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Whitefield school shines in graduation rate rankings – Union Leader

White Mountains Regional High School does it again.  This north country school with high poverty and low resources has scored again in the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings as one of the best schools in the State.  Superintendent Harry Fensom credits the district’s own efforts to build perseverance – and their early implementation of the Common Core standards, which have the same goal. (more…)

Here’s how a Manchester fourth grade teacher has made the new standards work for her

singing class outsideDebbie Villiard, a fourth grade teacher passionately dedicated to the kids at Manchester’s Northwest Elementary School, has had great success with the new standards in her classroom.

Here’s what she told me a couple of weeks ago:

How big a change are the new standards?

Common Core standards don’t limit what I do in the classroom – they open doors.  I can use interesting topics from articles or chapter books and dig deeper into literature with the students.  I can teach them to look at the text, see who the source is and see if they believe it. That’s what the standard says.

What I’m teaching hasn’t changed drastically.  But we go deeper and spend more time on skills.  We don’t just teach something and move on.  In math, for instance, we do lots of different activities having to do with place value.  I try to make sure that not only can they do a paper and pencil task but, maybe, a task with place value blocks or a word problem or game that involves, say, adding five ten-thousandths to this number.  I try to make sure they really, really own those skills.

In English, we spend a lot more time looking closely at the text and answering real questions.  There’s no more, “How did you feel when you read that?”  Now it’s, “How did the character feel or why did the character do this?”

We do have teachers’ guides that help with questions on such things as identifying the themes, the skills and the vocabulary.  It’s all right there for the teacher.  But I don’t use those worksheets.

I’m looking for, “What are the things in the new standards that I need to use from that teachers’ guide?” – like identifying the theme, for example.  Say the theme in a given book is “friendship.”  I might draw from the questions in the teacher guide that deal with friendship but leave out the questions that say, “Describe a time when you had a friend”

We just have to pick the parts of existing materials resources that best fit the standards so we don’t have to start from scratch.

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Amazing second grade teacher talks about how her kids are responding to the new standards

Jane Ellwood teaches second grade at Manchester’s Northwest Elementary School, where Principal Shelly Larochelle has been leading a savvy and effective rollout of the new state standards.  Here’s how Ms. Ellwood described her experience to me: (more…)

Here’s how one principal introduced the new standards in her elementary school

Shelly Larochelle grew up just a few yards from what is now Manchester’s Northwest Elementary school, has been an educator there for 17 years and is now the principal.  Her teachers are committed to the State’s new College and Career Ready standards and are reflecting the new standards in their lesson plans.  Here’s how Shelly described the process to me:

Introducing the new standards at Northwest

Implementing the new standards is not a matter of telling teachers, “This is what you have to do. Now have at it.” It’s, “Ok, this is what we need to learn about. Let’s not do anything yet but learn what this is.  Then you’ll be able to make informed decisions in your classroom.  And let’s do it together.  But I also know you don’t have a lot of time.  So let me do some of the legwork first.  And know that there’s always more to uncover.”

We just have those conversations. It’s hard, because we just don’t have the time in the year to really get together and roll this out. But we chip away at it and make a decision that we’re not going to make these big changes until we know what this really is.

Some of our teachers are very well informed about the Common Core.  They’ve gone to the great 10-day program we had here in Manchester last summer.  Or they go to a national conference.  What I’m trying to do is get everybody else in the building to where they are – build that capacity. We look for a balance between, “Let’s do this together,” versus, “This is your responsibility.  Now do it and do it well.”

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McLaughlin Middle School (Manchester) teacher Robin Galeaz asks the Manchester school board to support the new standards

Robin Galeaz is a committed and highly effective 7th grade math teacher at Manchester’s McLaughlin middle school.  She has made great strides in implementing the new standards in her classroom and helping other teachers do the same.  Here is what she told the Manchester Board of City Schools last night:

Mayor Gatsas and Board of School Committee members, Good Evening.  My name is Robin Galeaz and I teach 7th grade math at McLaughlin Middle School.

I am here tonight to add a much needed show of support to the state education standards and the Manchester Curriculum Guides. I would like to focus my thoughts tonight on three areas: education standards, education curriculum and education instruction.

Education Standards are set at the state level. These standards are goals for each child to meet at a specific grade level. New Hampshire introduced Grade Level Expectations/Grade Span Expectations in the mid-2000s. These standards were accepted with little fanfare or dissension.  In 2010, the state adopted new standards entitled, College and Career Ready Standards. Incorporated into these standards/goals are standards that over 40 other states have deemed important for the educational growth of our students.  It has only been in recent months that these standards have been met with dissension.

When the State of NH adopted these new College and Career Ready Standards, they were strengthening the GLEs/GSEs that already existed.  Standards were added, while others were moved from one grade to another grade to allow for a more focused approach, but no standards were discarded. By adopting these new standards the state has increased the expectations of students in terms of how they apply their knowledge and show mastery.

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A teacher’s plea for leadership from the Manchester school board – Selma Naccach-Hoff, English teacher and head of the English department, Manchester High School Central

Here are excerpts (the highlights are mine) from a message sent to the Manchester Board of City Schools by Selma Nacach-Hoff, long-term Manchester educator and now head of the English department at Manchester High School Central:

“Where Do We Go Now?”*

(*Title of an award-winning film addressing how to bridge animosities in Lebanon between Christians and Moslems)

….We’re done with NECAPs in English and Math. We know that there’s some kind of standardized assessment that will take its place.  Our students and our teachers will be held responsible. We want to be able to give our teachers the tools to help them move students in the direction that will help these students succeed in whatever they choose to do.  But we are floundering.  Where do we go? What do we do?

On the high school level, students are assessed based on mastery of competencies. In English (as in all other disciplines) our competencies are rigorous. They’ve always been aligned to state and national standards.  Quite frankly, these competencies are basically the same as the new standards….One shift that we do see is a shift towards more informational text, both in writing and reading.  And we’re already trying to address that.  Another is a greater emphasis on technology, and our district has a comprehensive plan to address that as well.

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Common Core is a success at White Mountains Regional – at very little cost!

Common Core opponents say that the cost of implementing the new standards is burdensome and an “unfunded local mandate.”  But I’d been impressed with the organized and high energy way that the White Mountains Regional School District is rolling out the new standards.  The district is way down the road, under the direction of Superintendent Dr. Harry Fensom and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Melissa Keenan.  This small, North Country school district even has teams of coaches in each school dedicated to coaching the classroom teachers.

When I asked Dr. Fensom how costly that high-energy Common Core rollout was, he said:

The White Mountains Regional School District’s implementation of the NH Career and College Standards, New Hampshire’s standards based on the Common Core State Standards, has to date required no increase in the district-approved budget.

The new standards have been implemented in all WMRSD classrooms.  We have seen some increases in costs for technology hardware and infrastructure which were not absolutely necessary but will allow us to reduce the testing time.

With regard to curriculum, training, etc. there have been no increases to accommodate CCSS. We have used the same funding sources (budget , Grants and some surplus) to meet these needs.

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Portsmouth’s New Franklin Elementary School gets results by eliminating the distractions and concentrating on learning

I’m with George Shea, New Franklin’s principal since 2005, and we have just dropped into a classroom where a half dozen 4th graders are sitting at a low table with their teacher, learning that if you multiply a number by a fraction, the resulting number is smaller.  Back in the hallway, we steer around Jeremy and his reading specialist sitting against the wall with a book of historical fiction in which Jeremy’s copy has yellow stickies in every direction to indicate words he didn’t know or anything else important, like key points in the story or his thoughts about what was coming next.

We pass a 5th grade boy going with his teacher to toss a ball for five minutes. Then one of the smaller kids is purposefully carrying out his assignment to lug this heavy backpack down to Ms. Roberts at the other end of the hall.  They’re both on  “motor breaks,” and then return ready to sit down and concentrate again.

writing about the revolution

Writing about the Revolutionary War

We drop in on a classroom filled with 5th graders on computers writing “persuasive” essays about the Revolutionary War. The teacher checks in over their shoulders commenting and helping them sharpen their conclusions.

Then two teachers appear, each with an arm under one of a little boy’s shoulders.  They are holding Peter, a kindergartener, just off the ground as they walk calmly but quickly down the hall.  He’s calm too.  George, the principal, is concerned but says that a dozen of his teachers are trained in what’s called “Therapeutic Crisis Intervention,” a method of de-escalating and heading off behavioral issues before they get out of hand.  It gets to this level maybe several times each school year.  Half an hour later when we walk by his classroom, Peter is reading happily on the floor with his teacher and a classmate.

New Franklin is a “Title I school,” meaning that it gets extra federal support to reach children at risk of failing.  About 36% of New Franklin students are qualified for the federal free and reduced lunch program.  In years past, New Franklin’s scores in state-wide tests did indeed reflect the challenges faced by the low income neighborhoods they serve. But recently, the improvements have been dramatic.

Eighty six percent of New Franklin students are now proficient in math and 91% are proficient in reading. Those are amazing numbers. And the school has done it the hard way. While high achievers’ scores have improved, New Franklin has at the same time been closing the gap between low income students and the best performers. Seventy six percent of low income kids are now proficient in math and 78% are proficient in reading.

The accomplishments of New Franklin and many New Hampshire public schools are taking place in the midst of an acrimonious national debate about the future of American public education.  Broadly stated, proponents of “education reform” say something like this:

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A sampling of New Hampshire religious schools and their curricula

Here is a constantly expanding “inventory” of New Hampshire’s religious schools in a form that is easy to scan to see what they’re about.

The Bethlehem Christian School, an unaccredited K-12 school with 22 students and 2 teachers in Bethlehem, says that it “was founded in 1997 as a ministry of Bethlehem Christian Center, with the original intent of supporting the Christian churches of the North Country by providing a superior, Bible-based education for their children.”  Tuition is $2,500.  Bethlehem relies heavily on the ACE curriculum, saying, “our doctrinal statement very closely parallels the Statement of Faith of our accrediting, supervising, curriculum provider – Accelerated Christian Education Ministries.” Creationism is integral to the curriculum.

  • From a typical science:”True science will never contradict the Bible because God created both the universe and Scripture…If a scientific theory contradicts the Bible, then the theory is wrong and must be discarded.” 
  • Social studies: “The New Deal programs were based on the humanistic, socialistic philosophy that the ‘end justifies the means.’ To achieve FDR’s goal of halting the depression, Congress was willing to spend more than it had. Because of this overspending, the government raised taxes.”

Brentwood (Lighthouse) Christian Academy, an unaccredited preK-2 and 9-12 school with 8 students and 4 teachers in Brentwood, says that it “is a private entity and a ministry of Grace Ministries International.”  The say their goal is “to prepare students to be leaders in their world. The foundation of the educational program at BCA is the Word of God. We have found that students learn more effectively, understand their world more completely, and will change their world more powerfully when they view every aspect of their lives through the lens of God’s Word.”   Tuition is $4,500-$6,500.  BCA is  a member of the Association of Christian Schools International ( ACSI) and uses the ACE curriculum.  Biblical teaching is integrated into each course.

  • A sample science text says, “Biblical and scientific evidence seems to indicate that men and dinosaurs lived at the same time…. Fossilized tracks in the bed of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas, also give evidence that men and dinosaurs existed simultaneously. Fossilized human footprints and three-toed dinosaur tracks occur in the same rock stratum…. That dinosaurs existed with humans is an important discovery disproving the evolutionists’ theory that dinosaurs lived 70 million years before man. God created dinosaurs on the sixth day. He created man later the same day.”
  • The social science text says, for instance, “South Africa’s apartheid policy encouraged whites, Blacks, Coloureds, and Asians to develop their own independent ways of life. Separate living area and schools made it possible for each group to maintain and pass on their culture and heritage to their children….Blacks in South Africa earn more money and have higher standards of living than Blacks in other African countries.”

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Religious school curricula: a potent mix of religion and politics

The great majority of voucher and education tax credit schools around the country are religious schools.  For instance, in Florida’s six year-old education tax credit program that was, in many ways, a model for the New Hampshire program, over 73% of the schools, with 83% of the students, are  religious schools.  This ratio of religious schools is typical in voucher programs around the country.  While some are the traditional Catholic schools, the fundamentalist Christian schools are at the heart of the push  for voucher tax credits. In fact, voucher and religious school leaderships are so intertwined, you could almost say that the voucher movement is really about moving public dollars in Christian-based education.  But it’s not just Christian education, it’s the conservative Christian political views that have become familiar in the political arena. You see it in this recent speech by Tim LaHaye, high profile minister, writer and Christian school entrepreneur on the Christian Right:

…We are being destroyed in America by the public school systems of our country….and I’d like to see you join me in prayer that God would let us wrestle control of the American school system from the secularists, the anti-Christians and anti-Americans that want to bend the minds of our children. At our expense, they want to take the most priceless thing we have -the brains of our children – and let them educate them….That doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m hoping that this conservative movement will be long enough to get a majority who can vote what I consider a new bill of rights – a bill of parental rights where parents can decide where to send their children to school.

Pastor LaHaye is making the same voucher pitch Milton Friedman did, but stirring his theology into it.   The “parental rights” rap he uses is the rational for many bills, including the voucher tax credit, offered by libertarian conservatives in the New Hampshire Legislature.  Pastor LaHaye continues:

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