Educators watch home school changes

Last modified: 7/8/2012 12:00:00 AM
Changes in state law deregulating home schooling take effect this summer, raising concerns among school officials about what kind of oversight there will be to ensure children in the programs are getting a proper education.

Nashua Superintendent Mark Conrad worries there is no longer a check in place to ensure a home-schooled child is making progress.

'What we had was the minimum oversight that is no longer there, and that's a concern,' he said. 'I think about children having a fundamental right to an education.'

Brookline resident Christina Hamilton, a former home-schooled educator and member of the state's Home Education Advisory Council, said her concerns with the state's previous laws were rooted in maintaining privacy. Under changes made this summer, home-schooled parents will no longer have to share evaluations of their students with public and private schools.

Two bills passed last month - one without the governor's signature - essentially deregulate New Hampshire's existing home education laws.

Evaluation question

HB 1571, which went into effect June 18, no longer requires those participating in the home education program to turn in an annual evaluation or portfolio to the local school district for review. It also removes the district's ability to put a home education program on probation or terminate it.

An evaluation and portfolio still must be completed each year, but only for the parents' own records.

It was the sharing of these records that worried Hamilton.

'I used the option of reporting to a public school until something happened in the public school where I became concerned about whether my child's records were truly private. Then, I switched to a nonpublic school,' said Hamilton, who home-schooled her daughter beginning in third grade and her son for his entire academic career. 'So I didn't find the actual sending in of the paper to be a problem, but I did have a concern who that information might be shared with.'

During a public hearing on the bill, Rep. Shawn Jasper, a Republican from Hudson, objected to the proposal, questioning how the state would be able to monitor the progress of home-schooled students. The bill passed and became law without Gov. John Lynch's signature.

Achievement concerns

During the 2011-12 school year, 5,285 students were home-schooled in the state. Of those, 166 were in Nashua.

Conrad said that under the old law, based on the review of the student's evaluation or portfolio, the district or school could place the home education program on probation for a year if there was concern about the student's achievement.

While programs were rarely put on probation, Conrad said it was still a meaningful process.

'In most instances, parents work really hard and are working effectively with their child for an education and are able to move forward,' he said.

Merrimack Assistant Superintendent Mark McLaughlin shared Conrad's concern, but said the district would follow the will of the state.

'Merrimack has always been supportive of home-schooled families and tries to create an environment to welcome them back whenever they choose to do so. Many do, particularly when they get into the upper grades,' he said. 'I guess we're perfectly happy to follow the will of the Legislature and support the home-schooled families.'

No registration

Another law taking effect this summer is HB 545, which lifts the requirement that parents register their home-schooled students every year with a school. Once a student is registered, that's all that needs to be done regarding future reporting to other education entities. This law takes effect Aug. 12.

Exceptions include a new student entering into the home education program or if a family moves to a different participating agency, such as resident school district or private school.

Rep. J.R. Hoell, a Republican from Dunbarton, was the prime sponsor of HB 1571. The purpose of the bill was to level the playing field for the standards imposed on home-schooled, public and private school students, he said.

'If the grades on the annual records fall below 40 percent, the local school board could terminate the (home education) program,' Hoell said. 'The problem is that . . . same standard is not held to public school students.

'There was an inequity between the home schooling statue and the public school statues,' Hoell said.

He agreed with Hamilton's concern and said there were issues regarding student privacy that were not addressed under the old law. Hoell said it made more sense to equal things out than try to fix all of these concerns individually.

Hoell said he also heard testimony from school administrators saying that they no longer wanted to deal with the paperwork associated with home-schooled programs.

'It's a real headache, and it's of no value to them,' Hoell said. 'This removes the burden on public school officials from having to deal with the notifications and responding to those and talking back with the parents . . . and to go through and read through the evaluations every year.'

For Conrad, the issue isn't about parental rights; parents were never restricted from home schooling and Nashua works with its home-schooled students and their respective families, providing assistance when it is requested, he said.

But Conrad feels strongly that a child's right to a proper education trumps the newly amended law that removed the reporting and evaluation mechanism from the home education program.

'If parents come to us seeking advice on materials or assistance, we would provide that . . . we support being able to meet their needs in that way,' Conrad said. 'But in the end, we need to assure a child is receiving an education and again, there's no longer oversight of that, even in a minimal process.'

More equal

While Hoell's goal with his bill was to make things more equal in all sectors of education, he says it hasn't quite been reached. He cited the requirement that home-schooled students be tested every year and public and private school students are only tested three times throughout their academic career.

'There's still a higher burden for home-schooled students than there is for public or private students,' Hoell said. 'Yet to those parents who value education and are willing to give up a second career to educate their children, it makes no sense. . . . If they're willing to invest in tens of thousands of dollars worth of lost revenue to their home, you'd think they'd be highly motivated to do the best for their children.'

Hoell said next year there could be a bill to address the inequities of required testing for home-school, public and private students.

Hoell said he would be willing to co-sponsor legislation to further level the playing field, but he wasn't sure if he had enough bandwidth to be the primary sponsor on such a bill.


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