Archives for category: New Hampshire

If you live in New Hampshire, please support public education by voting for Molly Kelly for Governor.

Chris Sununu is a clone of Betsy DeVos. Maybe they were separated at birth.

He wants to finance charter schools and vouchers, at the e Penske of your public schools.

Sununu appointed a home-schooling businessman to Commissioner of Education.

He has supported ALEC model legislation to introduce vouchers.

He signed a bill to take away the voting rights of out-of-state college students.

Teacher-voters need to turn out in force to flip the legislature and vote Kelly into office.

It can be a new day in New Hampshire, but only if you VOTE.

Tom Loughman writes here about the harmful impact of vouchers, which were recently defeated by a slim margin in the state legislature.

He writes:

“When I was a little boy, we lost my father to cancer. Not long after, my family lost everything else too and we struggled to make ends meet. We were always thinking about getting through the week and end of the month. But for all its challenges, my childhood taught me empathy, grit, and drive; drive to make a better life for myself. I knew I only needed the opportunity.

“That opportunity came in the form of a public education. The one thing we never had to worry about was whether I would get a great education and a hot lunch at school. I made the most it and have made a better life for my family.

“As a parent now, I followed closely the efforts of New Hampshire Republicans to pass Senate Bill 193, which would establish one of the most comprehensive school voucher programs in the country. It would siphon money from our public schools and divert them to private, religious and home schools.

“Fiscally responsible constituents would be alarmed at the financial implications of the school voucher bill. According to the legislative staff, it would have siphoned off $100 million over the first 11 years from public schools to send 2,000 children to private, religious and home schools. As expensive as that is, Sen. Dan Innis voted for a far more sweeping version twice, which would more than double those costs.

“You can imagine the impact: a reduction in public school quality and big increase in local property taxes. Despite all that spending to privatize more of our education system, there is no anticipated improvement in achievement. According to studies like the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, private schools were not better than public in producing higher achievement.

“The bottom line is that the school voucher bill significantly increases the costs of education in New Hampshire and puts the burden on local property taxpayers. Don’t take my word for it; take Republican fiscal hawk and House Finance Chairman Neil Kurk’s who said, “this bill downshifts $99 million to local property tax payers in ways that they will not be able to avoid by reducing expenses. I was not elected to downshift money on my constituents.” A few Republicans stood with him and House Democrats to defeat the bill by a slim margin. Fiscal responsibility prevailed.

“Sen. Innis and his colleagues have pledged to try again. Innis said in a recent op-ed that he believes in school choice for all New Hampshire children. However, the vouchers would not cover the full cost of private school tuitions. Therefore, the only families that can take advantage of these vouchers and attend private schools would be people who can afford a few thousand dollars difference between the voucher and tuition.

“The results of this voucher bill are entirely predictable. Children from families who can afford private education could pay less by applying a voucher to their tuition bill. Children from families who cannot afford to pay thousands will remain in public schools that would now face budget shortfalls. It’s actually even worse because private schools can deny admissions to students with disabilities, excluding them entirely from the “choices” vouchers give their fellow students. That makes education opportunity less equal.

“These reverse Robin Hood policies of taking resources and opportunities from lower income families to give to wealthier ones is a non-starter. The high costs of living on the Seacoast are already impacting our seniors, working families and small businesses. New Hampshire Republicans should stop pushing a radical bill that would significantly increase our spending, raise property taxes, and hurt our public schools.

“We are proud of our public schools. On the Seacoast, they are without a doubt, one of the best draws we have to attracting working families to live and work here. I believe Sen. Innis’ support for defunding them and prompting tax increases is an untenable position to hold as our senator. It does not reflect our values or interests.”

 

The New Hampshire House took a first step towards adopting vouchers, despite the absence of evidence that vouchers are good for children or education.

“The bill, which is supported by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, would provide parents with the state’s basic per-pupil grant of roughly $3,000 to be used for private school tuition or home schooling. The House voted 184-162 Wednesday to send it on to its Finance Committee.

“Opponents raised numerous objections, including arguing that public money shouldn’t go to private schools that can discriminate against children with disabilities. Supporters argued it would allow parents to send children, including those with disabilities, to schools that better meet their special needs.”

Students with disabilities are protected by federal law in public schools. They abandon their federal protection when they enroll in private schools.

Recent studies, even those funded by conservatives and the U.S. Department of Education, find that students who use vouchers fall behind their peers in public schools. After a few years, the scores are the same, but that’s because the weakest students have returned to public schools. Vouchers do not provide access to better education; the private schools that accept vouchers are not as good as public schools. The best private schools don’t accept vouchers.

 

 

Wayne Gersen was a school superintendent in New Hampshire for 11 years. He was appalled to learn that the new Republican governor, Chris Sununu, appointed a completely inexperienced businessman, who home-schooled his own seven children,  as the state’s next education commissioner.

 

The only way to block this appointment is by vote of the state’s five-person Executive Council, three of whom are Republicans. If even one of them is a public school parent or graduate, there is a chance of stopping this unqualified nominee.

 

This is a portion of the letter that Gersen wrote to the Executive Council members.

 

“I am writing to express by unequivocal opposition to the appointment of Frank Edelblut as Commissioner of Education. As a former NH Public School Superintendent of 11 years (SAU 16 from 1983-87; SAU 70 from 2004-2011), a Superintendent with 18 additional years of experience in other States, and one who has worked as a consultant for the past six years in Vermont and New Hampshire, I have a great understanding of and great appreciation for the work performed by a chief school officer in a state. I also know that overseeing a state department of education requires an in depth knowledge of how public schools are governed, how they are managed, and the challenges employees in public schools face. It is evident from what I have read about Mr. Edelblut that he possesses no knowledge of the workings of public schools. Mr. Edelblut asserts that his skills as a private businessman are transferable to overseeing a complex public agency. The experience of other businessmen with no public sector experience who take over schools shows otherwise. Mr. Edelblut also asserts that his experience as a CEO provides him with an understanding of “what kids need to be successful”. While he may know what a HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE needs to be successful IN HIS BUSINESS, I do not believe that gives him any sense of what a Kindergartner needs to be successful in Colebrook, Concord, or Contoocook.

 

“Most troubling to me is his lack of experience in dealing with public schools as a parent. If Mr. Edelblut was a successful businessman who ALSO served on his local school board, or who attended his child’s PTA meetings or back to school nights, or who had any children who attended public school I might be open to an assertion that he has some sense of the challenges of public schools. The fact that he chose to homeschool his children instead of working with his local school board or local principal or his child’s teacher experience speaks volumes about his commitment to the cause of improving schools. Parents who are engaged in public education soon gain an appreciation for the hard work required to educate all children and find ways to improve their local schools through teamwork.”

 

If any readers live in New Hampshire, please express your opposition to this absurd nomination. If you don’t live in New Hampshire, contact the governor’s office to let him know that this appointment makes New Hampshire a laughing stock and undermines the hard work of the state’s educators and its students.

 

With appointments like Betsy DeVos and this unqualified nominee in New Hampshire, our nation is not only showing disrespect for public education, but hurtling back to the early nineteenth century, when children went to religious schools, charity schools, charter schools, were homeschooled, or were without any education. Rushing backward two centuries will not prepare our children to live in the 21st century.

 

 

Senator Kelly Ayotte was asked whether Donald Trump was a role model. She replied, “Absolutely.”

How can anyone say yjis about a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobic, a bully, a braggart, a man who boasts that he doesn’t pay taxes?

Don’t vote for her.

Media Contact:
George Strout
Communications Director
603-224-7751 x308, 603-867-3104 Cell
gstrout@nhnea.org
http://www.neanh.org

New Hampshire Educators to Ayotte: Trump is No Role Model

During tonight’s U.S. Senate debate, Senator Kelly Ayotte was asked whether children should look up to Donald Trump as a role model.

“Absolutely,” Ayotte answered.

New Hampshire educators have a different response: ABSOLUTELY NOT.

“As educators, we teach our kids that kindness, collaboration, and cooperation are important in school and in life,” said Karen Ladd, Sanborn Regional High School Art Teacher. “Donald Trump is teaching our children the wrong lessons: he has consistently denigrated women, wants to ban Muslims from coming to the country, and mocks people with disabilities. His hate-filled rhetoric is setting a dangerous example for our children.”

Since Trump entered the race for president last year, educators have witnessed a steady increase in bullying and harassing behavior that mirrors his words and actions on the campaign trail. Ayotte’s supporting Trump as a role model shows a lack of judgement and should cause great concern for New Hampshire voters.

Anne McQuade, an ELL teacher in the city of Manchester, who has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels and works closely with refugee and immigrant students says that Trump’s rhetoric has caused her students great anxiety and fear.

“My students fear they will be deported, separated from family members, and sent back to the war torn countries they left because their loved ones were in danger,” said McQuade. “Students should not be thinking about being deported or discriminated against. They should be thinking about their math homework and science essays,”

When asked to recall specific conversations and questions her concerned students have asked, McQuade provided the following examples:

A student from Mexico stood in front of my desk with watery eyes and asked, “Miss, is it true if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, my family will be kicked out of America?” and “Do you think they will take my Dad away? He brings food home and I don’t know what we will do without him.”

An Iraqi student, who is Muslim, told me that when she got off her bus, a man yelled, “Go home terrorist. You shouldn’t be in this country.”

A Somalian student said, “Why does Donald Trump hate all refugees and immigrants? Does he even know what is happening in my country right now?!”

A girl from the Dominican Republic and a girl from Mexico were talking in my class and the girl from the Dominican Republic said, “I wonder if Donald Trump will kick Dominicans out?” The young lady from Mexico replied, “No, you’re safe, he doesn’t want to build a wall in your country, only mine. My abuela (grandmother) won’t be able to visit me. I’m sad!”

“Throughout her time in office, Maggie Hassan has consistently stood up for students, educators, and their families,” said NEA-NH President Scott McGilvray. “Maggie Hassan understands we need a leader as a President, not someone whose words would land them in the principal’s office.”

About NEA-New Hampshire

NEA-New Hampshire is the largest union of public employees in the state. Founded in 1854, the New Hampshire State Teachers Association became one of the “founding ten” state education associations that formed the National Education Association in 1857. Known today as NEA-NH, and comprised of more than 17,000 members, our mission to advocate for the children of New Hampshire and public school employees, and to promote lifelong learning, remains true after more than 150 years. Our members are public school employees in all stages of their careers, including classroom teachers and other certified professionals, staff and instructors at public higher education institutions, students preparing for a teaching career, education support personnel and those retired from the profession.
George Strout | NEA-NH | 603-224-7751 | gstrout@nhnea.org |

NEA New Hampshire, 9 South Spring Street, Concord, NH
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Andy Hargreaves is a professor at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. He received the Grawemeyer Award in 2015. He and two of his graduate students–Mary Bridget Burns and Shanee Wangia–wrote the following response to an editorial in the Boston Globe defending high-stakes testing.

Hargreaves, Burns, and Wangia said:

Want to improve the quality of American high school graduates? Keep testing them! That’s the recommendation of last weekend’s Boston Globe Editorial: https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/06/12/moratorium-school-tests-goes-overboard/zVVfrMRHbQO0a0GyK2mhLO/story.html. The editorial blasted a proposed state bill that would implement a three-year hiatus on testing, be it the state test or the PARCC assessment. Citing concerns that the Massachusetts Teachers Association had too much influence on the legislation, and calling it a “blunt instrument” rather than a “well-drafted public policy prescription,” the editorial recommended voting against the bill. The educational performance of Massachusetts is nationally renowned, it said, and its high-stakes tests had been a big contributor to the state’s success. So why abandon them?
 
Well, it is a bit of a stretch to say that high-stakes testing contributes to high educational performance in Massachusetts or anywhere else for that matter. Massachusetts is certainly a top performer in the US and receives many visitors from all over the world who come to learn from its success. But other New England states perform just as well or almost as well as Massachusetts, yet their approaches to assessment and testing are strikingly different. Let’s look at how two of these other states compare on the well regarded National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) which is not high-stakes (in that it doesn’t have rewards or punishments attached to it), it is applied only to samples of students rather than all of them, and it cannot be manipulated by teaching to the test.
 
Among all states on the 2013 NAEP, New Hampshire shares top ranking with Massachusetts in 4th Grade reading and math and is just one or two places behind Massachusetts in 8th grade reading and math with a barely perceptible difference of 5 points or less on a scale reaching the high 200s. The only place where such a tiny difference in number of points counts as part of a very large score is in the final minutes of a basketball game!
 
Essentially, the two states perform at an almost identical level, including on other state-by-state comparisons such as child well-being where they rank first and second respectively. Yet New Hampshire has had a very different and more flexible assessment strategy to that of Massachusetts – using a suite of assessment tools as part of common standards established across Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
 
Meanwhile, over the state line from “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, the Green Mountain state of Vermont is an equally impressive educational performer. It ranks 2nd– 5th place on different aspects of the NAEP, diverging no more than 6 points from the other two states discussed here. It is also another high scorer on child well-being. Yet, Vermont’s approach to testing is much more cautious and skeptical than that of Massachusetts. Indeed, when the Commissioner of New Hampshire and the Secretaries of Education for Massachusetts and Vermont took the stage together at Boston College last December to debate the reasons for their respective “states of success,” Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, a staunch opponent of standardized testing, criticized tests for becoming tools with harsh consequences attached, rather than ways to monitor teacher and student progress.

http://learninglab.wbur.org/2014/12/03/new-england-education-forum-highlights-concerns-about-high-stakes-testing/

So the Globe Editorial is just plain wrong when it claims that state tests explain high performance in Massachusetts. Neighboring states without this armory of high-stakes assessment have performed equally well. There is high performance with tests and also without them. If we can do well with or without the tests and the consequences that are attached to them, then perhaps we should decide whether we keep them or ditch them on other grounds.
 
Nearly a million students in Massachusetts take tests like the MCAS or PARCC assessments, at a cost of $29.50-$46 per student. By putting those tests aside, Massachusetts alone could save anywhere from $28-44 million dollars per year. The millions of dollars currently spent on testing could be reallocated instead to supporting teachers more effectively by providing more designated time for them to work together and give feedback on each others’ teaching within the school day, to improve their teaching.
 
Without the constant concentration on tested subjects, the state could also open up the curriculum beyond the relentless basics of literacy and math to include the artistic, scientific, project-based and out-of-school experiences that are an everyday experience for children of the privileged, but that should be the entitlement of everyone. We could support greater leadership stability in high poverty schools so that these schools can attract great leaders and then keep them. We could stop the revolving door of school leadership in under-performing schools, alleviating the pressure these schools feel to stave off receivership and closure before their work of their leaders has had time to have an impact. Like Canada, Finland, Singapore, and other high performing nations, we could achieve a lot more with far less testing. We can do more. We could do better.
 
Tests of all kinds can be tools for diagnosis and monitoring in the service of improvement. But they should not be the final say in a student’s academic future or a teacher’s professional career. We can test prudently rather than profligately and get equally strong or even stronger results. That’s not only what high performing countries have learned. It’s also what some of Massachusetts’ immediate neighbors have been doing for years.
 
Andy Hargreaves, Mary Bridget Burns and Shanee Wangia

Lynch School of Education

Boston College
 
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): Interstate Comparison of 2013 Scores
 

NAEP Vermont (VT) Massachusetts (MA) New Hampshire (NH) Nation (Public)
4th Grade Reading 228 (5th place) 232 (1st place) 232 (1st place) 221
4th Grade Math 248 (4th place) 253 (1st place) 253 (1st place) 241
8th Grade Reading 274 (3rd place) 277 (1st place) 274 (3rd place) 266
8th Grade Math 295 (2nd place) 301 (1st place) 296 (2nd place) 284

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2013/pdf/2014465MA4.pdf

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2013/pdf/2014465MA8.pdf

A post today describes how BASIS charter schools screen out low-performing students. This comment refers to a similar practice in Néw Hampshire. This is the exact opposite of what charters were supposed to do: the original intention, long forgotten, was to enroll the neediest students and to help public schools by finding new ways to help struggling students succeed:

“We have a charter school here in NH called the academy of science and design that does the same thing. They state on their website that if you are not in the gifted program at your public school and a participant in first robotics or destination imagination you will most likely not succeed at their school. They also ask you to take an entrance exam. If you don’t score an 80 or above, your parents must meet admin for counseling. If parents refuse counseling they must sign something saying they refused. What a joke. They defend these practices by saying that it’s all part of the school’s mission. Why are they allowed to cherry pick like this? Of course, they have the highest test scores in the state which makes the ignorant masses think charters are superior to public schools.”

New Hampshire teacher Shawna Coppola wonders how to define a good school. She explains why the school she teaches in is an excellent school that defies all the current reforms and educates all children to meet their needs, not to raise their scores. The school may be closed because of the cost of renovations; besides, it does not have the cachet of the districts with high scores. This crazy notion that beloved community public schools should be closed is recent in our history, dating only to No Child Left Behind. That now discredited law decreed that schools must be subject to a cascade of sanctions, including closure, if their test scores don’t move towards 100% proficiency in grades 3-8. Never before in our history were public schools closed except for shrinking enrollments or consolidation of facilities—but not for test scores. Many states have adopted A-F grading systems, but those are overly simplistic and they rely too much on standardized test scores. How should we judge a school?

 

Here are Shawna’s thoughts on what makes a good school:

 

Recently a news item came out on our local NH station, WMUR, which listed the top 50 elementary schools in the state of NH. Previous to this, Newsweek had published their 2014 list of America’s Top High Schools. Both times, the district in which I live made the list. Our local high school was listed as the one of the best high schools in America, while our two elementary schools ranked near the top in the state of NH, respectively. You can find Newsweek’s list here (http://www.newsweek.com/high-schools/americas-top-schools-2014) and WMUR’s list here:http://www.wmur.com/news/30456516.

 

Over ten years ago, my husband and I moved to this highly-rated district so that our children could attend the schools here, which we had heard wonderful things about. By most accounts, the schools in the district are “excellent” schools. What people tend to mean by this is that the students in our district perform well on state-wide standardized assessments and on AP exams, graduate from the high school, and tend to matriculate at college immediately following graduation.

 

This used to impress me–at least, it did when I was still a wide-eyed classroom teacher only a few years out of college. With each passing year, however, it impresses me less and less.

 

The reason for this is because over the years, and through my experience as an educator, I have come to understand what it really means to be a school of excellence versus a school that is merely good at playing the game (or is lucky enough to be situated in an involved, highly literate, financially stable community). I do not believe ours is a bad or a poor district–far from it–but is it excellent? Does it deserve its place at the “top?” The short answer for me, as a parent to two students in the district, is…well, no. (I would be happy to elaborate further if you are interested.)

 

Alternatively, I believe that the school I work in now, Rollinsford Grade School, is one of the most excellent schools in which I have ever worked–even ever set foot in. If I were not here, working as a literacy specialist in grades K-6, I likely would not be working anywhere (in public school, that is). We have a long way to go, and can always improve, of course, but in all essence, Rollinsford is my dream school. At Rollinsford, we truly attend to the whole child. The social, emotional, and physical development of our students is just as important, if not more important, as their academic growth. We have worked hard to incorporate a sense of authentic inquiry into everything we–and our students– do. Our students have a voice, and their voice is heard and acted upon. We believe that there are a myriad number of ways that students can–and do–succeed. Each member of the faculty and staff identifies as a learner herself. Each of us goes above and beyond what is expected.

 

And yet, Rollinsford Grade School placed 130th out of 243 NH schools–in the bottom half. When I dug into the methodology used to complete these rankings, I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was highly flawed (you can find my somewhat detailed analysis here: http://mysocalledliteracylife.com/2015/01/04/unique-insight-into-schools-um-no/). Flawed not because of the science used, but because of the factors that were analyzed. Not one factor that went into ranking NH’s elementary schools included the factors that I, and most of my fellow educators, value– classroom pedagogy, school culture, student voice and choice, community outreach, etc. Sure, the rankings included analysis of surveys that were sent out to students, parents, and alumni of each school, but a district only needed 11 completed surveys per district to have its results counted toward the ratings. I’m sure it’s no surprise that the most affluent districts in the state, and the ones most likely to have more highly educated parents, fewer transient families, and less poverty (including the one in which I live), came out on top.

 

And now, with our enrollment decreasing each year and the need for minimal renovations that would bring a 78 year-old building up to code, Rollinsford Grade School is in the position of potentially being shut down, our students shipped off to a mediocre school district in the next town over. My colleagues and I–and many of our parents, whose children thrive here–are heartbroken. Not because we could potentially lose our jobs, but because one of the best schools with some of the most thoughtful, knowledgeable, progressive-minded educators may, someday soon, no longer exist. Because we have worked so hard to honor all of our students, not just those who fit the mold of the “typical” student. Because the children of this community will no longer have an alternative to the traditional, testing-focused, CCSS-centric types of schooling they will get in most other schools.

 

What I often write about–and what I think there needs to be a lot more conversation about, not only within the wider community, but within the world–is what truly makes a school “good” (or even “excellent”). (And is this the same everywhere?) Not for the sake of ranking schools, which is not something I believe does anyone any good, but for the sake of identifying those factors that make a school one in which both teachers and students are happy, safe, and engaged in the joy and the challenge of learning. So that schools that are not excellent can aspire to something–can make positive change toward excellence.

 

I think that in today’s educational culture, it is more important than ever to talk about what truly makes a good school vs. one that is only good at “playing” school. I would love to hear your ideas for how to make this happen.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

 

Best,

Shawna Coppola

Literacy Specialist, Rollinsford Grade School

Rollinsford, NH 03869