What do you do with a Commissioner who talks about our schools only in terms of failure and whose education strategy for the future is private school vouchers?
Leading a large education system is a complex undertaking. It takes real…well…leadership. Is there another Commissioner in the country with such a rhetoric of failure? An education leader would normally convene parents and educators seeking engagement around a vision for what is possible. If math achievement is low, what’s our strategy? If our schools could do more to reach students with special needs, how do we support their efforts to do that?
We used to do that. As a result, New Hampshire leads the national movement to progress beyond the industrial model toward a form of personalized learning that guides and supports each student in choices his or her path. Our current education Commissioner cribs the language of student centered options and choices, but his real message is that our schools have failed and the solution is private school vouchers.
Watch this video. This is the stump speech the Commissioner frequently gives. In this case he’s speaking to the Rochester 911 organization, a libertarian/tea party group apparently headed by former Rep. Susan DeLemus. Ms. Delemus introduces Commissioner Edelblut as the only thing Governor Sununu has done right, and it is clear the Commissioner is at home in this room full of friends.
The Q&A, where the Commissioner probably expanded on his “choice” strategy, is not recorded, but here are some notes on the presentation itself. Click on the timing marks to hear each point.
At the 4m15s mark, Commissioner Edelblut opens with the standard “stand and deliver” description of what teachers did in a classroom organized on the industrial model – move the students through in age cohorts in which a few students learn and most don’t, but most all graduate without the knowledge they need to succeed. He talks as if New Hampshire’s years of moving away from that model to a much more demanding role for teachers hadn’t happened. He could talk about what’s happening in Laconia. Or how easy would it have been for an education leader who was in touch with his schools to say, “We’ve got a lot still to do, but the schools right here in Rochester are leading the way with one of the most ambitious personalization strategies in the State. Why, in in middle school Geometry, they’re….”
All Commissioner Edelblut’s stories are told at the expense of the student, the teacher, the administrator, or the schools. Contrast this with a leader who might indeed identify the challenges facing public schools, but would go on to call out what is best in his educators and schools to illustrate the ideals and strategies he wants to strive for.
Instead, at 6:20 Commissioner Edelblut characterizes a middle school principal as a manipulative guy trying to show off for the Commissioner but getting shown up by a student.
And at 8:40, he ridicules a student who uses “good” vs. “well”, teeing up the assertion that our schools fail the students who go to the Career Technical Education programs.
At 10:11, the Commissioner twists a teacher’s vernacular phrase about “getting to June” into an accusation that she doesn’t understand the goal of education. This gives him the opportunity to do a version of the one-size-doesn’t-fit-all rap, the primary refrain of private school voucher advocates.
Then he moves on to academic performance. At 11:56, we hear that New Hampshire schools are at the top compared with other states (…and what does that tell you, he wonders) but they are really very bad. Although only a few kids reach the learning goals, we accept that and promote them anyway.
But students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch (FRL) do even worse (13:10). Here the New Hampshire Commissioner of Education misstates one of the most fundamental numbers familiar to every educator. He defines FRL as 300% of poverty, when that actual number is much lower, 185% of poverty.
The punchline comes at 14:15: The system has failed. Why would you stick with such a system? You might try something different. You might go in a different direction. More of the same thing won’t work.
Commissioner Edelblut’s solution comes at 17:30: “I’m an advocate for options for our students.” This is the pivot point. Depending on the audience, he can advocate for options and choice in the public schools, asserting that personalization is not far along in New Hampshire’s schools (in spite of the fact that people come from all over the country to learn how our schools have moved beyond the old industrial model). He can even say grace over an new program to help Rochester students align their studies with their career goals.
But if he’s got a like-minded audience such as Rochester 911, even right there in Rochester, he does not bring up exciting Rochester innovations. After his indictment of the schools he is responsible for, he can return to his overriding vision: we should give children private schools vouchers instead.
Our public school students are not getting the commitment they deserve from their state government. The Commissioner charged with leading our system has settled for indicting our schools as a failed project. New Hampshire’s children deserve better than that.