This fall, the local school district’s homeschool office decided to assign a reviewer to each family. This is not a new concept, just one that this county had not embraced before. In the county just to the north of us, families have to review with the pupil personnel worker assigned to their zoned middle school. Several other surrounding county school districts assign reviewers to families in some other arrangements. Of course, families all over Maryland also have the option of bypassing the entire school district review process by paying an umbrella organization to oversee their homeschool.
In previous semesters, parents who opted to review with the county schools scheduled a half-hour appointment with a generic placeholder name like Reviewer 3. When you arrived for the review, it was luck of the draw which of the 4-6 reviewers in the room was available next. Out of six reviews, I had the same reviewer just twice by coincident.
According to the director of the homeschooling office, they tried to match each family with a reviewer who works in the area where the family lives and with the age group of the children in the family. They also tried to match the family with someone who had reviewed them in a prior semester, though not in my case.
Pros of meeting with the same reviewer
Consistency in expectations under the law
All reviewers are required to follow what the state law requires of homeschooling families. However, that law is quite vague, so there is a lot left to interpretation and each reviewer has a slightly different take on the requirements. So, if you meet with the same person each semester, you can show them what they want to see and not have to worry about a different interpretation.
Familiarity with the family’s style of homeschooling
I do not expect my reviewer to become my new BFF or even to actually remember me from one review to the next without having to use a cheat sheet. However, meeting with the same reviewer should reduce the amount of time parents have to spend to explain any deviations from the norm, whether that is the fact that you do not follow a school-at-home lifestyle or whether your child has sever learning disabilities.
Shorting the review time
I would hope that once a reviewer has met with a family a few times and all has looked well, the reviews could take less time, especially with multiple children. If you have consistently demonstrated thorough and regular instruction for Jane and Jack, you are probably doing a decent job with George and Ginny, too, so their work does not need to be scrutinized for a half hour each.
Cons of meeting with the same reviewer
Demands beyond what the law requires
Since interpretations of the law can vary widely, you may get stuck with someone who steps over the line a bit. Past reviewers I am glad I did not get assigned to are the guy who thought I set the egg timer for 45 minutes for each subject and the woman who told me she couldn’t trust that my kid used a particular workbook unless I brought in the whole workbook instead of a copy of a competed page. Particularly new homeschoolers often have not read the actual law and are scared to talk back to the school authority. Facebook groups are filled with parents asking for advice on how to pass their review and often find out that school employees have asked for way more documentation than is required.
Limitation in Days and Locations
The law states that “the review is at a time and place mutually agreeable to the representative of the school system and the parent or guardian.” With an assigned reviewer, a family is limited to the days and locations that one individual is available. Under the generic assignment system, we could choose any day and any location out of 3 months worth of dates and libraries all over the county. So, you could pick a day, time, and location that best fit your schedule. Now, however, you are limited to the schedule of one temporary, part-time reviewer.
Adding students of different ages
This is more of an con for an infexible reviewer. One of the matching criteria was that the reviewer likes to work with the age of students you have. So, presumably that means some reviewers prefer looking at little kid portfolios and others prefer to assess more mature work. However, kids get older and families often have more than one child. For example, if my reviewer only likes middle- to high-school students, she is going to be in for a surprise when I show up with the kindergartner next year. So, a reviewer’s age preference can’t be maintained long term.
On one final note, I question the possibility of a long-term relationship from another perspective. What is the turn-over rate for reviewers? All of the reviewers are retired school administrative personnel, which puts the youngest ones in their mid-50s. I still have 13 years of homecoming ahead of me and my reviewer has been at that gig for a few years. The reviewers are all a bit nervous about now having to use a laptop to document the reviews, so I can’t imagine many of them sticking around to see what technology they’ll have to learn a decade from now.
If you have any additional thoughts for or against meeting with a consistent reviewer, share in the comments below.