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Home-schoolers the focus of proposed legislation

State House Bureau

November 04. 2017 9:21PM
The five children of Taryn Davey of Wolfeboro work on assignments. The children, who range in age from 10 to 16, are home-schooled. (Courtesy)

CONCORD - Another battle is brewing over home schooling in New Hampshire, as a group of North Country lawmakers prepares a bill regarding the evaluation of home-schooled students.

The bill, only a legislative service request at this point, would restore the requirement for some kind of third-party review of student progress that was eliminated by a law that took effect in 2012.

Michelle Levell, director of the private nonprofit School Choice for New Hampshire, says group members are already up in arms, and the bill has yet to be printed. "They are extremely upset," Levell said. "You can likely expect a very large turnout against this bill."

Its chief sponsor, Rep. Robert Theberge, R-Berlin, has been unavailable to answer questions about the bill's language for weeks, declining to return calls or emails from reporters or from home-school advocacy groups.

The legislative service request on the State House website refers to the bill as "relative to educational evaluation of home schooled children," with co-sponsors Yvonne Thomas, Larry Laflamme and Edith Tucker, all Coos County Democratic representatives.

Now in his eighth term, Theberge last year changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. His Democratic co-sponsors were willing to discuss the bill, which they say was drafted in response to concerns raised by Berlin School District Superintendent Corinne Cascadden, who was also unavailable for comment.

"Dr. Cascadden has some very grave doubts about whether half of Berlin's home-schooled students are getting educated," says Tucker. "Half get a really fine education, she believes."

It's that other half that is at issue, according to Tucker, a longtime newspaper reporter in the North Country who recently retired and was elected to the state Legislature.

"She (Cascadden) believes that there are some 45 youngsters who are not enrolled in public or private or church schools, whose parents do not make any effort to educate them at all," said Tucker in an email. "Not only are these neglected youngsters not getting the education they deserve, but they are also missing out on free and reduced breakfast and lunches and other social services."

There is no evidence of educational neglect by home-schooling parents to support any change in the law, according to Levell.

"This bill is completely misguided and unnecessary," she said. "Home-schoolers already have to perform some year-end evaluation. That has never changed, and there is no evidence of home educational neglect, so I believe it's a solution in search of problem."

The problem, according to an email from Cascadden to a home-schooling parent, is that no one besides the parent sees those evaluations. "The law prohibits me from checking on a child's welfare in any way," she said.

Approximately 5,000 students are educated at home in the Granite State.
  • Should parents who homeschool their children be subjected to additional government oversight?
  • Yes
  • 28%
  • No
  • 69%
  • Ambivalent
  • 4%
  • Total Votes: 2319

Prior to 2012, the state had a fairly robust system of monitoring home schooling. Parents of home-schoolers were required to submit their annual year-end assessment results to their so-called "Participating Agency." That could be their local superintendent, a private school or the state Department of Education.

Since the new law went into effect, the assessment results are private. Those results, along with a portfolio of the child's work and a reading list, must be maintained for a minimum of two years, but there is no third-party review.

The state's enforcement powers over home schooling were also curtailed in the 2012 legislation. Prior to 2012, reports of educational neglect were handled by the Department of Education, which held hearings following due-process procedures.

Home-school programs could be put on probation if children failed to perform at or above the 40th percentile on a standardized test or did not meet expectations "for age and ability." According to Levell, back in 2012 only 10 states had the power to terminate home-school programs, and New Hampshire was one of them.

That was all swept away when HB 1571 was signed into law in 2012. Educational neglect cases are now handled by the Division for Children, Youth and Families, which operates under strict confidentiality, according to Amy Gall, a member of the Home Education Advisory Council and chairman of the N.H. Home Schooling Coalition.

The coalition is a tax-exempt nonprofit that cannot take a position on legislation or on behalf of political candidates, said Gall. When asked about the perspective of home-school parents in general, however, she said, "I don't think you would get any answer other than we are happy with the freedom we have."

Laflamme worries that passage of SB 193, which would give parents state aid to send their children to private schools or for home schooling, and which now appears likely, would create even greater need for better oversight of home education. 

"It looks like the committee has given the go-ahead for these education scholarships," said Laflamme, "and I think that's going to pass. So we are going to actually have a financial incentive for parents to home-school."

According to Cascadden, the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of unsupervised home schooling. "I have seen wonderful outcomes of many home-schooled students," she wrote in her email, "but the floodgates have been created for an easy dropout mechanism."

George D'Orazio, chairman of the state's Home Education Advisory Council, says he understands Cascaden's concerns, but says changing the law won't address the problem.

"Basically what's going to happen if this passes is that the changes in the law that were made in 2012 will be undone, and I'm absolutely opposed to that," he said. "I can't take a position as chairman of HEAC, but as a home-schooler and member of Catholics United for Home Education I'm absolutely opposed because I think it's unnecessary."

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