Homeschooling in New Hampshire
How to join the growing number of parents homeschooling their kids in the Granite State
About this series: This is Part 1 of Parenting NH magazine’s three-part series that explores homeschooling guidelines and the pros, cons, challenges and benefits of homeschooling your child. Also, Granite State families share their experiences with homeschooling.
For many years, the child taught at home was often looked at as a social outcast, perhaps too afraid to participate in the ‘real’ world. That stereotype is fast becoming obsolete.
Homeschooling has hit the mainstream, due in part to a greater understanding of what homeschooling is and why parents choose to homeschool their kids, and also because of the growing number of curriculum, enrichment and social opportunities available to homeschooled children and their parent educators.
The idea of homeschooling is not only becoming more accepted, the number of homeschooled children is on the rise, nationally and in the Granite State.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011-2012, 3.4 percent of students nationally were homeschooled, up from 3 percent of students in 2007 and 2.2 percent in 2003. In other words, 1.5 million students were homeschooled in the United States in 2007; that number increased to 1.77 million in 2011-12.
In New Hampshire, the numbers have been growing steadily as well. Between the 2004-05 school year and the 2011-12 school year, the number of homeschooled students in New Hampshire went from 3,706 to 4,481, representing a nearly 8 percent jump, according to New Hampshire Department of Education statistics.
Due to changes in New Hampshire’s homeschooling law, numbers after the 2011-12 school year aren't comparable to the years before, according to the state. But just comparing enrollment numbers between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, the numbers went from 4,930 to 5,154.
Homeschooling has been part of the fabric of societies throughout the world for centuries. However, it wasn't until the late 1960s and 1970s that it became a form of “rebellion.” Seen by practitioners as a social critique of the public education system in the United States, homeschooling was used as a way to fight back against myriad perceived ills, from an elimination of Christian values to the abandonment of progressive ideas for more conservative conformity, according to Education Next, a journal published by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard Kennedy School. Homeschooling became political, and neither side of the aisle was happy with the state of education.
The movement and its advocates made great strides over the next 20 years and by the early 1990s parents had a right to homeschool in every state. New Hampshire was mirroring this momentum and established its own homeschooling law in July 1991.
Before this law, said Amy Gall, who serves on the state's Home Education Advisory Council and as the coordinator for the New Hampshire Home Schooling Coalition, there was no mechanism that allowed parents to legally homeschool without special permission due to mandatory attendance laws.
"It was at the whim of the local superintendent as to whether a family would be allowed to homeschool … or [they] just did it under the radar, which wasn't actually legal, but people do that sometimes if they are in a very tough spot," she said.
Allowing homeschooling under the law was a big step toward the movement gaining mainstream acceptance. But another was the increasing power and scope of the internet.
"There wasn't really a great deal of curriculum that was available for homeschoolers back then… The internet has been a great resource for everyone … you can get a lot of online curriculum now and there are support groups everywhere and parents [have started] getting together to teach cooperatively in home group classes with their kids. It's just a whole lot easier now to get the resources you need."
Under New Hampshire law, all a parent or guardian who wants to homeschool their children has to do is notify a participating agency of their intent to homeschool. That agency is typically the local school superintendent, but can be the state or a participating private school. The law used to require that parents and guardians submit this notice every year, but the law changed in 2012 to where this only has to be done once.
Homeschool educators are required to have their children evaluated once a year to make sure the child is meeting educational benchmarks. This requirement has also changed in recent years. At one time, these evaluations had to be submitted and reviewed by a local superintendent or qualified educator. If the student was at 40 percent or below in growth, the superintendent or educator would work with the parents to make a plan for improvement. If this continued to happen, at a certain point the student and parents could be put on educational probation. This rarely if ever happened.
That said, under recent changes in the law, parents who homeschool still have to have the evaluation but do not have to submit the results to anyone. They do, however, have to keep them in their student's file in case there is ever a question about the child's homeschooling program.
Despite the seeming lack of oversight, in most cases if there were issues, parents would seek out methods for correcting them, said Christine Mukai, a member of Catholics United for Home Education and a member of the state's Home Education Advisory Council, and on the New Hampshire Home Schooling Coalition.
"I believe parents will always choose to do what is best for their children," she said.
Also required under the law, parents have to keep a portfolio of their student's work that serves essentially as a transcript that also, as law mandates, can include classes and extracurricular activities taken through local school systems, which have to be offered to homeschooled students whether they attend the public school or not.
And that's it. The rest is up to the parents to seek out the educational, social and enrichment materials necessary to give their child an education.
Why parents homeschool
"I don't think there's any one reason why parents choose to homeschool; it runs the gamut," said Heather Gage, Division of Educational Improvement for the NH Department of Education. "Some have religious reasons, some parents just want to be closer to their children, some parents are educators themselves and they can work from home and be with their children at the same time. Others may not have agreement with what is being taught in the schools or how it's being taught or they want more control over what their students are receiving for an education."
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number one reason parents cited for homeschooling their children in 2011-12, at 91 percent, were concerns over the environment of other schools.
And that seems to be true of New Hampshire as well.
"There are two different types of homeschoolers," Gall said. "There's the kind who know right from the start that they want to homeschool and they do a lot of research and a lot of them have a real different philosophy on education and the role of the parent and the role of the state and the education of their child and whose responsibility it really is."
The second group, she said, starts out as supporters of public and private school education, but something happens and that school system no longer meets the needs of their child.
"You find yourself in a crisis situation," Gall said, "and [homeschooling] is something you'd never in a million years thought you would do," but now it's the only option.
In Part 2 of this series, we will take a look at a day in the life of a homeschooler. We will take a closer look at what some homeschoolers do in a day. We'll examine the challenges and benefits, the reasons why parents homeschool, and the advances that have been made in curriculum, enrichment and social options for homeschoolers.
Melanie Plenda is a full-time freelance journalist and mother living in Keene.