Detailed response to AG Report:
In November 2012, the Auditor General’s Report addressed the Department of Education and its role in homeschooling. Since the release of the report, representatives from HEMS, NSHEA (the other provincial support group), regional representatives from the North Shore, Cape Breton, HRM, South Shore, Eastern Shore, special interest representatives for special needs, French, Christian and secular homeschooling have been in communication to develop a response to the Auditor’s recommendations.
Although not all of those representatives are part of HEMS, we all agree that there are issues with the Auditor’s recommendations that could destroy the effectiveness of home education and seriously threaten the rights of parents and the rights of privacy.
Following are HEMS’ specific responses to each of the Auditor General’s recommendations:
The Department of Education should establish clear and measurable learning objectives and outcomes for the homeschooling program.
In order for the Department of Education to implement learning objectives for the homeschooling program, it must be understood that families who choose to homeschool are interested in following the public school curriculum.
For many families, the choice to homeschool is, at least in part, motivated by a desire to provide their children with an alternative to what is being offered in the public school system. By mandating what homeschooled children learn and when, the parents’ rights to determine the education of their children are overrun. There are many families who do not want their children exposed to some of the materials presented in the public schools, and many children who do not correspond with the timeline of the public school’s learning outcomes. By mandating learning outcomes, children are restricted to learning only certain things at certain times. This sets a struggling child up for failure and prevents an excelling child from moving forward in an area where they are motivated to learn.
Unlike 30 years ago, there is a plethora of homeschooling and independent learning material available. Each of these programs has a scope and sequence and by allowing parents to choose the materials that best meet the needs of each student, their individual learning requirements are being specifically addressed. On the Department of Education Homeschooling registration form (Appendix A), there is a section that queries if the program being used is commercially available or being developed by the parent. This is the opportunity for the Department of Education to evaluate the learning outcomes and is much more practical and effective than trying to force everyone to be learning the same thing at the same time.
As evidenced in the public school system’s individual learning plans, children do not all learn at the same rate and by providing a tailored learning plan, each child has the greatest opportunity to reach their learning potential.
The Department of Education should require periodic, independent assessment of home schooled children against learning objectives and outcomes.
The first issue with this recommendation is the definition of assessment. Is an assessment a test? At what level do you begin testing children? Is testing a realistic evaluation of a child’s progress? What about projects or portfolios? According to the Ethical and Fair Testing Protocol of Canada, tests are not appropriate if the taker has not been provided the information. Depending on where a home educated child is in their learning journey they may or may not have studied what the AG would deem the appropriate material for a test.
The second issue is, unless the Department of Education institutes mandatory learning outcomes, how will these assessments be developed?
For example, our children use a math program based on mastery instead of the traditional spiral approach. This program is available internationally and has won a variety of awards for its comprehensive approach and effectiveness. Unlike traditional math programs that introduce a new topic every few weeks and then move on with the plan to review and revisit in subsequent years (the spiral approach this program has been developed on the premise that mastery is the most effective way to learn. Each level is topic focused with a review of what has been done before. For example, the first book focuses on number/pattern familiarization and counting. The next book, basic adding and subtracting; the next, regrouping; then, multiplication, division; fractions; decimals & percents. The higher levels include Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus and Calculus. There is also a Consumer math, entitled Stewardship, available.
Using this program, each child is receiving all of the foundational instruction required for success in math. If a student were to be evaluated using public school standards, it is conceivable that they would do very poorly. Not because they do not understand the information but because the information is presented in a different sequence than the public school program and thus not suited to the public school test.
The Department of Education should revise its homeschooling material to provide clear information and guidance to parents on how to outline the program plan and the type of information to provide, including examples of the child’s work, in the yearly progress report.
There are parents who are curious as to how the Department of Education outlines its scope and sequence. Providing this information online as reference material would certainly not be an issue with the homeschooling community. As stated previously, requiring homeschoolers to adhere to it would be the issue.
The Auditor General, in section 2.23, expressed concern that the Regional Education staff would be unable to determine the “appropriateness” of the learning outcomes for homeschool programs. If the programs are commercially available, the learning outcomes can easily be identified. If the program is developed by the parent, it is reasonable that the parent would provide the learning goals for the child based on each child’s particular progress.
It is also important to note that the Nova Scotia Education Act (Appendix C) does not require samples of work to be submitted. Correspondingly, samples are not requested on the Department of Education Report Form (Appendix B).
In the public school setting, at the end of the year, each child does not submit a portfolio of their work to the Department of Education. It is the responsibility of the teacher to evaluate the child’s work and progress throughout the year. It is inappropriate that the Department of Education would require more from a homeschooling family than they require within their own system.
The Department of Education should assess the programs proposed by parents to determine if they are designed to achieve appropriate learning objectives and outcomes for homeschooled children.
The difficulty with this recommendation is the word “appropriate”. An appropriate learning plan is one that meets a learner’s specific needs, addressing areas that need development and providing opportunities for advancement and success. Homeschool parents are in the unique position of knowing their students better than anyone else and are thus best equipped to determine the most appropriate learning plan.
It is important to note, that there is a segment of the homeschool community that practice what is commonly known as unschooling. This philosophy applies daily, practical real-life lessons with real literature, hands on science, work opportunities and maximizes the interests and inclinations of each student to help them achieve their education. Although this is not the style of education my family practices, I am acquainted with many who do with great success.
The Department of Education should document its assessment of proposed home schooling programs in its files, through use of a checklist or other suitable form.
On its face, this recommendation has merit. The homeschool community would be happy to assist the Department of Education in compiling a portfolio of material available. Having access to this information would allow the Regional Education Office to quickly reference materials that have proven successful.
If materials with which the Department were unfamiliar were listed, the Department would have the opportunity to follow up with the family to address any concerns.
It is of interest that the Auditor General refers so frequently to the necessity of assessment in his report. It is the policy in Nova Scotia for children to advance to the next grade, regardless of progress, in order to keep them with their peers. Promotion is not based on success but gauged by date of birth. It is only at the end of high school that a child is required to have achieved a minimum standard to receive a graduation certificate that public school assessment becomes an issue.
The Department of Education should obtain information on learning outcomes of homeschooled children to determine if they are making reasonable educational progress.
As outlined in our response to 2.1-2.5, this information is available with commercially available programs and can be outlined by parents for individually developed plans.
The Department of Education should document in its files the assessment of the learning outcomes of homeschooled children. Any action taken as a result of the assessment should also be documented.
Adding files to each student’s portfolio is a reasonable course of action. Should there be any reason to follow up with a family, adding that information to the student’s portfolio for future reference is also reasonable.
The Department of Education should track homeschool registration using its computerized database to determine which children are not registered for the current year and whether follow up is needed.
No issue allowing that follow up means determining if the child has reached age 16, been registered for public or private school or has moved out of province.
The Department of Education should track receipt of progress reports using the computerized database to determine which children’s progress reports have not been received and whether follow up is needed.
The Department of Education should verify whether children no longer registered for homeschooling are registered in the public school system.
This recommendation has been addressed in section 2.8.
The Department of Education should track children leaving public school for homeschooling to ensure they are properly registered for homeschooling.
This could easily be accomplished by sending the family the registration package.
In section 2.39, the Auditor General suggested tracking children via their health records. This recommendation is totally unacceptable based on basic privacy rights. Considering that the Department of Education has no provision for special needs services for homeschooled children through the Department of Health and Wellness it is totally inappropriate to assume access to these records for the purpose of tracking.
The Department of Education should explore the possibility of establishing an information sharing protocol with the Department of Health and Wellness to enable tracking of all school aged children in the province to determine whether they are registered for school.
As stated in 2.11, this is a totally unacceptable violation of privacy rights and at no level should be entertained as anything else.
Based on his recommendations, it is obvious that the Auditor General is unfamiliar with the philosophy behind homeschooling. It is unfortunate that he failed to consult with those in the homeschool community to verify the practicality or appropriateness of his report. In speaking with Liberal Caucus Leader, Stephen McNeil, he commented that the Auditor General is responsible for governmental finances and by making recommendations on how home education should be carried out, he was well outside the scope of his authority. These recommendations are flawed and can only serve to hinder the outstanding, recorded success of home education without government interference.