The recent Nashua Telegraph article about the growth of homeschooling in the Granite State has critical omissions about NH’s home education law. It also does not address why the legislature passed HB 1571 and HB 545 in 2012 or tell how these new laws are benefiting the homeschool community. A little knowledge and background are needed.
New Hampshire homeschool law clearly states the yearly academic performance expectations and record-keeping requirements. These were not altered by the two laws enacted in 2012. Homeschoolers are required to maintain a portfolio of each child’s work for two years. They must also be able to demonstrate progress “commensurate with age and ability” by one of four options specified in the law. Although homeschoolers may now keep these results private, they may be required to submit them to a SAU or Participating Agency to participate in the school’s academic or extra-curricular programs. The Nashua Telegraph article fails to include this pertinent information.
Here are the reasons why many homeschool families sought a change to the old law and why legislators passed HB 1571 and HB 545.
Prior to 2012, SAUs and Participating Agencies had the power of judge and jury over a homeschool program. If a superintendent chose, he had the authority to put a home education program on probation based upon a single poor annual test or report. The parent then had only one year to demonstrate sufficient progress. This was a much higher standard than the public schools were held to under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), or any other state or federal law, or even the new NCLB waiver requirements. Public schools can go on for years without making adequate progress whereas homeschool programs were given only one year for improvement. Also NCLB’s consequences did not apply to an individual public-school student and could not force the student to attend a different school should she personally not score “proficient” on her tests. However, prior to the passage of HB 1571, it could happen to a homeschooled student if she didn’t demonstrate adequate progress for two consecutive years. At the time of this legislation, New Hampshire also had the highest testing requirement for demonstrating “adequate progress” in the entire country. In addition, NH was one of only 10 states that had the power to terminate a home education program.
Compare that performance standard and penalty to those for New Hampshire public schools. In April 2012 the New Hampshire Department of Education announced that 71% of NH public schools failed to meet the Annual Yearly Progress standard in one or more areas. While some schools earned the School in Need of Improvement standing, there were no major consequences; students were not removed from failing schools and chronically poor-performing schools were not closed. The old homeschool law had a disproportionate standard and punishment; it was unfair and extreme. HB 1571 removed this disparity and put NH homeschool law in balance with moderate standards found across the country.
Also, the passage of HB 1571 allows a homeschooling parent to work with the local school to help a struggling student. The previous NH home education law established a hostile relationship between the homeschooling parent and the SAU. Under the old law, why would a parent seek help or guidance from their local SAU if her child is struggling? She would have been concerned that the superintendent would be tipped off about a potential “failing” homeschooler in the district. The parent had greater incentive to keep the results hidden instead of seeking guidance to help her child. HB 1571 allows a homeschooling parent to work with the local schools to help a struggling student without fear. This helps homeschool students succeed. Then-member of the House Education Committee, Representative Karen Hutchinson, often remarked in committee that the SAUs had an “axe hanging over home education programs”. HB 1571 removed that threat and allows homeschooling parents and SAUs to work together to help struggling students.
It is also noteworthy that both the House Education Committee and the Senate Health, Education, and Human Services Committee gave HB 1571 unanimous support.
There was an additional significant change to home education law in 2012. The legislature passed HB 545 which simplified the home education requirements to one-time only notification per child instead of an annual statement. Homeschoolers are still required to inform their SAU or Participating Agency at the start of their home education program, if they move to another district, or cease homeschooling the child. The Nashua Telegraph article does not mention this requirement of the NH home education law.
Also it is reasonable to assume that homeschooled students will continue their home education programs unless the parents notify otherwise. Public school children are not required to notify the district that they will re-enroll the next school year. Similarly, students of private schools are not required to inform their local SAUs that they will continue to attend a non-public school. HB 545 treats “returning” home educated students on par with other students.
This was also a rational and moderate change. At the time this legislation was considered, 10 states required no notification whatsoever of home education programs. An annual notification is a reasonable requirement and does not create unnecessary administrative burdens on the parents or schools.
It is also noteworthy that the individual quoted in the Nashua Telegraph article is the Chair of the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC), a council that is supposed to represent all homeschoolers across the state. She is also a longtime representative to the New Hampshire Homeschooling Coalition (NHHC), an organization that states they “support all reasons for and methods of homeschooling.” They also claim to be a non-political organization. Ms. Gall’s comments seem to better represent her personal opinions rather than the positions of either organization she is elected to serve.