As an education researcher, I’ve seen education fads come and go.  They leave a trail of illiterate students (who become illiterate adults) in their path.

New Hampshire has fully implemented the Common Core education reform.  This reform encompasses many of the same failed fads we’ve seen in the past few decades.  This includes the failed Outcome Based Education model now called “Competency Based Education.”

To sell these failed fads as something “new and innovative,” we have New Hampshire State Board members enlisting the help of prominent individuals to join them in their efforts. Reaching Higher NH was founded by Bill Duncan and Tom Raffio, both members of the New Hampshire Board of Education.  Reaching Higher NH is funded in part by the Gates Foundation who has bankrolled the dumbed down Common Core State Standards education reform. This is hardly a group of unbiased individuals advocating for quality public education in New Hampshire.

Researchers have discovered that many of these fads that have failed students in the past, have a significant and negative impact on literacy.  We’ve all seen the interviews with random people who are asked basic questions on historical events and yet cannot answer simple questions we should all know.

In Manchester, the Asst. Superintendent tried to sell the Board members a recipe for turning kids into community organizers.  In his presentation that looked more like a sales pitch, he describes how children will be used in an effort to create community organizers.  Political activism will now be the goal in civics versus educating children on the U.S. Constitution, and other important topics they’d learn from a school that focuses on literacy and academics.  There is nothing good about promoting political activism at the expense of literacy.

Education historian, Diane Ravitch reported on the Decline and Fall of Teaching History years ago and said,

The threat to our knowledge of the past comes, however, not from government censorship but from indifference and ignorance. The erosion of historical understanding seems especially pronounced among the generation under 35, those schooled during the period of sharp declines in basic skills.

There seems to be an almost acceptance and support for dumbing down education, even more today.  The dumbed down Common Core State Standards do not rise to the level of excellence we saw in states like Massachusetts or California.  The shift to Competency Based Ed further dilutes a focus on academic excellence to dumbed down “workforce skills or 21st Century skills.

We have organizations like Reaching Higher NH pushing for ILLITERACY.  Yes, that’s right, if you look at one of their latest posts you can see that they are advocating for illiteracy when they say that schools should be focusing on critical thinking skills versus focusing on academic content.  They then point to a study from Brookings Institute where they go not to SPECULATE:

Instead, the pair thinks that if high schools want to prepare students for college, they should focus less on specific content and more on critical thinking and reasoning. Most students will forget the specifics of, say, mitosis shortly after they take their AP biology exam, but they might retain the broader concepts of conducting an experiment and presenting evidence.

They sell the “underlying skills” argument, but that sounds like the “you can Google the facts anytime” mentality that we’ve also been hearing about.  There are anti-literacy reformers who say that learning how to learn is what really matters. Good luck googling answers when you are taking an exam in college.  How much confidence would you have in your doctor if they had to Google everything during your physical?

The authors do make a differentiation between students who take AP to place out of courses in college and those who take it because they think it will help them in college courses. How many of the latter such students are pushed into taking AP courses who shouldn’t be taking them, and to what extent are the AP courses in high schools watered down to accommodate for that increase in population of non-placement-credit students taking them?

Why did Reaching Higher NH fail to conduct a critical analysis on the findings from the Brookings Inst.?  Why are they failing to critically analyze the article they use to advocate teaching critical thinking and the expense of literacy?

This battle has been raging for a while now and there always seems to be people willing to take up the torch and continue the push for critical thinking at the expense of literacy.  Higher level courses like Advanced Placement was supposed to be the great equalizer for students who couldn’t afford to go to elite private schools.  Advanced Placement classes offered an opportunity for kids in inner city schools to learn academic content their peers were learning in the elite private schools.  This afforded them an opportunity to compete for college placement if they didn’t have the financial means available to attend a private elite school.

The article seemed like another attempt to downplay literacy without looking in depth at what would strengthen AP courses . Why would Reaching Higher NH down play this important opportunity for children in public schools instead of looking at ways to strengthen AP courses?

Reaching Higher NH advocates for the failed fads that are being pushed on our local schools by the federal government and facilitated by the Governor Hassan Department of Ed. This includes the dumbed down Common Core Standards, the dumbed down Next Generation Science Standards, Competency Based Ed which is the old failed Outcome Based Ed model, to name a few.

What is the purpose of this education reform?  To change our liberal arts public education into the dumbed down workforce model where the feds choose each student’s vocation.

Do we want our kids prepared for a job after they graduate?  Sure, but a quality liberal arts education is more than just training for a job.  As C.S. Lewis has described, the reason we study liberal arts is to preserve civilization,

Lewis contrasts liberal arts education with what he calls “vocational training,” the sort that prepares one for employment. Such training, he writes, “aims at making not a good man but a good banker, a good electrician, . . . or a good surgeon.” Lewis does admit the importance of such training–for we cannot do without bankers and electricians and surgeons–but the danger, as he sees it, is the pursuit of training at the expense of education. “If education is beaten by training, civilization dies,” he writes, for “the lesson of history” is that “civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost.” It is the liberal arts, not vocational training, that preserves civilization by producing reasonable men and responsible citizens.

A quality liberal arts education would teach students about history so we do not make mistakes from the past.  This also allows us to pursue our own vocation without the central planners making those decisions for our children.  Wouldn’t it be nice if when our children sat down with a banker to sign a promissory note on their first home, they understood what they were reading and how the interest was calculated to ensure they were capable of making mortgage payments?  A public education is far more than giving children a dumbed down academic education in order to “train” them for a job.

Years ago there was a push for “critical” thinking skills but according to Ravitch, the focus should be on knowledge if you want critical thinkers .  In “Critical Thinking..You Need Knowledge,” from 2009, what she wrote is still relevant today,

“THE LATEST fad to sweep K-12 education is called “21st-Century Skills.’’ States – including Massachusetts – are adding them to their learning standards, with the expectation that students will master skills such as cooperative learning and critical thinking and therefore be better able to compete for jobs in the global economy. Inevitably, putting a priority on skills pushes other subjects, including history, literature, and the arts, to the margins. But skill-centered, knowledge-free education has never worked.”

This is exactly what the federal education reform is doing and what Reaching Higher NH is advocating through their activism.  Their continued paid ads that are featured on Facebook make sure NH residents are getting a biased view on education.  If you want your children to have all of the opportunities in life that children in elite private schools have, why don’t they advocate for literacy?  Why do they continue to downplay the importance of literacy and academic excellence?

This education reform even goes so far as to tell our teachers how to teach.  Ravitch explains the problems with a focus on “project based learning,” once again being pushed by Reaching Higher NH, “Just a couple of years later, “the project method’’ took the education world by storm. Instead of a sequential curriculum laid out in advance, the program urged that boys and girls engage in hands-on projects of their own choosing, ideally working cooperatively in a group. It required activity, not docility, and awakened student motivation. It’s remarkably similar to the model advocated by 21st-century skills enthusiasts.

The list goes on: students built, measured, and figured things out while solving real-life problems, like how to build a playhouse, pet park, or a puppet theater, as part of the 1920s and 1930s “Activity Movement.’’ From the “Life Adjustment Movement’’ of the 1950s to “Outcome-Based Education’’ in the 1980s, one “innovation’’ after another devalued academic subject matter while making schooling relevant, hands-on, and attuned to the real interests and needs of young people.”

The New Hampshire Board of Education guided by Governor Hassan’s Department of Education, continue to push the federal education reforms that have been proven failures in the past.  They repackage them, rename them and resell them to unsuspecting parents across the state. This has forced parents to pull their children out of the public schools to either home-school their children or pay tuition at a private school.  As enrollment declines in the public schools, you have to wonder why they continue down this path.

When we have business leaders unaware of past education fads, politicians and legislators taking time to advocate and push these failed fads, it’s important for parents to protect their children and their public schools from this further dumbing down.  Remember that Reaching Higher NH was formed to “beat back parents” who want something better for their children.  They are funded by the same education reformers who would never dream of sending their children to a Common Core public school but instead opt for the private elite schools.

It’s important to know who is fighting for quality public schools in New Hampshire and who is selling you snake oil.  Reaching Higher NH proves again that their focus is not on academic excellence but instead on further dumbing down you child’s education and your local public school.

Ann Marie Banfield began volunteering as Cornerstone’s Education Liaison in 2009. As an education researcher and activist she took her decade long research on education to Concord to lobby on behalf of parental rights and literacy. Working with experts in education from across the country, she offers valuable insight into problems and successes in education. She holds a B.A. in Business Management from Franklin University in Columbus Ohio. Ann Marie and her husband have three children and reside in Bedford, NH