Rebuttal to the Nashua Telegraph Article re New Homeschool Laws

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.

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9 thoughts on “Rebuttal to the Nashua Telegraph Article re New Homeschool Laws

  1. Ms. Gall was not ELECTED to the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC); she was APPOINTED by the NH Commissioner of Education.

    As to the NH Homeschooling Coalition (NHHC), it was created to lobby in support of a punitive homeschooling law in 1990, which also created the HEAC. The NHHC has had three of its members serve on the HEAC for over 20 years, while it simultaneously claims to be a non-political group.

    Parents would be better served by the elimination of the HEAC, which has consistently promoted increased regulation of homeschooling.

    • Here is a clarification about how the HEAC chairman/woman is selected. I have starred the relevant points.
      http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/XV/193-A/193-A-10.htm

      CHAPTER 193-A
      HOME EDUCATION
      Section 193-A:10
      193-A:10 Home Education Advisory Council. –
      I. There is established the home education advisory council which shall consist of the following members:
      (a) Two members of the house of representatives from the house education committee, appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, who shall be nonvoting members.
      (b) One member of the senate from the senate education committee, appointed by the president of the senate, who shall be a nonvoting member.
      (c) The following individuals who shall be appointed by the commissioner of the department of education from persons named as follows:
      *** (1) Six members nominated by home educator associations organized within New Hampshire.
      (2) Two members nominated by the commissioner of the department of education, or designee.
      (3) One member nominated by the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.
      (4) One member nominated by the New Hampshire School Boards Association.
      (5) One member nominated by the New Hampshire Association of School Principals.
      (6) One member nominated by the nonpublic school advisory council established by the state board of education pursuant to RSA 21-N:9, II(f).
      II. The duties of the council and the terms of office of the members appointed under subparagraph I(c) shall be prescribed in accordance with rules proposed by the commissioner of education and adopted by the state board of education pursuant to RSA 541-A. Legislative members of the council shall serve a term which is coterminous with their elected office.
      *** III. The chair of the council shall be elected by the council members from the home educator membership on the council appointed under subparagraph I(c). All vacancies on the council shall be filled in the same manner as that of the original appointment.
      IV. Legislative members of the council shall receive mileage at the legislative rate when attending to the duties of the council.
      Source. 1990, 279:3, eff. July 1, 1990. 2008, 344:2, eff. July 7, 2008. 2012, 203:3, eff. Aug. 12, 2012.

      As I read this, the Chair of HEAC is elected from the people selected from their organizations to serve on HEAC. In practice, I believe the non-homeschool groups defer the selection of the Chair to the homeschool orgs on HEAC. Further, I think the three homeschool groups (New Hampshire Homeschooling Coalition, Christian Home Educators of NH, and Catholics United for Home Education) that are allowed to be on HEAC, defer to the NHHC for the selection. At least that’s how it appears, given that every Chair of HEAC has come from the NHHC. The NHHC discusses, and might internally vote, on who they will put forward for consideration.

  2. Pingback: NH - Homeschool Increase in Numbers and Freedoms | News & Comment

  3. Very nicely written, Michelle, although this doesn’t seem as much to be a “rebuttal” as “further information”. A few small corrections…

    * HB1571 was never put to a vote before the Senate Health, Education, and Human Services Committee.

    * ANY NH home education organization can nominate a candidate to fill one of the 6 seats reserved for such nominations. Historically it has been the NHHC, CHENH and CUHE who have made the effort to ensure that those seats are filled. To my knowledge, no other organization has ever made a nomination.

    * Mike Compitello, who was nominated by CHENH, served as council chair for the 2012-2013 year.

    David Brooks, the author of the article, was/is the science reporter for the Nashua Telegraph. He has a blog on their website “Granite Geek”. He often comments on published statistics, in order to provide insight. That might explain why, out of a 45-minute discussion about homeschooling with Amy Gall, his article focused on the ways in which statistics can be misleading. If I had to guess, I would say his interest in homeschooling statistics was piqued by this recent National Center for Education Statistics report, published in September 2013:

    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009030.pdf

    and he finally got around to following up on it.

    There was a time when the Department of Education acted as Participating Agency for over 200 home education programs. During that time, the DOE’s Program Assistant, Angie LeBel, would often have to contact parents to remind them of their obligation to provide the DOE with information required under the law. She would do it as politely and tactfully as possible, and eventually made it a part of her annual routine to mail out a reminder letter to all parents who reported to the DOE, which was often greatly appreciated by busy parents who were juggling many responsibilities. This was quickly adopted by other PAs, including principals of private schools, who struggled with the same issue. So there is ample reason to believe that there are parents who terminate or transfer their home education programs in New Hampshire who do not submit the required notice of termination or transfer. Not that there’s any great harm when they fail to do so, but it does contribute to inaccuracies in the enrollment figures submitted by PAs and compiled by the DOE. So, too, does the refusal of some parents to submit the required letter of intent. Perhaps the two inaccuracies balance each other out.

    I happen to agree with David Brooks that there’s no reason to believe that NH’s enrollment trends are different from the rest of the nation. Historically they’ve been pretty well aligned. What is interesting is how widely the percentage of school-aged population that is homeschooled varies from district to district. I did a report in 2010(?) that showed high percentages in towns with high property tax rates and low per-pupil spending. David only published statistics on towns in the Nashua area, but had he included towns in the Monadnock region, the results would have been quite different.

    NH is such a small state. It’s not that hard to pick up the phone or send an email to the reporter or the person quoted in an article to get the bigger picture, especially if someone is going to make public comments about what they wrote or said. Both David Brooks and Amy Gall “put themselves out there” to be contacted, and they’d probably be happy to clarify. Amy told me that her conversation with David about homeschooling included more than statistics. What she said about the enrollment figures was based on concerns brought forward in discussions at HEAC meetings, where representatives of the DOE, school districts, superintendents, school principals, nonpublic schools and homeschoolers all participate. It’s a shame that so few members of the public attend those meetings (or Board of Education meetings, or executive sessions of legislative committees, or meetings of study committees…).

    Chris Hamilton
    BeaverLodge Homeschool
    homeschooling parent 1993-2012
    homeschooling member of HEAC 2006-2012
    tracked NH legislation affecting homeschoolers 2003-2012

    • My apologies, I provided a link to the wrong NCES report. Here is the correct link:

      http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013028.pdf

      Also, to clarify, the concerns that Amy Gall relayed to David Brooks were expressed by superintendents and school districts at HEAC meetings, not by homeschooling members of the council.

      • Unfortunately a statement that Ms. Gall’s comments are not representative of HEAC or the NHHC appears nowhere in the article. Given that neither the NH DOE nor a superintendent is quoted lends further weight to that interpretation. If the article does not reflect the concerns of HEAC, the NHHC, or Ms. Gall, they should clarify their positions. To not do so implies that understanding is accurate.

    • Thank you, Chris, for your comments about HEAC. It is not broadly known that the council is open to other state-wide homeschool support organizations beyond those currently serving. Also, the home education rules, while outlining the process for the chairman’s election, does not fill in the details. Thank you for the additional information.

      As it reads, the Nashua Telegraph article is more focused on the claimed “information vacuum” created by HB 1571 and HB 545 rather than the statistics of NH homeschooling. It is reasonable to suspect Ms. Gall’s comments reflect those made by the NH Department of Education and SAU superintendents who started grumbling about the impacts of the new laws before they were in effect a full year. The former Chair of HEAC reported this in the New Hampshire Homeschooling Coalition’s July/Aug 2013 newsletter. In testimony for various homeschool bills over the years, the NH DOE and a lobbyist for the NH School Administrators Association (NHSAA) have consistently advocated for higher levels of homeschool regulation and reporting requirements. Therefore, it is unlikely that their motivation is simply a concern for reporting accurate figures. Whether or not it was Mr. Brook’s intention to emphasize the NH DOE and SAU superintendents’ positions, that is how the article reads, particularly to the homeschool community and supporters.

      NHHC July/Aug 2013 newsletter: http://nhhomeschooling.org/new-hampshire-homeschooling-coalition-news-julyaugust-2013-volume-xxiv-number-6

      Regarding the legislative review of HB 1571 (2012), the Senate Health, Education, and Human Services Committee gave the bill a 3-0 OTP/A recommendation per Senate Calendar number 19. The House concurred with the amendment later that month.

      http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/Senate/calendars_journals/calendars/2012/sc%2019.pdf

      • Michelle, you have been subscribed to email lists where I have pointed out the ability of organizations other than the 3 largest to make nominations, even encouraged it, both prior to and during my tenure on the council. There has never been any specification in law or rules regarding which NH home education organizations can make nominations – there’s not even a definition in the law or rules of what a “home education organization” is.

        I can’t find any mention of any reports by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in the calendar you referenced. There is, however, a 3-0 vote of the Senate Education Committee recorded in that Calendar, and also recorded in the docket. I believe there were no Senate Democrats present during that vote, and both Democrats who were members voted against the bill on the floor of the Senate. A better representation of the sentiment of the committee would be a 3-2 vote, but that’s not what’s on the record. As far as I know, I stood alone in advocating that the bill be studied by either the House or Senate committee responsible for legislation that affects DCYF, and I was truly disappointed that it was not.

        Yes, the Telegraph article makes it sound like Amy herself is complaining. But you have done volunteer work with Amy in the NHHC, you have been present when she has presented testimony in support of homeschooling freedoms, you know her record. Why would you assume she has changed her opinions just because she is on the council? You know how often reporters don’t have and/or don’t present the whole picture. Why this assumption that she now wants to place further restrictions on homeschoolers?

        I’m going to go out on a limb, and say that most superintendents really don’t care whether home education statistics are 100% accurate or not, except for the fact that the law places a burden on them to report accurate statistics. I believe they have to sign, under penalty of perjury, that the reports they file are accurate. I think it’s legislators and the DOE who want accurate statistics. I don’t think superintendents or even school boards will care until the numbers get much higher, and then only to the extent that there is the possibility that large numbers of homeschoolers would return to public school.

        I think you are right that the motive of the NHSAA lobbyist in advocating for more regulation is not to obtain accurate statistics. I believe he and other superintendents are concerned about a small number of homeschoolers who, if they were to return to public schools, would either place a significant burden on the district or not test as Proficient. The system holds districts 100% responsible for students’ educational outcomes, even though it shouldn’t. That’s why HB1571 was amended on the Senate side, to give them better protection against lawsuits. If you could remove the penalties for students testing below Proficiency that the legislature has imposed as a solution to the Claremont decisions and stave off those that it could impose in order to conform to CCS and Race to the Top, I think Dr. Joyce would have much less to say about home education bills.

        The HEAC report in the July/August 2013 NHHC newsletter reported that members of the BOE (not the DOE or superintendents) had questions about the new law. It would be reasonable to expect that those questions arose out of concerns. It’s too bad that Exquisite Productions stopped videotaping BOE meetings, because that record would have helped determine the context in which those questions were asked. There were two questioners mentioned, Emma Rous (former legislator who supported legislation imposing additional regulation) and James Schubert ( http://www.education.nh.gov/state_board/documents/bio-james.pdf ). It is important not to treat the education establishment as a monolith because it is not. I/you/we all need to treat BOE members as individuals, and discern the nuances of their positions, or we risk making enemies of potential friends.

        • Chris, I stand by my original post. I did not make any assumptions about Amy Gall, but do believe that HEAC and NHHC should address how the article was framed. I try to evaluate the actions of individuals, and not ascribe motivations.