Dr. Carl Ladd, superintendent of SAU #58 – Groveton, Stark and Stratford in the North Country – and New Hampshire’s 2014 Superintendent of the Year. He took over as SAU #58 superintendent in 2007 but spent two years as superintendent of the Gill-Montague Regional School District in Turners Falls, MA from 2009-2011, before coming back to resume his position in his hometown at SAU #58.
We have a lot to learn from Dr. Ladd and his work with SAU #58, but in this particular post, we’re interested in his comparison of education policy in NH and MA.
Here is an edited excerpt from my discussion with Dr. Ladd:
There are interesting differences between Massachusetts and New Hampshire education policy.
Governor Mill Romney’s Massachusetts Education Reform Act, passed in 1993, gave superintendents a great deal of authority and removed a lot of the School Board authority over personnel decisions and day-to-day management of the district.
The superintendent really became the person who ran the school district – hired, fired, promoted, demoted….. Superintendents no longer had to go to their boards for approval for most positions, other a few like school nurses and assistant superintendents.A superintendent can really run the system
So the superintendent became clearly accountable, which is a good thing. A superintendent can really run the system. The Board oversees the superintendent but, other than that, the superintendent has the legal authority and responsibility to make sure that the system is run correctly.However, the superintendent gets a level of oversight that is nonexistent in New Hampshire
However, the superintendent also gets a level of oversight from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that is really nonexistent in New Hampshire.
The biggest change for me when I went there was to understand that when somebody from the Department of Education came and said, “This is what you have to do,” you did it. In Massachusetts, that meant, “You will do this or there will be implications for you if don’t.”
In New Hampshire, if the department comes and says that you say, “Okay, unless it’s a law, I’ll take it under advisement and if the school district feels that that’s the way we need to go and if my board agrees, then that’s what we’ll do. If not, then we won’t. And thank you very much for your input.”We take 'Live Free or Die' very seriously.
The Massachusetts way was an eye-opener for me, having lived in New Hampshire all my life. We take ‘Live Free or Die’ very seriously. And as you move up 93, it becomes even more pronounced. We’re just going to do it our way.
High stakes testing
But one of the things Massachusetts does do better than we do is high stakes testing – high stakes for the students and high stakes for the parents. The MCAS – Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System – matters in Massachusetts where high school testing here doesn’t matter.If parents want their kids to graduate and go to good schools, they are motivated to participate in MCAS.
If parents want their kids to graduate and go to good schools, they are motivated to participate in MCAS. It’s not all on the teachers and the administrators. Students and their parents have some skin in the game.
Here in New Hampshire, we don’t have something that says, “You need to do well on this in order to graduate or in order to move on to whatever the next phase is.” European countries do it. The more successful states, like Massachusetts.
For us, it’s all about holding teachers accountable to the test, but nobody else is really accountable. In Massachusetts, everybody’s accountable. Obviously it’s incumbent upon the teachers and administrators to do the very best they can, but the students also know that they have to step up as well.
That was especially beneficial at the high school level because kids really really took the test seriously.The downside was that there was too much pressure on the elementary kids.
The downside of that was that there was too much pressure on the elementary kids. As administrators and teachers, we don’t want our schools to be identified as low performing because the department can put all kinds of sanctions on you. And the parents feel that pressure too. Their child must do well.
That gets filtered to the kids no matter how much you try. Some of those kids would just come in in tears because there was so much pressure on the schools and on the teachers.
It was difficult for me, especially as a former elementary principal, to watch all of those things going on with little ones.
But it had a positive impact at the high school level, and overall, I think that’s one of the reasons why their scores went up so dramatically. There was a lot of shared pressure.
The standardsTeachers had a hard time with the Massachusetts standards because they were not written for the average teacher in the classroom.
The MCAS really reflected the fact that the Massachusetts standards were very high but the standards were also very intricate. They set high expectations, but were not very user-friendly. The Common Core state standards are clearer.
Teachers and administrators had a hard time with the Massachusetts standards because they were not written for the average teacher in the classroom. So it was difficult to implement them well.
And there were so many of them. There are a lot of standards and there was no way that you could teach them all. So there was a level of frustration.
Massachusetts adopted the Common Core and then they went above and beyond, especially in the area of math. But that was more political than, than necessary.