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New Hampshire education commissioner briefs educators and school board members as opponents heckle

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Here’s the Union Leader coverage of a meeting in Bedford Monday night in which Department of Education Commissioner Virginia Barry briefed superintendents and school board members on the new Common Core State Standards.  It was targeted for disruption by Common Core opponents in fully cry.  With the Manchester School District is in the midst of a high stakes debate, Mayor and School Board Chair Ted Gatsas also had a number of questions.  Here it is, interspersed with my notes and comments:

BEDFORD — State education commissioner Virginia Barry attempted to explain the controversial Common Core state education standards before an audience that included many skeptics with questions about the system and whether it’s a good move for students.

This opening has some unnecessary spin.  The Commissioner explained the standards fully to the intended audience of 90 or so superintendents and school board members who were by and large, supportive, the main exception being Mayor Gatsas.  In addition, Common Core opponents, organized for disruption, disrupted as much as possible.

Berry spoke at a meeting of the state’s school administrators in Bedford this week.

But school board members, educators and parents from the Greater Manchester area also showed up for the meeting.

The meeting as sponsored by the school administrators but both superintendents and school board members from southern New Hampshire were invited.  There may have been other educators and parents there but most of the others attending were the organized Common Core opponents.

Some in the audience, including Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who chairs the city’s Board of School Committee, said Barry’s presentation left too many questions unanswered.

The “some in the audience” is the advocates.  The report risks confusing readers by mixing all this up.

Later this month, the Manchester board will again consider whether to adopt the Common Core, an educational program covering all grades that the federal Department of Education is encouraging school districts nationwide to adopt.

Dissenting districts are afraid that they may lose federal aid and eventually state funding if the don’t follow the nationalized education plan.

“Nationalized education plan?”  This report is veering off into never-never land.  The Union Leader is usually a little better about keeping the editorializing on the editorial page.

In response to a question from Gatsas, Barry said local districts can put off implementation until 2015 and referred to “assessments” that would then be taken of local districts to determine if they are meeting student needs.

Gatsas said the assessments have not been fully explained to local communities so that educators know what is coming next. He added that Barry’s statement that “the windows closes in two years” is “too little information” for a school district that depends on state and federal sources for $77 million. Manchester schools receive $21 million from the United States and $56 million from New Hampshire.

Manchester is more dependent on state and federal funding than any other city in New Hampshire.

Gatsas said he worries that city schools will be at a disadvantage because a large segment of the public school enrollment consists of non-English-speaking students.

“The question is, what will we do after two years,” Gatsas said. “If we’re still waiting for (a) waiver not to have to test students that aren’t even proficient in their own language, I hope we can step back and tell the federal government we don’t want to play any more.”

This whole section about assessments and two year windows is so confused that it’s impossible to untangle.  But here’s a stab.

The new assessments – tests – aligned with the Common Core will indeed be administered by spring of 2015.  Manchester’s English language learners will take the test just as they take the current tests and their results will be reviewed against that background, just as they are now.  There is no new burden on the school district or the students.

The mayor’s two year window idea may be a reference to the fact that the State’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Education that waives the requirements of No Child Left Behind and gives the State the latitude to carry out our own education strategy – the best waiver agreement in the country – is a two year agreement, as all waivers are.  At that point, the U.S. DOE checks back on whether the NHDOE has done what it said it would do when applying for the waiver.  Unlike many other states that promised more than they could deliver, New Hampshire put the pieces in place first and negotiated an agreement that supports all that.  There is no reason to anticipate objections from the federal government.  And if there were objections, it would be a problem of the New Hampshire Department of Education, not the Manchester School District.

Barry broke down Common Core requirements during her presentation, but some segments of the audience appeared to have already reached a conclusion on the suggested curriculum.

Yes…the organized opponents.  There was no indication that the southern New Hampshire superintendents and school board members other than Mayor Gatsas objected.

Many the audience came wearing red as a sign of opposition to the proposed overhaul of public education. Some objected to the general idea of the federal government seemingly imposing its will on local school districts, while others say they find fault with the specific curriculum structure and testing plans.

Barry challenged the critics of the program in the audience, saying it is not a program being forced on the country and that the standards are a guideline developed by educators and administrators nationwide.

“It’s new to us, it’s change and sometimes it’s hard to accept that change process,” Barry said at the sessions, which was officially a meeting of the state School Administrators Association south central district.

Manchester’s Curriculum and Instruction Committee stalled in two separate meetings as it tried to reach a consensus on Common Core and ended up sending the matter to the full board without a recommendation for formal consideration on Oct. 16.

“We will have to have a discussion at that meeting,” Gatsas said. “We may develop a set of Manchester standards and make sure the students reach them,”

Gatsas said Manchester may follow the lead of Massachusetts, which developed its own curriculum frameworks and assessment tests.

“The Massachusetts standards that have taken them from the bottom to near the top, that might be something we want to extract some standards from,” Gatsas said.

This is no serious prospect for this.

A comment from Barry that the federal government is not leading the Common Core push was met by audible groans from the audience.

But the education commissioner was cheered when she said the state could have the option to leave the Smarter Balance tests if it chooses and go with a combination of PSAT and SAT college entrance exams.

Barry said Common Core is about better preparing students for the future.

“I hear all too often that the students don’t care,” she said. “Yeah they do, but they have to be in an environment that makes sense to them and they want to be fully engaged.”

via State education commissioner’s Common Core presentation brings skeptics out to Bedford – Union Leader.


  1. Other school board members spoke out. One spoke out against data-mining and said Virginia Barry didn’t accurately cover this issue, nor was he happy with her disrespectful remark that “no student has ever been shot” as a evidence that the assessments are not punitive.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      Point taken, though I don’t think the report represented that accurately either.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      Also…you do know that whole data mining business is bogus, right? Just read Rep. Cormier’s pitch for it on your web site. USDOE changing the law, InBloom, Bill Gates…. Give me a break. But You don’t need all this. Just follow one piece of data the Feds shouldn’t have. Show how it starts at the kid or the school and gets to the Feds.

      • NH was given federal funds to set up a P20 longitudinal database, which has been up and running since April 2012. There are 400 data points collected on each student, including personal data, health information, etc. FERPA regulations have been relaxed to eliminate the need for parental consent. State law relies on FERPA. The federal government is prohibited from establishing or collecting this information, but states are being funded to create and share this student information in a uniform manner. This information can now go to non-governemental entities for profit. This is data mining and it is a huge concern for most parents.

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