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The waiver of No Child Left Behind is good, but there’s a bigger story than that

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The U.S. Department of Education granted the State of New Hampshire its “flexibility waiver” Wednesday, enabling our schools to replace the destructive No Child Left Behind requirements with a new school improvement plan. (Here is the Union Leader story.)

You could say this is big deal because the waiver gets us out from under an arbitrary No Child Left Behind school rating system that provided unjustified fodder for those who wanted to bash our schools and teachers. Some will say we accomplished that by sacrificing local control of our school systems to the federal government. Did we?

We didn’t. And that’s the really big deal. It took 10 months of negotiating, but we seem to have given up nothing in for the flexibility waiver.

What did happen is that New Hampshire has replaced No Child Left Behind with its own education strategy. That required a long term vision by our department of education and the support of a bewildering number of players, including two governors, the Legislature, teachers, superintendents and school board leadership throughout the state. But now there’s a real next generation plan in place for managing New Hampshire public education. Here are the key pieces:

Statewide standards

Most school districts are well into the process of rolling out the Common Core State Standards for math and English in their classrooms. This is not a capitulation to the federal department of education. These are standards have become controversial in the media, but not in New Hampshire classrooms. Teachers who have implemented them seem to like it. Here’s one example.

Beyond the Common Core standards, New Hampshire’s overall system of standards is getting put into a more coherent and usable form.

And the move toward competency based learning has begun. (This legislation, currently in committee, would be part of the next step if it passes.)


A new and improved annual student test, Smarter Balanced, will be used starting in 2015. This could lead to fewer total tests, and better designed test, for each student each year. In spite of what you hear, there will be no more student data shared than in the past and costs will not go up.

School Improvement

Instead of the flawed No Child Left Behind scheme, we will now have a new, regionally-based, system for working with schools that need help, either because they have low student achievement or some groups of students are falling behind. This needed legislation that passed yesterday.

Teaching Evaluation

A model teaching evaluation system, developed by New Hampshire educators, is available to guide all New Hampshire schools. Most RTTT states have built punitive evaluation systems that mandate that 50% of the evaluation is based on student testing. In New Hampshire, the 224 schools that receive federal Title I schools will be required to make student growth (not necessarily measured by tests) at least 20% of their teaching evaluation systems, a lower percentage than the federal education department appears to have required in any other state. For the remaining 244 schools, districts must develop a system “with the involvement of teachers and principals,” (legislation just passed) but are free to use the state model or another approach, including student testing or not.

The New Hampshire Department of Education seems to have fit these and other pieces together into a next generation of New Hampshire public education, negotiating with educators and legislators back home while protecting New Hampshire from the federal government’s punitive education reform agenda.

That’s what should be seen as a big deal.


  1. Scott Marion says:

    Bill, You’ve accurately characterized the terrific work by Commissioner Barry and her key staff members. The “negotiations” with the feds seemed endless and at times the NH DOE leadership felt like Charlie Brown with the U.S. Department acting as Lucy, always pulling the football away at the last minute. Well, NH finally kicked a field goal!!

    • Bill Duncan says:

      Very true. Commissioner Barry’s vision has made New Hampshire is an island of sanity in the national education reform debate. But most people don’t know that. Maggie Hassan should make sure voters know how important it is to protect what we have and that teachers know that, no matter what they hear in the news, she has their backs.

  2. wgersen says:

    Kudos to Ginny Barry for holding the line. This looks like a win for NH educators AND students! The NHDOE’s focus on individual competencies implicit in SB 82 is also a step in the right direction. NH is showing how it is possible to implement the CCSS without overemphasizing standardized tests.

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