Education, Immediate Action

June 8 State Board of Education Meeting: Speak at Public Comment or Write an Email

This is a key moment for New Hampshire’s State Board of Education.  While the new commissioner is pushing for as much power as possible, the board has a new chairman, former Union Leader editorial page editor Drew Cline, and key policy issues are before the board right now.

We need thoughtful emails to the board (just click here) and, most of all, we need you to attend the next State Board of Education meeting at 101 Pleasant St., Concord (follow the signs to the Education Department) on June 8 to speak out at the public comment section at 9:00.

Here are some guidelines for both emails and speaking at public comment

Address the board itself.  The education commissioner is not on the board.  He attends the meetings as staff to the board.  If your concern is some action of the commissioner, you are addressing the board because you are urging the board to take or prevent some action.  So it’s, “Mr. Chairman, I think you should…”  Or “State Board members, I think you should…”

Address a topic of current relevance to the board.  There is no reason not to address any issue of concern to you.  However, you can have a great impact by addressing issues the board is most concerned with at a given moment.  Currently, the ongoing agenda topics are the Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) program and the academic standards, as well as how the board functions.

Address the substance of the issue (vs. the politics or motivations).   Disagreeing with the position the board or the commissioner has taken is important.  Talking about the motivations of the board members themselves or the commissioner himself would undercut the policy point.

Use written remarks, five minutes maximum.  Written remarks keep you organized and have a greater impact because they can be accurately reflected in the board’s minutes and be referred to in the future.  While five minutes is the time limit, still, the shorter the better.

There will be no questions.  The board will not ask questions other than for clarification.

Stating an affiliation is ok but does not actually advance the issue.  It’s actually better if you present yourself as a concerned individual.

Emails should convey your own take. It’s fine to quote others – especially some of the great testimony quoted below – but generic emails that sound like part of a campaign do not have much impact.

Phone calls are ok, but…  There’s nothing wrong with calling an SBOE member to register a position.  However, emails and written testimony are probably more effective in the SBOE context because they become part of the public record and the shared SBOE discussion in a way that phone calls do not.

Some ideas

What should you say?  Whatever you are concerned about and think is true!  If you are a teacher, talk about your classroom experience.  If you are a parent, talk about your child’s experience with the new higher expectations.  

So there’s no need to read any further.  But if you can use some ideas, here are some.  

  • The Board did the right thing by refusing to revisit the Next Generation Science Standards  – You can tell the Board that it did the right thing at the April meeting by sending the message that, having just adopted the science standards, with wide support from the science teaching community, there was no need to rewrite them.
  • Fordham’s role in board decision making  – You could urge the board to pay no attention to freelance standards reviewers like the Fordham Institute.  Many years ago they gave the Common Core State Standards an A and the Next Generation Science Standards a C, but there is no need at this point to listen to political advocates from afar.  Hundreds of New Hampshire teachers helped write the common core standards and thousands of New Hampshire classrooms have put them to use over the past 6 years.  NH science teachers adopted NGSS before the board did.  New Hampshire teachers know what is in the English and math standards at this point and they have made clear that they believe the standards are good.  Our teachers and administrators have accepted these standards and do not think they need changing.  The board should listen to them.
  • What’s changed? – Mr. Raffio, past State School Board Chair, was in the paper talking about 10 years of having worked closely with the department.  Now, with a new commissioner and new chair, everything seems turbulent.  There has been no question before about who was in charge of writing the rules and adopting the standards.  The state board of education is, according the statute, the board of directors of NH public education, in charge of writing the rules and standards.  That role is being tested, as these posts show.
  • Call for opponents?  The new chair seemed to dismiss the superintendents’ association, the Business and Industry Association and the teachers’ union (you can see what they said, below) as “advocates” known to be against revising the standards, saying that their testimony needed to be balanced by inviting opponents to the June BOE meeting.  In fact, these are the credible organizations most critical to delivering education in this local control state.  They are the users of the standards with large memberships that do not take public positions on issues like this lightly.  Their positions should weigh heavily in considering whether to review the standards. (Video of the BOE standards discussion)
  • Who is calling for a change in the standards? – There have been nationally based political advocates opposing the standards for years, and the governor and commissioner campaigned against them, but the people who see the impact (superintendents, teachers, parents and business leaders)  and use the standards every day have told you overwhelmingly that they don’t want you to change them.  You could urge the board should respect New Hampshire’s tradition of local control.
  • No Credible plan for standards review –  The standards review concept the education department has submitted seems to suggest rewriting the standards almost from scratch.  It does not seem to be based on asking parents and teachers what they would change.  It talks of researching other states and countries.  (Here is a critique of the concept.) All in all, it doesn’t seem like a serious undertaking.  But many states have reviewed the standards and come to the conclusion that they were pretty close to fine.  Given the lack of stakeholder support, the lack of any real need to revise the standards, and the lack of a credible plan, you could urge the board to drop the whole thing and move on to more pressing matters.

Stakeholders May 11 testimony

Here’s what the BIA had to say

 The Business and Industry Association (BIA, New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce) Chair Val Zanchuk, said, at the May 11 board meeting,

“The existing math and language arts standards are sufficiently rigorous and when mastered, will prepare students for college and career success.” He called revision “unnecessary,” noting that, “We need the full engagement of the educational community in completing the implementation of a competency-based education system. We believe that an attempt to refine, amend, or rewrite educational standards  is unnecessary, of marginal value, and a poorly timed diversion of that limited bandwidth. It would reduce the educational community’s ability to engage in the more pressing issue of workforce development.”

The National Education Association-NH.

Megan Tuttle, the president of NEA-NH, the State’s largest teachers’ organization, representing some 17,000 members across the state, also at the May 11 board meeting urged the Board to “reconsider” moving forward with the process to revise the standards.  She said (here on the video),

“After 18 years of teaching, I can confidently say that I have seen these standards in use, and that they are indeed effective in their current state. The use of standards helps streamline instruction, ensuring that teaching practices deliberately focus on agreed upon learning targets.”  

She went on to highlight that,

“…our current Math and ELA standards contain the breadth to allow our districts and teachers to exercise professional judgment in developing curriculum and instruction that promotes student success, validating New Hampshire’s long-standing tradition of local control; where parents, elected officials and educators work together to unlock each student’s potential…NEA-NH has been fully supportive of these standards…”

“The standards themselves provide wide flexibility for varying approaches to curriculum, lesson plans and styles of classroom instruction.  Our teachers feel empowered to make changes that might be a better fit with the students in their classrooms. New Hampshire’s ELA and math standards have stood the test of time in our classrooms. We urge the state board to leave them in place,” Tuttle continued.”

There was strong support for the current standards from the New Hampshire School Administrators Association  (NHSAA)

School leaders from all over New Hampshire attended the May 11 BOE meeting to urge the board not to reopen the standards debate – the standards are working well and there are higher priorities in our schools.

NHSAA Executive Director Carl Ladd said,

“Historically, we’ve always had a very strong relationship between the folks in the field and the department of education and we don’t want that relationship to suffer in any way…so we really felt it was important for us to come forward and to share our concerns….There have always been discussions of standards…but now there seems to be much more of an ideology around discussions of the standards and assessments than has been typically the New Hampshire tradition…..”

He went on to make the point that many of the complaints the board hears about standards are really about local implementation and curriculum and said that he would introduce education leaders from around the state.  He said,

“The folks who develop the curriculum and the folks who are actually doing the work in the field  who would express their concerns about changing ELA and math standards at this particular point when we have so many other standards that have really gone untouched for a long time that really need attention and revision – ELA and math are not two of them – and some concerns about changing the assessment at this particular time.

“We’ve heard a lot today about how longitudinal information is important and we have seen success in other states because they have stayed the course with their assessment, with their standards.  New Hampshire ranks where it is today because we’ve had eight years of moving forward in one progression after another, moving from teacher-based learning to student centered learning…  Constantly relitigating the Common Core war is really hampering the schools and districts from developing the model that communities and businesses are looking for.”

Then Merrimack School District assistant superintendent Mark McLaughlin, , said,

There is an important line that must always be observed in education between the necessary refinement and evolution of our practice and the unnecessary and often counterproductive change for change’s sake cycle that disrupts the development of expertise in teachers and undermines what parents and students can count on…..

“Here is a brief list of the benefits [of the standards] that the Merrimack School District has experienced.

[They have helped us to see] how students naturally learn.

 They have provided a framework for a curriculum with a natural progression from kindergarten all the way to grade 12, while insuring the necessary role of teacher creativity and the requirements of individual students who need differentiated curriculum.

The Common Core State Standards have created the necessary structures and expectations…eliminating content gaps and reducing content redundancy.

They intentionally differentiate between the concept of knowing and understanding, recognizing that the former is the means and the latter is the end.  I know that 2×2 is four but I understand the multiplication principle and I can apply the multiplication principle in any number of contexts that my that my teachers provide or my real world experience my offer me.

The Merrimack School District firmly believes that the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment create the conditions for students to learn in rigorously and in developmentally appropriate ways…  They have tremendous value and have been the chief cause of our teachers and our students collective growth.

“In our view, any contemplation of a shift in these standards ought to be accompanied by some very tough questions. For example:

Is the contemplated change worth the inevitable confusion that will result among teachers and students that will last for many years as both must be trained in and gain comfort with a new set of guidelines?

Is the contemplated change worth teachers and parents loss of faith in local and state leadership whose credibility will be sharply tested as we once again tell teachers and parents, ‘Trust us, as we once again tackle yet another change that very few of us who actually do this work feel is warranted’?

How and in what specific ways would any contemplated change improve upon our current standards?  Are they more likely to provide connections for students?  Are they more rigorous?  Are they more developmentally appropriate?  Are they more able than our current standards to provide [clarity] through all our grade levels?  Are they better at differentiating between knowing and understanding than are our current standards?  And are they better positioned than our current  standards to help teachers, students and parents have confidence?

“The Merrimack School District…has embraced the Common Core standards and all the work that accompanies their adoption – teacher training, parent information, curriculum refinement, to name just a few.  In that work, we have happily recognized that the standards and the accompanying assessment, Smarter Balanced, are indeed good for students. The collective experience of educators, administrators, and many parents, but most importantly our district and, I know, in many other districts across the state, tell us that these rigorous coherent standards are good for students.  We ask you to take that experience into account when you contemplate their future in our state.

Finally, I leave you with this request….I ask you to go back and review.  Appendix A is a most thoughtful and carefully sourced document that, better than I have ever seen before, explains and clarifies the purpose and goals of standards based education in general and the Common Core State Standards in particular.  The second section I encourage you to review is the kindergarten section of the English Language Arts standards with particular focus on informational text.  Rigorous?  Yes. Developmentally appropriate?  Yes.  Transformative as a basis for early literacy learning? Yes.

Esther Asbell, Assistant Superintendent, SAU 16 (Exeter, East Kingston, Kensington, Newfields, and Stratham), was next.  She said,

“…There is a big difference among standards, curriculum, instructional materials and strategies.  The New Hampshire College and Career standards are a guide, or the “what” that is used to drive local curriculum. The feedback from local teachers is that the New Hampshire Standards provide a solid foundation for the local curriculum work and that they are pleased with the current standards.  In fact- the most recent curriculum work from the NHDOE…helped over fifty of our teachers develop internal K-12 learning progressions in math and ELA….The results of this challenging work is exciting and provides parents  a visual understanding  of what their children will know and be able to demonstrate when they earn an Exeter High School diploma.

“The standards have provided the framework for teachers to review local curriculum and eliminate repetition and focus on the depth and the application of knowledge as opposed to the memorization of facts.  This work at the local level had enabled teachers to examine their instructional strategies and personalize education for each student ensuring that he/she can demonstrate competency in math and ELA.

“The level of engagement from teachers is outstanding and to be commended.  These standards were the catalyst for this work. The New Hampshire College and Career Standards are responsible for having each district take a close look at their existing curriculum and make adjustments in order to ensure each student learning needs are met.  It is at the local level that these standards are used to support the district development of  the ‘how’ of implementing  a curriculum, and instructional practices.

“Any revisions to these NH College and Career Standards would invalidate all of the work our teachers have completed over the past five years.

“However, if in fact The Board does decide to explore a revision process it is critical that the teachers that are currently using these standards have a major voice in the revision process as it is clear teachers are happy with the current NH College and Career Standards.”

Oyster River School District Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen , said,

“Five years ago – when we were struggling as a district – our district started a process of strategic planning….One area in particular we have put a lot of focus on and gotten great results is in mathematics.  Over the last 5 years, we have aligned all district curricula K-12 with the College and Career Ready Standards [Common Core].  Five years ago we had 27 kids in 8th grade taking Algebra.  Today we have 111 kids taking Algebra – successfully taking Algebra, I would point out.  At our high school, we were always doing quite well by our highest achieving students so we would have 15 or 20 kids that would take AP calculus.  Today we have 35 kids taking AP calculus, 25 kids taking AP stats, we’ve added a “concepts in college math” course at our high school and we also have some trig and finance classes.  The enrollment in our highest end curriculum has tripled, it has dramatically increased.

“One of the things that’s really been a driving force….is that we have focused on the New Hampshire College and Career Ready Standards.  The reason behind that is that people really believe in them.  They see them as rigorous and highly valuable for what we are doing.

“Speaking for myself – I’m a social studies teacher – I think that the board’s energy would be better spent working on curriculum that has not been worked on, such as social studies….We haven’t done much with social studies for 20 years and I think it’s time….

“So, I implore you to stick with the College and Career Ready standards.  And I cheer you for having adopted the Next Gen. science standards.  I will tell you my teachers were thrilled.  It’s inspired them to do a lot of great work.…”

Kevin Johnson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Assessment at Hillsboro Deering School District, said,

“Our materials are all based on achieving outcomes based on the current standards.  The students and teachers are working continually with that as their frame of reference – over the past 2-3 years.  We are measuring outcomes continually all year so that we know when students are meeting the College and Career Ready Standards and students have the ability to immediately move forward because the assessment is continual and it is linked to the standards.  So we know where we are and we know where we’re going.

So the decision has to become, do we want to change that?  In the districts that I represent, it’s currently working very well and we’ve spent a lot of time to get there and make it work that well.”

Dave Backler, principal at the Gorham Middle and High School, said,

“Good teaching hasn’t changed a lot in the last 40 years.  And when you hear about the really engaging teachers who are looking at each one of their students as an individual and helping them get as far as they can every day, that’s what we try to do in our schools every day.  As an administrator, I think about how do I support my teachers so that they can continue to do that.  And over the last 12 years we’ve looked at standards as a foundation.  We’ve taken the foundation that was given to us and we’ve built a house on top of that.  When you have great teachers and you’re supporting those great teachers, what you’re doing every day is finding different ways to add on rooms or to put another floor on the house to meet different needs of different students so that they can be productive adding those work study practices, adding those higher level math skills, always looking at where each one of those students is on a daily basis…..

What I worry about with the standards changing would be, and I’ve seen this happen, you lose a lot of those really committed teachers because they’ve spent all that time and effort and have built that house and those rooms on the foundation.  If you take that away and give them a new foundation, they will build a new house on it but they’ll start from scratch.

“And the concerns I hear are more the building, the instruction, not the foundation, the standards.  And I worry that what we’re trying to do is to change the instruction by changing the standard, which isn’t where we should be focusing because we have a lot of really great houses that are continuing to be worked on and to change the foundation out from under those houses would be detrimental to the work that a lot of really hard working teachers have done.”

Sue Greelaw, reading and writing specialist at Bethlehem Elementary School, said,

As a long-time public educator, I feel that the Common Core standards were the first thing that came along that really made sense.  And when I hear that there are children in tears over the Common Core State Standards, that saddens me because I feel that the standards are now being used as a scapegoat.  If you have a dedicated group of teachers that are committed to education and committed to the developmental needs of all students, the Common Core standards just offer us a guideline that protects all students.  It individualizes education.  It has allowed us to switch to competency based reporting for parents so that the days of getting a C in math, which really doesn’t mean a whole lot to parents, is now a list of competencies, so parents can see, where are your child’s strengths, where are your child’s weaknesses and what can we do as a team to build those weaknesses and to capitalize on those strengths.  Those things didn’t exist prior to the Common Core State Standards removing those at this point would tear down that foundation that we’re working very hard to build.”

Laconia superintendent Brendan Minnihan, said,

“We met yesterday as a region and came up with a set of thoughts relative to both the standards piece and the smarter balanced assessment piece.

“In Laconia schools, the range of Free and Reduced Lunch goes from about 50% to 74%.  So our kids come in with some challenges, some struggles….you will often hear about drug arrests….  That’s relevant because it’s important for all of you to know that, OK, we have standards that we’ve worked on for years and years and years, but at the same time we are working PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Support), Responsive Classroom, Student Wellness….So it doesn’t end for us with just the curricular piece of things.  We’re dealing with the whole child.  We’re dealing with the soft skills that Mr. Zanchuk mentioned.

“The standards help us set the framework but then our teachers come together and bring the standards to life.  We start with the standards but then, what’s the competency, how are we going to reach that competency.  So the standards are just….they’re there….but please don’t dwell on them so much that you take up all of our time when we should be doing other things.

“The other piece about the testing issue is that, I’m not a big fan of Smarter Balanced…it’s better than something else…but Smarter Balanced combined with PACE gives you the best of both worlds.  If you want to have a standardized test that actually has some depth of knowledge to it, Smarter Balanced does that.  If you want to have students doing stuff that they’ll probably do later in life, PACE allows you to do that.  So combine them both together.  But PLEASE, I implore you, don’t go back and make us start again.  Because we’ve been meeting all year and going over our social studies curriculum…and we were able to do that because we were finally able to take a breath after all the work we’ve been doing on our math curriculum and our English Language Arts…. Remember…if you’re an elementary teacher, you’re teaching all of it.  You can’t really work on all of it at the same time.  So a little pause would be helpful.

“In closing, I would ask that, as the State Board of Education, you do your utmost to buoy public education in the state.  I would also ask that you celebrate the positives that are happening.  Day to day, great things are happening in our schools and it is sometimes easy to lose sight of that because of the voices from minorities that are coming forward.”


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