Kathi Kearney, M. Ed.
Maine homeschool law includes language referring to “equivalent instruction.” Some parents have asked us if this wording in our statute could be used to require homeschoolers to align their curriculum with Common Core standards. In Maine, the term equivalent instruction has always been interpreted by the Department of Education and the attorney general's office as equivalent to ATTENDANCE at a public day school, rather than equivalent CURRICULUM.
In the early 1980s, an unsuccessful attempt was made by four public school superintendents to create statewide rules whereby equivalent instruction would have meant equivalent curriculum. Homeschoolers came out in force to oppose the proposed rules, and a committee including homeschool advocates was appointed to work on amicable revisions. Read more about this turbulent time in Maine’s homeschool history.
The only place in Maine statutes where the term “equivalent instruction” is used is referenced and described in the compulsory attendance section. This section covers a very wide variety of options that are considered equivalent instruction and meet the requirements of the compulsory attendance law. These include enrollment in an approved private school; enrollment in a NEASC-accredited private school (schools like Gould Academy, Hebron Academy, etc.); enrollment in a Recognized for Attendance Purposes Private school; fulltime enrollment in college before obtaining a high school diploma; and any other type of equivalent instruction "arranged for by the school board and approved by the commissioner."
The Common Core has been placed within Maine’s Learning Results legislation. Only public schools and approved private schools have to follow the Learning Results (http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/20-a/title20-Asec2902.html). Recognized private schools (sometimes called RAPPS) are not required to follow the Learning Results since they have guidelines resulting in a ruling from the Bangor Baptist v. State of Maine court case. In addition, Common Core makes no sense at the college level since colleges don't use it. So a student receiving equivalent instruction fulltime in college who doesn't yet have a high school diploma and is under age 17 would also not be participating Common Core curriculum!
The Learning Results statute itself explicitly states that "Only students in a public school or a private school approved for tuition that enrolls at least 60% publicly funded students, as determined by the previous school year's October and April average enrollment, are required to participate in the system of learning results set forth in this section and in department rules implementing this section and other curricular requirements" (http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/20-a/title20-Asec6209.html). Originally, the Learning Results were written to apply to all schools, public and private, and to homeschoolers! Opponents again saved the day.
Due to the serious concerns of many different religious groups from a wide variety of faith backgrounds, the Learning Results legislation was amended by the Education committee, so that the statute also says "The commissioner shall
develop accommodation provisions for instances where course content conflicts with sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of a student's parent or guardian" (http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/20-a/title20-Asec6209.html). So at this point, even a family in public school who objected on religious grounds to Common Core would have some protection in law.
When the new homeschooling law was written in 2003, HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff recommended using the old language regarding curriculum (that used to be in the statutes for public schools before it was removed and the Learning Results inserted). That's the language that merely lists the subjects required to be taught in homeschools, and is identical to the list of subjects required in a RAPPS.
Because many concerned homeschooling parents have consistently expressed their concerns to their legislators, we have dodged a number of legislative bullets over the years. These include a bill that would have required homeschoolers to take the state assessment tests; several OTHER attempts over the years as part of rulemaking to insert the state assessment test requirement into the rules; and the initial attempt to have the Learning Results (which now include the Common Core) apply to all schools in Maine -- public, private, and homeschools. We also dodged a bullet when the lobbyist for the Christian Scientists, who was also very concerned about specific content in the Learning Results and knew that other faiths were just as concerned, worked with legislators to add the religious exemption section into the Learning Results legislation.
Therefore, because of the vigilance of Homeschoolers of Maine, Home School Legal Defense Association, and a wide variety of concerned citizens, Maine has a different definition and different legal understanding of the term "equivalent instruction" than some states. It has been understood to be "equivalent to attendance" at a public school, not equivalent in content or approach to curriculum. However, organizations like HOME and HSLDA continue to keep an eagle eye on any new pending legislation and proposed rules to keep Common Core from impacting homeschoolers in our state!