The Common Core is an outdated political marker at this point but it is still part of the government-schools-have-failed-so-we-need-school-choice debate so it is worth reviewing a sample of the strong support the State Board of Education has heard for the standards in recent months. Here’s a November 8th oped about that from Bill Duncan in the Concord Monitor:
The New Hampshire State Board of Education, with seven members appointed by the governor, has always been important work, hearing appeals from local boards, writing the rules to implement statutes, establishing academic standards. But since Gov. Chris Sununu’s election, the state board has become a central forum for the debate about New Hampshire public schools.
The standards debate, for instance, has been long settled in New Hampshire classrooms. In earnest day-to-day use by our teachers, the new standards have worn well, garnering broad support among educators, parents and school leaders.
But as Commissioner Frank Edelblut said when proposing his plan to revise the English and math standards at a recent state board meeting, “Elections have consequences.” So this spring and summer, the board became a forum for testimony that was essentially a report back from our classrooms and dining room tables on how the standards have been working.
Commissioner Edelblut led off in June asking, “Is Common Core getting the job done?” Reading quotes from the web and citing high community college remediation rates, his answer was, “No.”
Mary Wilke of Concord responded by email, saying: “The standards require that high school juniors and seniors ‘examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis of content.’ It seems safe to say . . . that a high school graduate with full mastery of (these) skills would not need remedial courses at college and would not be seen by an employer as deficient in writing. If a student is unprepared for college/business writing, it’s not because the standards are inadequate, but because for some reason s/he has not achieved them.”
The commissioner went on to make the points frequently heard over the years, that the standards are too complex and not developmentally appropriate, but in response educators and the public engage the debate more than ever before.
NEA N.H. President Megan Tuttle told the board: “The standards themselves provide wide flexibility for varying approaches to curriculum, lesson plans and styles of classroom instruction. Our teachers feel empowered to make changes that might be a better fit with the students in their classrooms. New Hampshire’s ELA and math standards have stood the test of time in our classrooms.
Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen said, “Five years ago we had 27 kids in 8th grade taking Algebra. Today we have 111 kids successfully taking Algebra.”
Stephen McDonough, mathematics teacher and math department chair at Laconia High School, added, “Our SAT scores went up by 20 points last year.”
Merrimack School District Assistant Superintendent Mark McLaughlin told the board, “The Merrimack School District firmly believes that the Common Core State Standards have tremendous value and have been the chief cause of our teachers and our students collective growth.”
Esther Asbell, assistant superintendent at SAU 16 (Exeter), testified, “Any revisions to these N.H. College and Career Standards would invalidate all of the work our teachers have completed over the past five years.”
Hampton Superintendent Kathleen Murphy wrote the board to say: “The math debate . . . has been settled. The teachers recognize that memorization as a sole reliance to learn math does not net the deep understanding students need when they are challenged by higher level mathematics.”
Brittany Pye, Grantham parent and school board member, wrote: “The teachers and administrators at our school do an incredible job balancing the standards and expectations of the state with the real life needs of our students. They take on this work in their own time . . . because they are on the ground every day with these students and they know what works, what doesn’t work, and what will yield the best results.”
And there was strong institutional support. N.H. PTA Executive Director Brenda Willis wrote, “New Hampshire PTA and its 10,000 members urges you to stay the course and keep the English language arts and math . . . standards in place for our students.”
UNH President Mark W. Huddleston wrote the board that “given the current efficacy of the existing standards . . . we do not see a pedagogical justification for (revising the standards) at this time, and warn that creating new standards could have a quite damaging effect on the reform initiatives currently underway.”
Graphicast owner Val Zanchuk told the board on behalf of the Business and Industry Association, “The existing math and language arts standards are sufficiently rigorous and when mastered, will prepare students for college and career success.”
After hearing this kind of testimony from almost 100 people, the state board voted not to undertake a formal standards review that could lead to changes. But the state board (agendas and minutes can be found at education.nh.gov) will continue to be an important forum for New Hampshire’s education policy debates.
(Bill Duncan of New Castle is a member of the New Hampshire Board of Education.)