How to Reach Homeschoolers
Homeschooling specialist Francine M. Schaffer
Communicating with parents who are teachers
Baltimore County Public Schools homeschooling specialist Francine M. Schaffer spent most of her career educating kids the traditional way: inside a classroom. But since 1998, she has managed homeschooled students in the nation’s 25th largest school district—a population that has grown to 2,900. Contributing editor David Rapp asked her about what it takes for a district to handle this most diverse class of students.
What are some of the reasons you hear that parents decide to homeschool their kids?
Most of the parents I see are homeschooling their children for a limited amount of time, for a specific reason, and then are going to return their kids to the school system at some point. They know [homeschooling] is a choice, so they’re using it. Certainly, religious beliefs are part of it. But a lot of times parents bring their kids home—just for a year, they’re telling me—because of peer pressure affecting the child’s learning, and for social and emotional growth.
What do you look for in a curriculum review?
Generally, in the fall and the spring, we have reviews. Parents have to bring in sufficient documentation that they have been educating their child thoroughly and consistently for the time period that they have been homeschooling. This usually includes work samples, tests, and projects. Those parents who are using online programs bring us an online report card showing the amount of work their child has accomplished and the grades given.
What happens when parents fail a curriculum review?
They have 30 days to improve their program. The regulation clearly states that if it does not improve, the child must be returned to public or private school. I have had several families that we’ve had to take to court, who would not come back for the review. Generally, we work with them enough that they know that we will do that, so
we usually don’t have to go that far.
What about extracurriculars?
Homeschooling is considered an all-or-nothing program in Maryland; if you’re going to homeschool, you do not have access to the band or after-school activities. You’ve decided to remove your child from the public school setting. But homeschoolers are very creative. They have found myriadactivities that they engage in, including sports, fine arts, and the like, so they are not lacking activities. They’re making sure that they are exposed to art and music, and recreation in parks.
What is your best communication tool with homeschooling parents?
I give a survey every year [to homeschooling parents], asking how we can help them better. It’s interesting: More and more they’re asking for help from the school systems, asking what’s going on in math and reading. I’m having a math and reading parent meeting next month; it’s optional—they don’t have to come—but I’m sure I’ll get a handful of people. I did last year. I think we’ve established a relationship that says: Parents, if this is a choice that you want to make, I’m an advocate for the child. I want to do whatever I can do to make sure they have the best education possible.