The disruption to education and uncertainty about Fall reopening plans for traditional schools are creating great interest in homeschooling around the country. Some families have found that one of their children thrived using remote learning and would like to continue this model on a full-time basis. Others experienced challenges faced by their children, revealed by "crisis schooling" and are actively moving to home education as a better structure for them. Finally, some families are exploring a “new” concept that has roots in traditional homeschooling practices for group learning. It is sometimes called “pandemic pods” or “home-based learning communities,” and is a hot topic in the press and on social media.
This isn’t an entirely new or radical idea. Homeschooling originated in people’s private homes, where students would gather around a kitchen table or in a backyard to do group studies, such as a chemistry class, a book club, or something of mutual interest. This is old-time homeschooling and a concept that prospective and experienced families are considering again.
GSHE is working on arrangements to discuss home-based learning communities with Commissioner Frank Edelblut as soon as his schedule allows. Watch for an announcement on our website and Facebook page and group soon!
A variation on home-based learning communities is to hire professional tutors or teachers to conduct classes for a group of students. This, also, is an old-time practice in homeschooling.
Several stories in national media discussed “pods” and its growing interest across the country.
“In addition to homeschooling, some parents are forming pandemic “pods,” or home-based microschools that allow a handful of families to take turns teaching their children or pool resources to hire a teacher or college student.” Read more in FEE’s article here.
“So what, exactly, do these pods look like? Families work together to recruit teachers that they pay out-of-pocket to teach small groups—“pods”—of children. It’s a way for clusters of students to receive professional instruction for several hours each day.” Read more in The Daily Signal.
There are existing drop-off learning communities already operating in New Hampshire. Big Fish Learning Community in Dover opened a couple years ago and all the participating students are homeschoolers; it is not a private school. Families pay a fee to have their pre-teens and teens there where adults are facilitators to help students explore their interests. They also offer courses based on the students’ needs and wants. Another co-op is in Manchester, Latitude Learning Resources, and offers classes a couple times a week in-person, and more recently, online. There is a long-time operating co-op in Auburn, First Agape. All of these are homeschooling groups, not private schools. These homeschool groups have both volunteers and paid instructors, and families pay some kind of fee or in-kind service for their children to participate.
“Pandemic pods” are enabled in existing NH rules.
Home education law says that parents must “provide” an education to their children. This is interpreted by the NH Department of Education to mean that parents and guardians determine the who, where, when, what, and why for their children’s education. The existing Ed 315 rules (scroll about half-way down) that govern home education are going through a significant revision process that started in fall 2018 at the request of the DOE to make it consistent with home ed statute.
As part of that review, the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) put forward a proposal that has been accepted by the DOE that strikes through language that says families must direct 51%+ of their child’s education because it is not based in statute. The word “direct” is not defined in statute or rules. Even with this language, New Hampshire has treated full-time enrollment in private online schools as homeschooling. That is consistent with the practices of all 50 states and there are hundreds of providers. Students are considered homeschoolers and must follow their state’s home education requirements. This is consistent with New Hampshire’s existing and proposed Ed 315 language as the parents are responsible for determining where the children are enrolled and paying whatever fees are associated with enrollment, even though parents are not providing direct-instruction themselves.
The Ed 315 proposal is going through an extensive review and approval process and will be delivered to the state Board of Education at their August meeting. Then it will go to the Joint Legislative Committee for Administrative Rules (JLCAR). They are behind schedule because of Covid-19 delays.
The current and proposed versions of Ed 315 are fully consistent with current homeschool practices that empower families to use a wide range of resources, such as online classes and schools, informal co-ops, curricular and co-curricular classes at their local public schools, and learning supervised by family members and friends. If the parent is directing what happens for the home education program -- to use existing Ed 315 language -- they can utilize others to assist; they do not have to provide more than half of the children’s education through direct instruction.
Also, there is nothing in existing education statute that defines or limits homeschool co-ops. While some operate informally in families’ private homes and have no enrollment process or fees, there are no restrictions or limitations on what a co-op can or must be. Some may want to have insurance or a liability waiver or some other mutual understandings for operation, and families are free to enter into those private agreements without additional regulation or legislation.
Existing requirements from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) apply to young children, those who do not meet compulsory attendance age – six years-old by September 30th of the current school year. It is not clear if daycare requirements apply to children age five who would be age-appropriate for Kindergarten, which is optional in NH. This is one of the points for which we will ask clarification.
Experienced homeschoolers have many reservations about these learning communities as it is a departure from the shorter-duration and informal co-ops more commonly in practice. They are also concerned that additional regulation may be proposed because so many families are withdrawing from public schools due to Covid closures and dissatisfaction with reopening plans. While GSHE shares concerns of any attempt to restrict homeschooling, we believe that families should be empowered to find the best education for each child, and new ideas should be encouraged.
We will announce a meeting with Commissioner Edelblut as soon as we have it scheduled, and look forward to having greater clarity on this important issue.
Update 7/29/2020: We have a discussion scheduled with Commissioner Edelblut on Thursday, August 6th starting at 6:00pm. Please reserve an online ticket here. We will use that to send attendees the Zoom meeting link.
By Michelle Levell