• New law eases the way for home-schoolers
    By BRENDAN McKENNA Herald Staff | April 24,2006
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    For 6-year-old Ian Louras of Rutland, school doesn't consist of sitting at a desk with lots of other children his age.

    But like public and private school students, the young home-schooled student does do science experiments and math problems guided by his teacher and mother, Judy Louras.

    And like the teachers in public school, Judy Louras and hundreds of other home-schooling parents around the state are required to file a curriculum of their planned studies for the year.

    But under a new law signed by Gov. James Douglas earlier this month, many parents with experience in home-schooling who have demonstrated their ability to successfully teach their children won't have to do as much preparatory paperwork.

    Vermont law now requires home-schooling parents to submit, and have approved by the Department of Education, a curriculum of study at the beginning of the year for each child.

    They must then prove the success of the program at the end of the year, either on a standardized test or by having a teacher review a portfolio of the students' work, said Education Commissioner Richard Cate.

    But under the new law, parents whose children have done well in the year-end assessments for two years won't have to submit a plan of action every year, he said.

    "If the home-school provider has been successful as demonstrated in the assessments, they won't have to continue to submit an annual detailed curriculum," he said. "We're saying if you've demonstrated success, you don't have to do as much paperwork."

    Parents who qualify under the new law will still have to submit a curriculum for each child at age 12 — the transition from elementary to secondary education, Cate said.

    Cate said the curriculum requirement didn't require a huge amount of work for each child, but it could add up in a family, and definitely added up for his department, which has to review all of the annual plans for the more than 2,000 home-schoolers around the state.

    He said he expects several hundred families to qualify for the curriculum waiver next year.

    "It's not like it was a book or anything. It was usually several pages of information detailing what will be done in various content areas," he said. "But the (current) law put the Department of Education more into having to judge the appropriateness, which is not a place we want to be. As long as content is taught and students are making progress that's the important part."

    He said, "I'm interested in not having debates between my staff and parents as to how to go about it."

    Retta Dunlap, director of the Vermont Home Education Network and an "almost retired" home-school teacher for her children who are now between 16 and 23, said sometimes parents feel tied too closely to the curriculum they submit at the beginning of the year.

    "Yes, you have a plan and yes, it's written down, but you should also follow the interests of the child so the curriculum can change," she said. "One year, I decided we'd study ancient China, but the kids decided to study medieval history. When they're interested, they learn a lot more a lot faster."

    She said, "A lot of parents think they have to follow that to the letter. I keep telling them, 'It's a plan. Don't let it take over your day-to-day activities. You can follow the child. It's a one-to-one situation so you can do that."

    Dunlap described the new law, which will take effect in the 2006-07 school year, as a win-win for parents and the Department of Education, reducing paperwork for both groups.

    For Judy Louras, the new law won't make much of a difference next year. Ian is her first child to be home schooled and it's their first year of home schooling, so she'll have to submit a curriculum again next year.

    But she still said she thinks the new law will "definitely make life easier."

    "It wasn't that difficult because I had the resources to put it together," she said of her curriculum. "If I didn't have to do it, I would still do it at home, but I wouldn't have to write it out in as much detail."

    Louras, herself a licensed teacher, said, "I know how I want to do things with him, so I feel fairly confident, and if things are not going right, I may change or tweak them a little bit."

    Contact Brendan McKenna at brendan.mckenna@rutlandherald.com.
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