On October 23, 2018 I announced the withdrawal of my support from Manchester Proud. Prior to that, I had raised a number of red flags. My primary concern was that business people who meant well and sincerely wanted to help improve the city’s schools were going to be co-opted by “educational experts” who had little more than a radical left wing educational agenda. This announcement was made two days after serious conflicts of interest involving members of Manchester Proud were uncovered. A year later, after calling them out for scheduling a secret “workshop” meeting with the Board of School Committee, this site published indisputable proof of Manchester Proud’s political bias and predicted, yet again, what the final outcome of their efforts would look like.
More disturbing than what the plan does, and we’ll get to that shortly, is what it doesn’t do. Remember, this is supposed to be a strategic plan that will guide the district for the next five years and beyond. Yet, it does NOT address any of the following items:
- Facilities: The district’s significant decline in enrollment has left a glut of space, yet Manchester Proud failed to address, in any way, which, given the continued and projected decline in enrollment, makes the omission more than curious.
- Union contracts: As Chair of the Special Committee on Negotiations, I twice asked Manchester Proud Coordinator Barry Brensinger to have the assembled business people review the teachers contract. They refused. One cannot fully assess, understand or appreciate the day to day operations of the district without reviewing that contract or those of the district’s other five labor unions. Moreover, it is IMPOSSIBLE to discuss the district’s finances and have any honest discussion of, or true “focus on fiscal sustainability,” without considering the contracts. The single biggest driver of school district spending is the teachers contract. It needs to be reformed if it is to be sustained and that is why we didn’t get a contract with the teachers. Their position was that they wanted their “step raises,” which cost $1.9 million dollars per year at current salary levels, in addition to COLAs. Note well that the step raises alone spend all the schools get in increased funding under the tax cap.
- Academic standards: There is lots of data that reveals a steady and steep decline in proficiency scores since the adoption of the Manchester Academic Standards, which are little more than Manchester’s rewrite of the failed Common Core National Standards. There was no assessment of that data and no review of the standards. There was, however, a recommendation that the district add to its Common Core offerings by adopting the Next Generation Science Standards, despite their failure to improve science scores across the nation.
- Role of Parents: There is NOTHING in this document that addresses the role of parents in the education of their children; not surprising given the biases of those on the Champions Council (Manchester Proud’s board of directors) and the organizations involved.
- Magnet Schools: While this study recommends the district explore magnet schools, it does absolutely nothing to identify its current magnet programs or how they could be built on. Moreover, this suggestion is in the subsection entitled “Explore Opportunities for New Revenue.” There will be no new revenue if Manchester residents choose to enroll their kids in Magnet Schools. Those who enroll from outside the district won’t do much better than break even. The idea that this is a “net plus” on the revenue side is simply wrong and demonstrates the ignorance of how school funding works by those who published this plan.
- Increasing enrollment in AP classes, especially by minority students: This section will be the jumping off point to what this study does, and it’s not pretty. That the plan doesn’t acknowledge the significant increase in the numbers of students, including and especially minority students, taking AP classes in the last four years is a travesty that underscores one of the major political agendas clearly evident in this document. The one good thing that can be said for the superintendency of Dr. Debra Livingston is that her administration came up with a system that increased participation in AP classes. The district now pays for all sophomores to take the PSAT. Those whose score make the cut are invited by the school principal to consider taking AP classes. I’m oversimplifying the process a bit because each high school approaches it differently, but the upshot is there was a strong increase in the numbers of students taking AP classes and a disproportionately strong increase in minority students. I believe this was intentionally disregarded. Here’s why:
This document has a heavy focus on “equity.” Now, I’m all for students receiving what they need to succeed but this document does not provide for individual needs. It breaks students down by race, “newcomer” and language status. It creates groups and labels them. Its prescription for equity centers around:
- “welcoming newcomers;”
- “cultural competence,” defined as “having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families;”
- “cultural responsiveness or culturally responsive teaching,” defined as “how instructional staff, and schools, demonstrate – or implement – their cultural competence; using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through a student’s strengths;”
- and “an equity mindset and cultural competency/empathy ‘mission.'”
All of this is a very convoluted way of saying that the schools have to bend to the cultures of the myriad of foreign students now in the system rather than help those students assimilate into the Great American Melting Pot; the culture that took them in and gave them their shot at the American Dream. It is also the means used by districts across the country to scandalize American History by vilifying the Founding. The Founding Fathers will be trashed en-masse because some of them owned slaves. Approaches like these have been used to de-legitimize the Founding and Founders for decades and they’ve had a devastating effect on the country. This is a gateway to accepting revisionist history and it is destructive.
It’s also the reason why this plan recommends that the district “dismantle leveling.” The push to “dismantle leveling” comes from the Granite State Organizing Project and its student Y.O.U. (Youth Opportunities Unlimited) subsidiary. In 2015, flanked by members of this group, which are refugee and immigrant students of color, Assistant Superintendent David Ryan proclaimed that leveling needed to end if we were to see more students of color enter AP classes. Ironically, as mentioned earlier, there was a significant increase in minority participation in AP classes without eliminating leveling. At the time, Ryan warned of those who would oppose leveling, saying they would do so for reasons of “pride, prejudice and power.” In other words, white people would fight the elimination of leveling for those reasons. Somehow, their students’ accomplishments would be tarnished if more minority students involved. Ridiculous! Loathsome!
In April 2019, then Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas presented reasons to de-level Manchester’s schools. I am still waiting for the additional data and data breakdowns I asked for during that meeting. The requests were made because the data they presented, while almost exclusively focused on achievement by race, had enough information about socioeconomic demographics that it was clear that the driver of under achievement in the Manchester School District was neither race nor ethnicity. It was poverty and family status. There was also information that undermined the claim that “once in a track, always in a track.” If Manchester suffers systemic bigotry, it is the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Will those expectations improve without leveling? Doubt it.
My children were enrolled in West High’s STEAM Ahead program. The classes weren’t leveled and the level of instruction was determined by the slower students in the class. For all the training in “differentiation of instruction,” which is supposed to teach to everyone in the mixed class at their own level, it just didn’t happen. Moreover, the group based projects, which Manchester Proud moves toward lock, stock and barrel, were invariably structured so that a higher achieving student was always coupled with lower achieving students. Guess who did all the work and guess who all got the great grades. Guess what always took at least twice the time it should have. Right, the project, and therefore the overall pace of the class. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look at how our classes are structured and figure out better ways to ensure high expectations and achievement levels for all, but “dismantling leveling” is a political talking point, not a sound instructional model. If it worked, there wouldn’t be tryouts for athletic teams in high schools. There wouldn’t be freshman, JV and varsity teams. Everybody’d be lumped together and the teams would be awesome. This recommendation is political dogma of the left.
So, too, are the recommendations to adopt “restorative justice” reforms in disciplining kids. The Obama Administration pushed this on schools across the country to address alleged racial injustice in the disciplining of students. It works along the same line of thought as “disproportionate minority contact” with police departments. Because minority children are disciplined more often than white children, restorative justice says discipline is inherently racist, just like arresting a person who is a minority is inherently racist. They ignore the question over whether or not the offense requiring discipline actually happened. Restorative justice wants to talk to the offender, understand them and council them toward better behavior. In other words, there are no consequences for one’s actions. The Parkland High School shooter was handled by the school’s restorative justice approach to “working with” students. What Manchester needs is a clear and concise code of conduct that is decisively applied to all students in all schools. Right now, principals enforce what they want to enforce and ignore what they don’t. It’s a mess and needs to be cleaned up.
This document is steeped in the Common Core National Standards paradigm. It’s heavy on “soft skills” and void of any real academic rigor. Question: How can Manchester Proud recommend a focus on “STEM/Technology Skills” as part of it’s “graduate profile” without addressing math standards that stop at Algebra II? Why does the “graduate profile” not include excellence in English, civics or history? Why does it contain “Equity Mindset/Cultural Competency & Empathy?” Answer: Because it’s designed to instill behaviors, dispositions, attitudes and mindsets. It’s a school (bureaucrat) driven value set rooted in leftist ideology to indoctrinate children into an “acceptable” belief and value system. The last thing they want is intellectually high functioning individuals who can think for themselves and determine their own beliefs, dispositions, attitudes and behaviors. This is a system designed to teach kids WHAT to think, not HOW to think, its platitudes about “critical thinking” notwithstanding.
What, exactly, is “a transformational learning experience,” anyway?
As this is getting long, I’ll end on governance. First, I will say that the way the data was collected and shared is meant to be as clear as mud. Allow me to quote Jon DiPietro, who ran for school board from Ward 6. He is an engineer with a substantial background in data collection and analysis. This is what he had to say about the data presented by Manchester Proud:
Very hard to follow. They don’t use standard survey reporting methods and don’t provide raw totals. It’s hard to know how many responses they received for each section and they’re not broken down demographically.
In a word, this is worthless to me.
To be clear, I’m not saying the data is worthless. I can’t tell because they don’t provide enough of it for me to judge. But there is more than enough for me to be highly suspicious.
For example, one of the large call-outs in the report reads in bold red letters, “People of color were far more likely to express negative feelings toward the school district than white residents.” On the next page, they state that “Because of the small group of respondents (a total of 62, due to the voluntary nature of the demo-graphic page), these tables do not show statistically significant differences.” They’re not kidding. 40 responses (for this particular question) from a non-representative sample of a city with 112,000 people are completely worthless. That would be around a 20% margin of error if the sample were random, which it is not. The fact that they spend so much ink discussing the results from this section is questionable, to say the least. Why do they bother reporting meaningless numbers, drawing conclusions from them, and then stating on the next page that they’re not significant?
Overall, the sample itself is not representative, which they admit in the beginning. Women, college graduates, and minorities are over represented. But they never mention it again or correct for it. The fact that their demographics were so far off means that their sample was not random and contained bias, so they have no basis for claiming a confidence interval.
Finally, what’s interesting to me is something conspicuous in its absence. The word “tax” never shows up a single time anywhere in the report or survey. Having been involved in many municipal elections (not to mention knocking on a couple of thousand doors myself), I can tell you this is mind-boggling. It strains credulity to think that they did not get a single respondent in the city to mention taxes as a factor. It’s consistently the top issue residents are concerned about. The fact that they never asked about it betrays their bias, in my opinion.
It’s propaganda, not science.
I will only add that I found it really odd that, on the one hand, they say people believed that lack of funding was the number one issue facing the district and on the other, a substantial majority of people believed the district didn’t spend its money well. How could both be #1 answers? What’s the take away? They don’t spend it well so give them more to waste? That makes no sense.
Nowhere is this document more political than its section on governance. According to Manchester Proud, the problem with Manchester’s schools is the size of the school board. Forget that it’s been that size for almost 25 years and almost as big (pre-at-Large members) for decades more. Too many representatives, they say. Makes it too political. Really? Have they looked at the New Hampshire House of Representatives, whose members represent approximately one third the number of people a ward school board member does?
Their fix? Slash the number of school board members, which means you, the parent or taxpayer have less representation and weaker say. If they get their way, there will be an entirely different election system for school board members than there will be for the mayor and aldermen. Creating an entirely different representation and election scheme for the school board will disenfranchise countless citizens. There isn’t a school district that I know of in this state where the election structure is different than that of the town in which it exists. This is a recipe for confusion and chaos. That’s good for the special interests, by the way.
Speaking of confusion and chaos, a smaller board means better meetings, according to them. (Obviously, they don’t pay attention to what happens in other school districts.) Their answer to the complaint that board meetings are unwieldy is to have one meeting a month where the public can comment and one “workshop” a month where it can’t. Less input for the citizens paying the bill and sending their kids to school. This will make meetings better?
As to the question of the mayor being on the board, well that shouldn’t be, they say. Take the mayor off! If that happens, there will be NO connection between the schools and the rest of the city. Is that what we want? Two separate entities with nothing to hold them together? The mayor is the ex-officio chair. That means mayors can preside over agendas and the board or not. If a mayor doesn’t want to run the board or control the agenda or be the place “where the buck stops,” they don’t have to. But, what if they do? Isn’t it better to have a mayor, the leader of the city, involved in the schools?
While they want to toss the mayor off the board, they want to add a “student representative” as a full voting member. The only organization that pushed for this is the Granite State Organizing Project and their pet Y.O.U. group. NOBODY else ever broached this topic. But, since both groups were embedded in Manchester Proud’s effort, here we are. If students get to have a FULL member of the board, something the city didn’t even give the towns that paid millions in tuition to send their kids, why not give one to the teachers? Don’t they have a “unique perspective” that should have a voice at the board? What about the principals? The paraprofessionals? Maybe the lunch ladies should, too! Would you want a student voting on a teacher contract, homework policy, grading policy, extra-curricular activities, personnel matters or “fill in the blank”?
As I look at my notes, I’m truly befuddled by what I’ve read and am overwhelmed by what I have left to say. What do you say about a document that wants “fiscal sustainability” but proposes, by my tally, $8 to $10 MILLION in new spending, about half of which will be ongoing, and demands policy changes that will significantly increase the need for staff as enrollment continues to decline?
In a way, I feel that I’ve written this all for not. With Manchester Proud’s “Bat Signal” shining bright on one of the many Brady Sullivan towers in town, with the Chamber of Commerce urging its membership to flood the public hearing tomorrow night, with Mayor Joyce Craig scheduling a vote on the night this “draft” plan is to receive public feedback and stating it will be an up or down vote to accept the document as a whole, with Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt giving a full-throated endorsement of the plan (intended, no doubt, by Manchester Proud to intimidate skeptical school board members and marginalize the opposition of “unqualified” citizens by brandishing the expertise and credibility of the city’s “educational leader” in support of this rag of a document) and the full court PR press in the media, on social media and through all of the “stakeholder groups” involved in its development, it is highly unlikely that this document will be rejected, though it absolutely should be. At a minimum, it should go through the committee process so that board members and the public can have a real say in the plan that gets adopted.
It won’t happen though and it’s why, in my opinion, they delayed releasing the plan until after the new board was seated. Certainly Mary Georges (D-Ward 3), Lisa Freeman (R-Ward 5), Ross Terrio (R-Ward 7), Jimmy Lehoux (R-Ward 8), Dr. John Avard (R-Ward 10) and myself (R-at-Large) would have added our questions, criticisms and opposition to that of Arthur Beaudry (D-Ward 9), Kathleen Kelly-Arnold (D-Ward 2) and Kelly Thomas (R-Ward 12). Beaudry will, no doubt, raise his objections, and they are many. Will Kelly-Arnold and Thomas raise theirs if its a losing cause? Will Joe Lachance (R-at-Large)? Jim O’Connell (D-at-Large) has publicly said he’ll vote for it despite strong disagreements with it. It doesn’t look like the votes are there and the extreme effort to mobilize those favorable to its passage are designed to make sure that any opposition from “regular people,” the ones who pay the taxes and send their kids to the schools, will be drowned out.
One thing’s for sure, and I say this with absolute confidence as someone whose children have been home-schooled and attended private, Catholic, charter and Manchester public schools: If the schools follow this political document, there will be many more parents who will pull their students from the district in favor of these options.
~Richard H. Girard