As the State of New Hampshire applies for another waiver to the No Child Left Behind law, I question what we are giving up in terms of local and state control in education.

In order to qualify for this waiver, the state of New Hampshire is following the Obama redesign in public education.  The redesign is focused on a return to Outcome Based Ed (called Competency Based Ed in NH) using the Common Core Standards in math and english, testing, data collection and teacher evaluations.

The Obama redesign is a fundamental shift from a liberal arts education focused on academics to workforce training focused on workforce skills. I urge you to read a critique on this from the early 90’s .

Then ask yourself, where is New Hampshire going and is this what I want for my children and our public schools?

Here is my letter to the Chairman and NH Board of Ed sent yesterday March 26, 2015……

Chairman Raffio and members of the New Hampshire Board of Education:

Yesterday I came before the BoE with concerns over the draft proposal for the new waiver from No Child Left Behind. With limited time, I was not able to cover all of the areas that I felt should be discussed, debated and addressed by the NH BoE.
I am now submitting my formal testimony.

The draft waiver was made public only a short time ago leaving a limited amount of time for review and for public comment. That’s why it was surprising that the BoE took an official vote yesterday to approve the waiver.

I will submit this testimony as I indicated, however I have to address the disappointment in this body that limited input from the public knowing there would be a vote, did not fully address the concerns I brought forth, did not indicate whether all members read through the 134 pages, and did not thoroughly discuss and debate what was in the waiver.

I do understand that the waiver application has to be submitted by next week and that does limit the amount of public meetings the BoE can hold. However we can now see that making the draft available just a few weeks before submitting it to the U.S. Department of Education puts limits on gathering feedback from the public. And after yesterday’s meeting and through this rushed process, it’s become obvious our feedback was not going to be considered by the board members.

There was almost no debate or discussion on the merits of seeking a waiver except for Cindy Chagnon’s question on being denied a waiver. I certainly thank her for that question but even that discussion fell short of answering crucial questions on what happens if the DoE does not seek a waiver at this time.

For instance:
1) Did anyone prepare an analysis on what the State gives up in order to be granted a waiver?
2) How does NH return to NCLB since the law has expired and re-authorization looks like it’s been derailed?

As I stated, I am a volunteer with Cornerstone and I work closely with parents and teachers across New Hampshire who are dealing with serious problems in their schools due to these reforms.   I do not ask parents about their political affiliations, their economic backgrounds or any other personal information. Your prior reference to my position as one that represents a “special interest group” I felt needed to be clarified.

I have just begun the process of reading through the 134 pages in the waiver and wanted to highlight that at the meeting. Unfortunately due to the 5-minute rule and the vote yesterday, this information will be too late. I will submit this as part of the written record; however, this entire process of seeking a waiver and then requesting public input has been disappointing.

My concerns with the draft that was proposed include:

1) NGSS should not be included in the waiver application, even if they are currently recommended as a resource. The NGSS are not an appropriate “resource” since they are a poorly developed set of standards that leave out high school chemistry and make high school physics unteachable.

In addition to those reasons and after the presentation by the Hampton Assistant Superintendent who talked about how the standards include inquiry-based pedagogy, it’s even more important that the DoE not commit to adopting or endorsing the NGSS. Standards that include requiring teaching methods can limit a teacher’s ability to change up methods if they are not working in the classroom.

Inquiry-based learning also known as constructivism has its own share of problems when used in some of the core classes like science and math. (See sources listed below) If school districts like Hampton choose to use the NGSS that tells a teacher how to teach science, that can be decided at the local level. If parents find that learning is a slower paced process or leads students to frustration, then parents can address that at the local level.

UPDATED NOTE: It was good to hear from Commissioner Barry that the reference to the NGSS in the waiver application was removed based on feedback they received after making the application public.

2) PACE is in the pilot stage and I am concerned that we haven’t been able to get any kind of significant feedback from parents on how well it’s working in the classroom. Referencing PACE may please the U.S. Department of Education but making a commitment in a four-year waiver doesn’t make sense.

PACE also tells a teacher how to assess their students by requiring performance-based assessments. Why not allow true autonomy by teachers to decide what kind of testing they want to use in their classroom?

I believe most parents want to know their children have mastered the basics. This is oftentimes measured through achievement testing. This kind of testing does not delve into assessing a child’s values or attitudes and it is an objective tool that offers the kind of feedback teachers and parents are looking for.

Why is there a need for PACE program to hire organizations that will now work directly with the teachers and schools on how to prepare these assessments? There are many assessments already being used in the classroom that one would think could provide the necessary feedback for teachers. Chairman Ladd has referenced the STAR Assessments many schools are currently using. Why not open up the selection of assessments currently used in the classroom?

The Center for Collaborative Education is one of the organizations who will now work directly with our teachers on the PACE program.
From their web site:
“Quality Performance Assessment: Since the fall of 2008, CCE has partnered with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation to explore the power of performance assessments to transform student learning and teacher practice. “
Does this organization help a school or does the CCE now become the guiding force in our schools? Where is the autonomy teachers need to creatively teach and test their students if their focus is on how to assess students and guide teacher practice? Performance based assessments may be a good choice for one teacher, but may not be for another. Will the CCE now manage their classrooms?

“In the process, CCE established the Quality Performance Assessment Initiative (QPA), a collaborative effort to design a performance assessment model that measures students’ critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills – the activities required by the Common Core State Standards, and that are required for college and career readiness.”
These are subjective areas to measure, and have already created problems in some New Hampshire schools with the new grading systems.

We’ve also been told numerous times that the Common Core Standards are just a set of standards, yet from their literature the Common Core Standards require “activities” to be measured.   If the CCSS are just a set of benchmarks, this certainly offers what appears to be a contradiction in what we’ve been told. Are we now finally acknowledging this reform is not just about a set of standards but involves the redesigning of public education per the U.S. Department of Education?

CCE is funded in part by the Gates Foundation, Nellie Mae and the U.S. Department of Education. Nellie Mae’s focus is on community organizing, dictating teaching methods through inquiry based learning. These are all controversial reforms that should be analyzed for their effectiveness through independent studies. It’s also important to note that those main objectives do not focus on literacy.

3) Competencies tied to Graduation
Graduation requirements of the State of New Hampshire should be fully analyzed and should include proper public hearings through the legislative process. Competency Based Education or Outcome Based Education as it was once called, has a long history.   If New Hampshire is going to embark on another attempt to rename and retry a reform that caused states like Virginia to abandon this model years ago, then the Department should be able to show some kind of reasonable progress in academic achievement.

Shifting from a broad focus on offering students a liberal arts education focused on literacy to workforce training has never been fully vetted by the legislature or through public hearings. It was thrust upon schools years ago which begs the question, where is the proof CBE has had any significant improvement on proficiency in the core academic subjects?

It appears New Hampshire is moving in the direction that has been laid out by the U.S. Department of Education. This shift was never publicly vetted with input from teachers and parents and will result in more directives to teachers on how they should teach. This is a continued shift from a focus on literacy and academic excellence to workforce training. This is a top-down approach that failed to solicit input from New Hampshire parents and taxpayers.

Finally, Cornerstone continues to call for a halt on the use of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in our public schools. This assessment has not been validated through any outside organization, has been criticized as “..Fatally Flawed and Should Not Be Used,” and has Nashua teachers warning:
1) Shockingly negative experience.

2) Totally grade level inappropriate; difficult even for some teachers with advanced degrees

3) Seems the test was designed more as a psychological or sociological experiment, not as a measure of academic learning. Who created this test, anyway? It couldn’t have been by professional educators.

4) This would be a crushing emotional experience for my students.

5) It is nothing less than child abuse for my Special Ed students in my classroom.

6) I refuse to administer this test to my students.

Ironically Liz Litchtenberg of Alton Central School, who was named Teacher of the Year and was acknowledged at the BoE meeting, spoke about the damaging impact the Smarter Balanced Assessment is having on the students in her school district. Prior to the first assessment given in New Hampshire, parents have decided they do not want to be part of this latest experiment.

This waiver requires New Hampshire to follow the recycled Outcome Based model instead of asking parents what they want out of their school district. This top-down approach by the Obama administration and facilitated through the New Hampshire Department of Education leaves out the most critical factor in all of this: the parents.

The parents are the ones who pay the salaries of those now required to follow the NH DoE as they facilitate Obama’s redesigned model. They are the ones who’ve come out to oppose this model the last two years when legislation has been introduced to stop it.

As you scan through the waiver, I challenge you to look for any references to parents. This accountability scheme isn’t accountability to parents, it’s to unelected bureaucrats who now want to tell us how to evaluate our teachers. (see pages 117 to 120)

I am not convinced that a waiver from a law that hasn’t been re-authorized and doesn’t look like it will be for some time is best for New Hampshire. Unfortunately we are not seeing the Board fully engage in a public debate at this time and to those of us observing this process, it looks like another rubber stamp on a document that pleases bureaucrats in Washington D.C. versus parents in Rochester or Hampton, New Hampshire.

This waiver will tie New Hampshire to a plethora of reforms prescribed by U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, not the parents and taxpayers living in our local towns.

Ann Marie Banfield
Education Liaison, Cornerstone Action

1) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching

2) Structure More Effective In High School Science Classes, Study Reveals

3) Harvard Study Shows that Lecture-Style Presentations Lead to Higher Student Achievement;