Update: One of our NH legislators is seeking to bypass the recent defeat of HB 367 and HB 368, two bills that would have put further government controls over NH home schooled children, by going directly to the school board.

NH Rep. Emma Rous is trying to get the DOE to adopt rules for the home schooled that she could NOT get passed in the legislature. Please see the original letter that outlines her demands:

State of New Hampshire
Legislative Office Building
33 North State Street
Concord, NH 03301-6328
TEL: (603) 271-3334
TDD Access: Relay NH 1-800-735-2964

Emma L. Rous

J. Timothy Dunn
Vice Chairman

January 25, 2010

Dear (Chairman Lyons and Members of the NH State Bd. of Education)

The House Education Committee has been involved in a review of the home education statute for several years. During this period, many members of the Education Committee have grown concerned about the level of accountability for home education programs. We retained HB368 and every member of the committee served on a subcommittee to review the statute. On Nov. 19, 2009 the committee voted 10-10 on an amendment to strengthen the evaluation process for home educated students. Failing to get a majority, the committee rejected the original bill, which was also defeated without debate in the House.

In the course of committee discussion, many questions were raised about the role of the State Board in setting rules. RSA 193-A:3 empowers the Board to “adopt rules…relative to administering the home education program.” HEAC is charged to “recommend…changes in rules…” but serves in an advisory capacity rather than a decision-making capacity. As a current member of HEAC, I do not believe the department violated appropriate process in recommending changes to the board. While the laws cannot be changed by the rules process, the board can and should clarify and further specify how the laws are implemented.

Based on discussions in committee, testimony from superintendents and home educators, and a review of home education regulations in other states, I recommend the following rules changes in bold (references are to DOE’s initial proposal dated 10/14/09):

Ed315.02 Definitions
(1) “Teacher means a teacher other than the parent who holds NH certification….
Currently parents who are certified or teach in a private school can and do write their own evaluations. The consensus of the Education Committee is that this is not appropriate evaluation.

Ed315.04 Notification
(c) (1) The commencement date of the home education program contained in the written notification shall be on or before the date that the education will replace public school attendance;
“Written notification” is not currently specified in statute and should be clarified in rules. Superintendents testify they sometimes have trouble getting timely notification, resulting in ambiguity regarding truancy.

Ed315.07 Annual Evaluation
The department recommended eliminating (a) which requires that “No evaluation shall be used by the participating agent as an annual evaluation unless approved by the parent” and recommended instead that the evaluator shall:

315.07 (b) (1)
a. Sign the evaluation
b. Submit the evaluation to the participating agent; and
c. Give a copy to a parent
315.07 (c) (5)

The department also recommended revising (c) (5) to require “The signature of the teacher” (eliminating “and the parent.”)

I urge the Board to adopt the Department’s original recommendations. If the evaluation is to have any validity, parent should not be allowed to shop for an evaluation until they get a favorable one. EHAC argues the evaluator may not understand the parent’s program, but parents can screen evaluators before hiring them. Under the current system, parents choose and pay the evaluator, and evaluators are the only ones to see the student portfolio. There is no requirement to meet with the student. Evaluators have no incentive to be thorough or to give a critical evaluation.

Members of the Education Committee eventually dropped the idea of collecting data on numbers of home education students on probation because we do not believe, and superintendents concur, that superintendents have enough information to determine probation. We believe probations are only assigned for test scores under the 40th percentile and rarely, if ever, for negative portfolio evaluations. Only if the portfolio evaluation process is significantly strengthened would we encourage accurate data collection on probation by the department.

Ed 315.07 (c) (3) and (4)
Evaluations are currently brief and cursory (see attached example). Developing a DOE sample model for appropriate, thorough portfolio evaluations and referencing that model in rules should be a high priority for this round of rules revision. The department recommends making the following addition to (c) (4): and the facts the teacher relied on to develop the concluding statement. This is a good starting point, but should be much more specific and complete. Current (c) (3) asks for “a description of the work reviewed,” but what should be in that description? Similarly, parents need guidance regarding what should be included in a portfolio.

If parents have chosen not to teach all of the subjects listed in RSA 193-A:4, the portfolio and the evaluation summary should include a rationale for leaving subjects out. (See Ed 315.08 (a) (2). [sic]
Ed 315.17 Grievance conference.

The department has added language stressing that a conference may be requested by “parents or participating agents.” This is an important clarification because HEAC should not only act as advocates for home education parents with grievances against school systems, but as facilitators and problem solvers for struggling or challenging home school programs.

Prompted by the Home School Legal Defense Association, home educators have asserted that changes in home education laws and rules would be unnecessarily burdensome and make us the most regulated state in the country. HSLDA currently ranks NH among the less regulated home school states. Over 4,000 students home school in NH, and we know that families move from more regulated states like MA and NY to home school here. While there are states with very little regulation, there are also states that require much more than NH. For example, requirements that:

-the parents have at least a high school diploma (or in some cases a BA)
-curriculum parallel that taught in public schools
-home schooled students study an equivalent number of hours as public school students
-home education cannot be initiated to avoid disciplinary action or to drop out early
-portfolios be submitted to superintendents
-all home educated students take the statewide achievement tests
-home education program report quarterly
-tests cannot be administered by the parent

NH has none of these requirements. I believe the rules changes suggested above are important, appropriate, and well within the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education. I hope you will support these changes.

Thank you for your attention.

Rep. Emma Rous (signed)
Rep. Emma Rous

Rep Rick Ladd (signed)
Rep. Roderick M. Ladd (hand-printed)

Rep. Claire Clarke (signed)

Rep Judy Day (signed)
Rep Judy Day (hand-printed)

Rep. Rachel Burke (signed)
Rep Rachel Burke (hand-printed)

Rep. Judith Reever (signed)
Judith Reever (hand-printed)
Charles B. Yeaton (signed)

Philip R. Harvey (signed)
Rep. Philip R. Harvey (hand-printed)

Rep Kim Casey (hand-printed)
Kimberly Casey (signed)

Apparently, according to this letter from Sherman Packard to the Board, the views of Rous and the other members of the Committee are not the views of the whole Committee, nor the Chair who saw Rous’ attempt to bypass the legislature as inappropriate.

John Lyons, Chairman
NH State Board of Education
February 2, 2010

Dear Chairman Lyons & Honorable Members,

On January 25 a minority of the House Education committee sent you a letter in which they claimed that “many members have grown concerned about the level of accountability for home education programs.” As the chair of the committee stated in the letter, an amendment failed in committee and then, on the full floor of the House of Representatives, the bill (HB 368) was summarily killed without debate by a substantial 324-34 vote. The voice of the legislature was loud and clear on this issue in recent weeks, as it was in 2009 when HB 367 was also heard and killed in similar fashion; the House has sought fit to leave the home schooling issue alone. It was inappropriate for the chair of the Education committee to send this letter to you on committee letterhead, not representing the whole committee, not even a majority of it, or the House of Representatives, in suggesting changes to the rules procedure.

There has been long-standing policy that administrative rules are not changed without some legislative guidance, and that guidance has been unequivocally issued by an overwhelming vote of the whole House, not a minority of the Education committee which sent you that letter. I hope that you will take the letter sent by Rep. Rous and her eight colleagues on the committee as comments not reflected by House Leadership nor of the Education committee as a whole.

Thank you for your attention.

Rep. Sherman Packard
House Republican Leader