Publisher’s note:  This email was sent late on the evening of Friday, October 19, 2018 to every member of the Manchester Board of School Committee.  It is published here in its entirety with photos I have added photos to improve its readability.  As a member of the Board of School Committee, I find this information troubling and will be releasing a statement about its content in due time.  ~Publius

Dear Board of School Committee Members: 

Banfield: Did some digging

I was made aware of Manchester Proud a short time ago by parents who told me about this new organization.  As a former Bedford resident, I have seen how an organization outside the school district could be beneficial to everyone involved in the Manchester public schools.  The Bedford Education Foundation has been one of those organizations that has raised funds for expenditures that are not included in the school district budget.  The BEF is wellrespected and appreciated in the community for that reason. They look at what needs to be supported and funded, then hold fundraisers and events to make it happen.  For instance, on their Facebook page, they proudly reminded community members that they worked hard with fundraisers to support French students in a 10-day exchange. The BEF provided the funding to get all foreign language program exchanges funded. Adding foreign language to the elementary school curriculum is what one Manchester parent said she would like to have added to the elementary grades.  

 
It was the Bedford School Board that set up a survey asking parents and community members what problems they see within the school district.  That information was categorized and, made public so everyone could see what needed to be addressed. Since it was an online survey, there was no cost to the taxpayers that I’m aware of.   Trinity High School has also elicited this critical information from parents in the past.  It’s a great way to identify the problems, prioritize them and work on getting the problems fixed. 
 
At first glance, Manchester Proud appeared to me as if they would be that support system for Manchester, too.  An organization like that can be a real gift to a school district.  However, upon further research, what I’ve discovered about Manchester Proud is causing me great concern.  I’d hate to see an organization become a lightning rod in the community versus one that is respected and appreciated like the BEF. 
 

Brensinger

Manchester Proud has the capacity to make a significant and positive impact on the school district. That’s something we should all support. I’m not surprised that people in the community want to add their time and talent to an organization that wants to help the school district meet some of its needs.  My concern is with what appears to be a political influence within the organization. That influence now seems to be directing expenditures that could be used for genuine needs that parents have identified. 

 
Reaching Higher NH is an organization that has been politically active for a few years.   While I respect them as a political organization, they have a set agenda that has been diametrically opposed to what parents in Manchester, and across the state, have supported.  Two board members at Reaching Higher NH now sit on the board of Manchester Proud: Talmira Hill and Pawn NitichanThe Executive Director at Reaching Higher NH, Evelyn Aissa, is the daughter of Barry Brensinger, Coordinator for Manchester Proud.  In watching video of school board meetings, I have seen Mr. Brensinger and others stress that they have no bias or predetermined outcome.  With what I’ve learned about the direct and influential connections between Manchester Proud and Reaching Higher NH, and seeing the direction in which this effort is going, it’s hard to take that at face value, even though their intent may be pure.
 
Having that kind of onesided political view on education reforms does not allow for a healthy debate when Manchester Proud seeks to influence the district on education policies.  If they were there simply to provide support in the same manner as the BEF, then their participation would not matter.  But since there are now examples of how Manchester Proud is also engaging in political education reforms, this concerns me, and will most likely concern the many parents who came before the BOSC several years ago in an effort to improve the local academic standards in the district. have already heard from Manchester grandmother of a Beech Street School student, indicating that she sees a conflict of interest. 
 

Aissa

It is critical for Manchester Proud to succeed and not become an organization that divides the community.  Unfortunately, some of Manchester Proud’s political association with politically motivated education reform groups have drawn negative attention.This could bubble up to a point where Manchester Proud loses respect and appreciation in the community. 

 
For example, on Manchester Proud’s facebook page, there is a link to a video from Reaching Higher NH highlighting Student Centered Learning.  Below that post I asked this question: “In this video, Reaching Higher NH advocates for student centered learning.  Could you provide peer reviewed research/studies that show student centered learning improves the quality of education (maybe in terms of test scores) versus teacher centered? Thank you“. (Please see attached screen shot) 
 
This is an example of support for influencing how a teacher teaches in the classroom. Is this the vision for Manchester Proud? To take information provided by a political organization and advocate for the same political views?  
 
When I returned to look at the facebook page to see what studies they would provide, I saw that the post had been removed.  I did not receive an answer to my question, and you cannot see it currently on the facebook page. 
 

The question Manchester Proud removed rather than answered.  Click to enlarge.

I ask for independent research because other districts in New Hampshire are implementing this experimental education reform. The Atlantic reported on this experimental method back in 2014.What Happens When Students Control Their Own Education?  When a New Hampshire district found itself struggling with low test scores and high turnover, it made a radical decision: Flip the traditional model and let kids take over the classrooms.   Since then, I’ve received numerous complaints from Pittsfield parents explaining how the studentled discussions become sidetracked, and how some students use that time in an effort to talk about other things beside what should be discussed. Small group work becomes the responsibility of the student who excels, leaving that student to carry the weight for the group. Individual projects take a great deal of time, leaving less time for academic content to be covered. 

 

Pittsfield test scores do not provide any indication that this experimental model has had any significant impact on students in the high school:

Grade 11
2012-13 
Reading: 57%
Mathematics: 36%
 
2016-2017
Reading: 58%
Mathematics 19%
 
This is why I asked for peerreviewed research. If Manchester Proud is going to advocate for changes in the Manchester classroom by supporting experimental pedagogy, shouldn’t they at least make sure it’s best practice and has a track record of success? 
 

Hill

Manchester Proud has also come to the BOSC to advocate for joining the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS).  During the discussion with some of the BOSC members about the $30,000.00 membership fee, Mr. Brensinger indicated that he would not consider the request by Manchester parents who want funding to go towards materials in the classroom.  Instead he said this kind of significant expenditure should be used to pay a membership fee to CGCS.  I understand this is an effort to design a strategic plan, but if that plan is going to revolve around unproven or disproven politicallycontrived education reformsrather than meeting the needs expressed by the parents, then this does not bode well.

 

CGCS is a political organization funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote and coordinate successful implementation of the new common core standards in major urban public school systems nationwide ”  The Gates Foundation lists CGCS as a partner on their web site.   

 
Here is a list of grants awarded to CGCS by the Gates Foundation so that they could advance their political objective:
2008 $3,735,866
2010 $   100,000  
2011. $5,446,615
2013 $  614,954 
2013  $2,000,000
2015 $1,600,017
 
CGCS’s political objective has a clear bias which runs counter to what scores of parents said they wanted for their children in Manchester during the debate of the Manchester Academic Standards. 
 

Nitichan

No one on the BOSC asked for any proof that CGCS has a track record of success.  After reviewing the CGCS web site, I could not find any peerreviewed independent studies that showed membership in this organization improved academic outcomes.

 

A case in point comes in a 2014 CGCS  report regarding the public schools in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The reports states:  ” The Albuquerque Public Schools District has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda which includes the transition to Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and a renewed focus on improving student achievement by closing the achievement gap.  The district’s strategic plan included improving Academic Achievement.  However, if you look at their NAEP scores from 2017 they show Albuquerque students either making no progress or falling further behind their peers

 
GRADE 4 MATHEMATICS 2017 
The percentage of students in Albuquerque who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level was 29 percent in 2017. This percentage was not significantly different from large cities (31 percent).
 
GRADE 8 READING 2017
 
The percentage of students in Albuquerque who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level was 25 percent in 2017. This percentage was not significantly different from large cities (27 percent).  It seems that they digressed in Math and reading.
 

Multiple questionable ties to Manchester Proud.

Grade 8

Mathematics 
Year/average score/difference from large cities
2017      270      -5
2015      271      -3
2013      274      -2
2011      275      -1
 
Reading
2017      255      -3
2015      251      -6
2013      256      -2
2011      254      -1
 

Council on Great City Schools: Paid millions to implement the Common Core

If the Manchester BOSC is to join a political education organization, it is critical that the BOSC look for peerreviewed studies that show the organization has contributed to some measure of academic success in public education.  

 
Manchester has many difficult challenges with which other districts in New Hampshire may not be dealing.  Every dime spent needs to be carefully considered, whether the money comes directly from taxpayers or from other sources by way of the school district. I urge school board members to demand proof that expenditures do not come with a political agenda.  
 
Cornerstone, the organization for which I am the Education Liaison, would like to get behind an organization working in the best interest of the students in Manchester.  For all its challenges, Manchester provides many opportunities.  Manchester could lead the way in education outcomes for the state.  Toward that end, we encourage efforts to identify what parents see as needs for the district.
 
Reaching Higher NH and the Council of Great City Schools have a political agenda that leaves me concerned about Manchester Proud. Manchester Proud is an organization that has amazing people behind it who are willing to do whatever it takes to help Manchester schools succeed.  It would be a mistake to let political aims take precedence over what parents believe are the real needs in the district. 
 

After leaving the Manchester Proud meeting, I posted a question on a Manchester School Facebook Page.  I asked parents what five things they’d like to see changed or improved in the school district.  No one mentioned a desire to see the district become a member of a political organization whose main objective is to implement Common Core in schools.  No one mentioned wanting a political organization to influence teaching methods.  

Will participate if asked

Parents did say that they wanted:

1) Bullying addressed
2) Consistent curriculum across the district
3) Foreign Language added in the elementary school
4) Implement a complementary Spelling and Grammar curriculum
5) Get a systematic Math book that can be used starting on page 1
6) Stop social promotions
7) Advance children to the next subject when they’ve mastered the content 
8) Get our teachers a signed contract
9) Add tech resources
10) Get rid of Common Core and go back to common sense
11)  IEPs must be followed 
12) Common Core has to go
13) Bring back unified arts in the Middle School 
14) Updated textbooks
15) Leveling for all subjects
16) Get rid of standardized testing
17) Make sure students are competent in the subject matter before advancing
 
I’m sharing this because after attending Manchester Proud’s meeting yesterday, their associations with pro-Common Core political organizations indicates there may be a conflict ahead.  These are concerns that the Bedford Education Foundation has avoided by making sure the individuals running the organization are focused on the needs of the teachers and students. Having a similar support group  in Manchester can offer parents and teachers the muchneeded support that they have been wanting.  Please consider your support carefully as you go forward. 
 
Sincerely,
Ann Marie Banfield 
Education Liaison
Cornerstone Policy Research