My Homeschool Review Experiences

I have now been through three reviews with three different reviewers in my school district.  One of my other posts talks about how I approach the reviews.  In this one, I’ll talk about the attitudes of my reviewers.
There is no way to request the same reviewer.  The school district sends out a list of locations (various branches around the county of the public library) and times, then parents pick a half-hour time slot for each child.  This fall, the process was actually quite improved by the fact that we could sign up online and see what slots were available, and also reschedule there if necessary.  In the past, the parents had to email the times they wanted to and hope that it matched an available slot.  However, still you just sign up for a time and there are about 6 reviewers, so you get whichever reviewer becomes available around your appointment time.
Fall 2015: This was my first ever homeschool review for my 5th grader.  It took place during the first time slot on the first day of reviews.  My kids did not come with me.  My reviewer was an older man, accompanied by an older women who was training to be a reviewer.  She made it clear that any notes she might take would be about the process, not about me or my child.  The man commented several times about how much he appreciated the organization of my portfolio and how I wouldn’t believe some of the stuff they see from other parents.  He did look closely at everything I had brought and made some random comments about certain math topics, history activities, whatever. In hindsight, I feel this was the most thorough review I had, probably since they knew it was my first time and the guy was trying to show off for his trainee.  They were surprised that my son (again, a 5th grader) keeps his own reading log.  They were shocked that he could type a written assignment and asked me how he learned to type.  At the end of the review, they asked me if I am teaching him how to do spreadsheets and presentations.  I am not sure how they leaped from “wow, he can type?” to “could he do our bookkeeping?”.  Maybe it was supposed to be a joke.
Spring 2016: This review was rescheduled to another day and location because, without much prior notice, the library meeting room suddenly had to be used for the primary election.  So, it took place at a different library branch that we had never been to before and it was a bit strange.  The meeting room at this branch was in the basement of the library, separated from every other part of the library.  This time my kids came to the review with me.  The reviewer was an older woman.  She literally just flipped through the portfolio without looking at anything except for one packet we had done for a field trip to a National Park.  She commented that she should go visit there, too.  She commented that she appreciated my organization and talked about the mess some parents bring in.  When she glanced through my planner, she extremely impressed that my son is learning German.  I told her my kids are growing up bilingual and we are heading to Germany in a few weeks.  Then, she spent a good 5 minutes telling us how she wanted to travel there and all the stuff she wanted to see.  At the end of the review, she (jokingly?) asked what I was teaching my not-quite-2-year-old.
Fall 2016:  This review took place at our usual library site.  This time, I had the same reviewer who had been training the previous year.  She again praised my organization.  As she flipped through the portfolio, she couldn’t even contain herself over the awesomeness of our home education.  She scrawled random keywords all over the review checklist: Latin root words, theatre, write his own music for his U-tube [sic] channel.  I did have to stop her when she raved about division of integers being an Algebra 1 topic. According to our math programs pre-test, that was a skill my son needed before he could start his pre-algebra book.  But I guess I’ll take the reviewer thinking I am going way above grade-level rather than being chastised for not being rigorous enough.  After going through my portfolio, the reviewer took kind of a lackluster look at my planner because she was already thoroughy convinced that my son was getting a fabulous education at home.
So, in my small case-study of homeschool reviews, they are not a big deal.  The reviewers seem to be retired teachers who are looking for typical schoolish things.  They just want to put check marks on their list and hopefully get through all the reviews early and go to lunch or home.  Each time a review comes up, I secretly hope that I get a confrontational reviewer just to make it interesting.

Homeschool Reviews with the School District

My state gives homeschooling parents 3 options to prove that the child is being educated at home in a sufficient manner.  The first option is to review with the local school system.  Secondly, parents can join an umbrella organization that handles the reviews and vouches for them with the state.  Or third, kids can be enrolled in a correspondence curriculum and have that organization vouch for the education.  I have chosen the first option, mostly because it doesn’t cost me anything.  At this point, I can’t see paying $150-$400 per year for a secular review.  I also can’t see paying any amount of money to a religious organization.  I find the term “correspondence course” to be really outdated and I am not interested in teaching an expensive boxed curriculum.

The school district’s review procedure is that twice a year, sometime between November and January and again between April and June, each homeschooling parent has to schedule a meeting with them at a local library. The parent has to show evidence that their child is getting “regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age”.  I have heard from several parents that the school district reviewers can be difficult; however, I am 3 for 3 in breezing through the review.  My approach to the homeschool reviews has been to look like I know what I am doing and to give them what they are looking for. The reviewers have been so impressed by the mere fact that I had my stuff organized that they barely even looked at any actual work my son did.  Seriously, each time, the reviewers have thanked me for being organized and have told me, “You wouldn’t believe the mess some parents bring to the reviews!”  Now, I am a little put off by their judgmental attitude, but at least they are not naming names or pointing out people.

My first strategy in looking like I know what I am doing to make a good first impression.  I probably go a little overboard, but I pretty much dress like I am going to a job interview. I put on make-up and do my hair. Actually, I plan on testing this first-impression-theory at my spring review, by dressing way down.  So, stay tuned for that.

Second, I provided them the information they want to see in the order in which they check it off their list.  I see a lot of parents come into the review lugging crates and bags of materials.  Ok, maybe they have 7 kids to discuss and I just have the one right now.  However, I have always reviewed with a minimalist portfolio of one 2-inch binder and my planner.  For my first ever review last fall, I also brought the science lab observation book and the history timeline book, but now they stay home.  My binder always contains the following:

  • the copies of my previous review checklists (obviously the first time, I didn’t have one of those)
  • the letter the district sends me at the beginning of the school year to certify that I am educating my child at home
  • a copy of the state’s homeschooling law (so they know that I know what they are allowed to ask for)
  • dividers labeled with each subject I am required to teach in the order in which the subjects appear on the reviewer checklist

Then, within each subject section, I provide a typed list of the resources we use.  That is just titles and authors of the textbooks, workbooks, library books, etc.  It is NOT a complete official APA bibliography citation.  That is followed by work samples in each of the four academic subject (math, English, science, and social studies) plus health.  For the elective subjects (P.E, art, and music), I provide logs of date, time spent, and a couple of words describing the activity.  I used to print out photos of the actual art work, but I did not bother with that this fall. The amount of samples I provide has varied.  The first time, I brought one sample for each week and one complete week’s worth of work (my interpretation of showing that I am providing “regular” and “thorough” instruction).  The second time, I gave about one piece of work per two weeks because it has been over 20 weeks since the last review.  This last time, I showed one piece of work per week.  The planner I had used for these reviews is a teacher planner with one week across each two-page spread.  There are blocks for each subject and space for field trips and activities.

Sure, it is a constant effort to maintain these records.  My son and I spend about 15 minutes each Friday night going through the week’s work and sorting it into subject binders.  He makes sure everything has a date on it.  I fill in the activity logs for the non-academic subjects.  Then, when it is time for the review, I go through each subject binder and pull out samples for the portfolio binder.  About once a month, I would add to the lists of resources, mostly for history and science books we got from the library.

My strategy might not work for homeschooling parents who are less schoolish than I am or for very young children.  We create a lot of paperwork (worksheets, essays, etc.) that is easy to file.  If you are doing more cross-curricular projects, it might not be easy to designate a subject for each item.  However, the reviewer is not going to know (or care) that a certain activity covered music, math, and history. If you file it under history for that week, that’s where it will be checked off.  For a young child, who can’t write much, I may relay more heavily on my planner and photographs than on papers.  I’ll have to put that to the test in a few years when I have a new kindergartener.