Parent discontent fuels home schooling Number of students taken out of schools quadruples since '90

8,098 pupils taught at home

High cost of private tuition is cited as another factor

April 25, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Discontent with public schools and the high cost of private education are among the factors fueling a dramatic increase in the number of Maryland youngsters being taught at home, according to a state education report made public yesterday.

Members of the State Board of Education said tighter controls on home schooling may be necessary to ensure that home-schooled children are being adequately educated. These controls might include requiring students to take standardized tests.

Since the beginning of the decade, the number of children being taught at home has nearly quadrupled -- and it has increased almost a hundred-fold since 1985, when state officials first started keeping track of them.

At the beginning of the decade, the state had 2,296 students being educated at home. But the number grew to 8,098 during the 1994-1995 school year, according to a report presented to the State Board of Education. More than half the home-schooled students were in Baltimore and its five metropolitan counties.

"At first, it was because of religious beliefs, and there was also a desire to delay school entrance for young children," said Mary K. Albrittain, the chief of pupil services for the State Department of Education who presented the report.

"Many parents now are discontented with their public schools and with the expense of private schools," she told the board.

Maryland's growth in home schooling mirrors a national trend. It also reflects the state's general increase in public and nonpublic school enrollments.

Ms. Albrittain said the growth in home schooling has also been fueled by a 1991 change in state regulations that allowed families to use private school correspondence courses as well as those supervised by church affiliated institutions.

"These numbers are getting kind of frightening," said Harry D. Shapiro, a member of the state school board. "I don't have any real comfort that these children are getting a decent education in their homes."

Rose LaPlaca, another board member, suggested making state tests mandatory for home-schoolers as a way to gauge learning. The tests are required in other states.

Christopher T. Cross, the school board president, promised that the panel would not change the regulations governing home instruction without consulting those involved in it.

Baltimore County had the largest number of home-schooled students, with 1,077 -- up from 284 in the 1990-1991 school year. The growth in the county's public school enrollment has been 2 percent to 3 percent.

Somerset County had the fewest number of students receiving home instruction, 43, compared with 10 early in the decade.

The number in Anne Arundel County doubled in one year, increasing from 513 to 1,067 between June 1993 and June 1994. But the number fell to 1,003 by last June. In Carroll, the numbers increased since 1990 from 100 to 412; in Harford from 122 to 605; and in Howard from 174 to 608. In Baltimore, the numbers grew from 130 to 488.

The board agreed to study whether to require state tests to determine if home instruction was adequate. Members discussed requiring either standardized exams or the state-designed Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests -- or both.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said some school districts were very involved with home-schoolers, sending guidance counselors to visit them to check on their work. "In some areas, it's a very thoughtful process," she said.

According to state regulations, parents who choose to teach a child at home must file a form with their local superintendent and maintain a portfolio of their child's work, which is reviewed at the end of each semester. Depending on a parent's choice, the review is done by local public school officials or by those in charge of approved correspondence programs.

If a child's work is deemed unsatisfactory, the local superintendent must notify the parent of deficiencies. And if the parent fails to provide evidence that the problem is being remedied, the child must be enrolled in a public or private school.

But the staff at some school systems is being strained by the requirement that a home-schoolers' work be reviewed. Ms. Albrittain asked the board to consider a way to help public schools get additional staff to review home student portfolios.

Mr. Cross, the school board president, was concerned that parents were being adequately informed about home-schooling regulations, curricula and learning goals.

"This is an area where we have some failures. We have to get the information out so that these children are being served," he said, suggesting a survey to find out if parents have adequate information on home schooling.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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