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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Home schooling has risen in NH – at least while reporting figures was required

By DAVID BROOKS

Staff Writer

Enrollments in New Hampshire’s public schools and private schools might be falling, beset by demographics and recession, but one small part of the education system is booming: home schooling.

From 2002-12, the number of students being home-schooled in the state rose by 29 percent, even as public school enrollment fell by 9 percent – a function of aging New Hampshire’s shortage of births – and private school enrollment fell by 22 percent, much of that since the recession hit. ...

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Enrollments in New Hampshire’s public schools and private schools might be falling, beset by demographics and recession, but one small part of the education system is booming: home schooling.

From 2002-12, the number of students being home-schooled in the state rose by 29 percent, even as public school enrollment fell by 9 percent – a function of aging New Hampshire’s shortage of births – and private school enrollment fell by 22 percent, much of that since the recession hit.

While the number of home-school students remains relatively small – roughly 3 percent

of New Hampshire students are home-schooled, similar to estimates for the national average – it’s growing fast in New Hampshire.

Or, rather, it was growing fast in New Hampshire through last year. How it’s doing in 2013 is hard to say, because New Hampshire no longer requires home-schooling families to file annual reports.

“Nobody’s really sure,” said Amy Gall, a representative for the New Hampshire Homeschooling Coalition and chairwoman of the Home Education Advisory Council, a liaison with the state Department of Education, as well as someone who is home schooling her four children, ages 8-18.

The law says that parents must still inform a “participating agent,” usually the local school district or a nearby private school, when they start home schooling their children and when they move away.

But families no longer have to file a letter at the start of each school year reaffirming their decision to home-school, nor file an end-of-year evaluation of student progress.

Those latter requirements were dropped in 2011 as part of the New Hampshire Homeschool Freedom Act, passed by the Legislature to protect home-schoolers’ privacy and to reduce government intrusion into parental rights.

No bills are being considered this year to change the situation.

The result is something of an information vacuum, Gall said.

“Superintendents have to sign off on the certification of the number of home-schooling students in their district, but they’re in kind of a sticky situation,” Gall said. “The students who suddenly stop attending school – are they home schooling under a different participating agent? … Students who home-schooled last year, if they don’t (attend school this year), where are they?”

Short of sending truant officers to knock on every door in town, it’s hard to see how they can be certain. In particular, Gall said, it’s hard to keep track of homeschoolers who move away.

“The feeling is that homeschoolers don’t always follow the termination procedures when they move, and information (about home-schoolers) is not really shared between districts … between states, but even within New Hampshire,” she said.

New Hampshire isn’t alone in such uncertainty. People drawn to home schooling are, almost by definition, independent in thought and deed, which makes them hard to count. Further, each state has different procedures and requirements for hom schooling, so determining national trends is particularly difficult.

The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the federal Department of Education, does occasional surveys to estimate home-school numbers. It says the percentage of U.S. school-age children who were home-schooled grew from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 2.9 percent in 2007, at which time about 1.5 million were home-schooled. No more recent national data is available.

Despite a shortage of hard numbers, there’s no reason to think New Hampshire’s home-schooling boom has stalled.

Home schooling was comparatively rare as late as the 1980s, but social and technical changes have made it much more acceptable. State law, for example, gives home-schoolers equal access to curricular or co-curricular activities, such as sports or music classes, in their public school district – easing one concern for parents.

An important fact in home schooling’s growth, Gall said, has been the Internet, which makes it easier for parents to get advice from others in online forums, as well as to find academic materials from places such as the MIT OpenCourse system and Kahn Academy. These can supplement or supplant established homeschool-oriented curriculum materials with specific religious, philosophical or other focuses.

“I think that people feel much more comfortable when they have a variety of sources of material,” Gall said. “When people started home schooling in the ’80s, it must have been horribly difficult to find curriculum materials. Now, you can really do it all online for free.”

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).