet the minimum standards established for public schools. The case law actually asks that the homeschool program "equals in thoroughness and efficiency, and in the progress made therein, that in the public schools in the same town."

The form that my school district asks me to sign provides the following text immediately above the signiature line: "The following signature confirms the intent to provide a minimum of 900-990 hours of instruction." I balk at this, mostly because I don't want to track hours the way I would have to to ever provide documentation of those hours. I can see it now: "Approximately 15 minutes spent in car discussing personal finance, 5 minutes spent on fractions while making dinner . . . ." I don't think so. This requirement makes me uncomfortable, so I did some research. I'm not the only one who doesn't like it. There was a vociferous discussion on this point on the MassHomeLearningAssoc Yahoo group a couple of years ago. From that list, and the two web sites linked above, I've come up with the following potential responses to the 900/990 hour requirement (that's 900 hours for elementary school and 990 for secondary level).

The Brunelle decision states: "While following a schedule may be an important consideration in a public school where preexisting schedules need to be maintained and coordinated, the perception and use of time in a home school are different. The plaintiffs can observe and accommodate variations (from child to child, subject to subject, day to day) in the learning process and teach through a process that paces each student."

As we will teach our child on a year round basis, we will meet or exceed the state mandated 180 days/900 hours per year of structured learning time required by the Massachusetts Compulsory Attendance Laws for public school students. However please note that according to the Brunelle case:"Parents who teach at home stand in a very
different relationship to their children than do teachers to a class full of other peoples' children. Teaching methods may be less formalized, but in the home setting may be more effective than those used in the classroom because the teacher-to-student ratio is
maximized, a factor permitting close communication and monitoring on an individualized basis."

We endeavor to live up to the Charlotte Mason ideal that "Education Is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life" and therefore does not end at set times. Thus we consider that we homeschool all the time, and thus easily meet the 180 days requirement.

[child's name]'s education is holistic as well--learning occurs in the context of and as part of normal life experiences. His "school year" extends 365 days a year.
Due to the flexibility of homeschooling it is impossible for us to state the number of hours of instruction. [Child's name]'s education will be equal in thoroughness and efficiency to that which is received by public school students. Please note that the 900/990 hours per year of structured learning time required by the Massachusetts Compulsory Attendance Laws pertains specifically to public school students.

1 comment:

becky said...

I just sat down to fill out the forms from our school district.
On the very first page they ask what qualifications I have to teach "this" child. Imagine that.
Thank you for this. You have helped immensely.