×

N.H. Debates Home School Oversight

  • Nick Spencer raises his hand to answer a question in Laurie Toupin’s Mosaic Explore food science program where students tasted a mock apple pie at the Educational Center of Brookside Church in Manchester on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Thirteen-year-olds Olivia Morisson (left) and Ella Koelb laugh as David Gonthier reads aloud, interpreting the text as lyrics to a melody, during an English and public speaking program at Mosaic Explore which met at the Educational Center of Brookside Church in Manchester on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Students watch an educational video as tasks run on their computer screens during a Raspberry Pi computer programming class at Mosaic Explore which met at the Educational Center of Brookside Church in Manchester on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • David Gonthier talks to students during an English and public speaking program at Mosaic Explore which met at the Educational Center of Brookside Church in Manchester on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Students in Mosaic Explore programs take a lunch break at the Educational Center of Brookside Church in Manchester on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Abby Higgins, 13, talks about homeschooling life during a Mosaic Explore lunch break at the Educational Center of Brookside Church in Manchester on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Concord Monitor
Wednesday, February 07, 2018

In a downstairs room at the Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester, Nick Spencer chewed on a piece of no-apple apple pie.

At the front of the room, Laurie Taupin, the class’s instructor, quizzed Spencer and the other elementary school-age students: “Do you know what the magic ingredient of this is?” Many guessed — correctly — that sugar is part of the mix. But it was cream of tartar, she explained, that gave the fruit-free pastry its sour, appley taste.

Meanwhile, in a room upstairs, a group of teens reviewed a recent public speaking presentation. Next door, another group watched a YouTube video about how computer monitors work as their mini Raspberry Pi computers — which they assembled last class — upgraded their software.

Despite the classroom setting, these students weren’t traditional school pupils. They’re home-schoolers — and part of a community in New Hampshire that’s likely about 6,000 strong.

That group of parents and children made their presence known last month, swarming the Statehouse in the hundreds to protest a piece of legislation — House Bill 1263 — aimed at returning some oversight to the largely unregulated field.

Sitting in a hallway at the Brookside Church last week, three home schooling mothers discussed the bill. Only one, Cristina Drondoe, of Bedford, N.H. — who founded the home schooling enrichment program Mosaic Explore, which rents space at the church — attended the bill’s hearing. But all three agreed: They don’t want to start submitting annual evaluations of their children’s progress over to a third party.

“I think it’s intrusive,” said Susan Burke, of Manchester, a nurse who has home-educated her 14-year-old daughter since she started school.

New Hampshire once required extensive oversight over home schooling families, asking that parents submit their curriculum plans and annual evidence of a child’s learning. But in a state that still has a defiant streak about government oversight, those requirements have been slowly chipped away, leaving some of the most lax regulations in the country.

Families still have to keep a portfolio of their children’s work and do annual evaluations. But they aren’t required to show that documentation to anybody. And while they need to tell somebody — either the state, their local district or a private school — once they’ve started to home-school, that notification doesn’t need to be renewed annually.

“I like it the way it is now,” said Kristin Wenger, of Manchester, a former special education teacher who home-schools two of her three sons. “I understand why they might want to have a little more oversight. But I think, overall, the majority of people take it very seriously.”

‘Concierge-Level’ Education

Home-schoolers are not monolithic. But parents like Drondoe, Burke and Wenger represent an increasingly visible group of home educators as the practice becomes more mainstream: middle- or upper-middle-class professionals who decided to give what Burke refers to as a “concierge-level” education to their children.

Burke decided to home-school before her daughter started school. Her family lived in Massachusetts at the time, and their local, high-poverty district had a poor reputation; Burke’s nephew also had a bad first year in school.

Wenger began home schooling after her youngest son fell behind in Manchester schools.

“The teachers were great,” Wenger said, but they couldn’t give her son enough attention because of class size. When she offered her middle child the chance to pull out too, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I’m so bored,” she recalled him saying.

For them, the idea that schools should oversee them is an odd proposition.

“I feel like the public school system has all it can handle on its plate right now,” Burke said, chuckling.

They concede that some parents might not be giving their kids the best education. But putting those kids back in public school is no guarantee of their future success, Drondoe said.

“Even in public school, you have kids that are failing. And they’re passed along,” she said.

And even so, Burke said — it’s just not the government’s business.

“The onus is on the parents. In my mind, it is not the government’s responsibility. It is not our Education Department’s responsibility. It is the parents’ responsibility,” she said.

With such strong opposition and a school choice-friendly Republican majority at the Statehouse, the home schooling oversight bill is unlikely to become law.