New Education Minimum Standard Rules Criticized at Hearing 

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Fed Bramante, president of the National Center for Competency-Based Learning, is pictured at Wednesday's public hearing.


CONCORD — Almost everyone testifying on the changes proposed to the state’s education minimum standards at Wednesday’s public hearing had concerns it would exacerbate the current inequity of educational opportunities for students in the state.

Students are victims “of the zip code lottery,” said Christi Michaud, superintendent of Milford schools, because of the dependence on property taxes for funding, and the proposed changes would make the situation worse. 

She and many of the others testifying were concerned the proposed changes would lower the existing minimum standards, remove limits on class size, make many standards optional not mandatory, and no longer require certified teachers and professionals.

Others were concerned the proposal would do away with local control, a hallmark for public education in the state, and move toward privatizing education and away from what one person called the great equalizer “public education.”

One person told the State Board of Education, which will ultimately decide on the changes to the “306 rules” or minimum standards, the changes would impact education in New Hampshire for decades to come and students for their lifetimes.

Others noted the current proposal before the board does not incorporate some proposals from educators and other professionals that have been drafted in a new round of reviews, after many questioned why they were not involved in the original drafting of the rules. The draft before the board, reflects a bill proposed by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut last session, that would have removed many of the current adequate education requirements established as a result of court rulings on the public education system and program areas under the minimum standards, but failed to pass the legislature.

The state board hired the National Center for Competency-Based Learning, whose president is former State School Board Chair Fred Bramante of Durham, to draft revisions of the standards in 2021.

Bramante used a seven-member task force to develop the proposed changes and submitted them last summer, but educational organizations along with news organizations pushed for greater transparency in the process and additional sessions with a second group have been held along with educators doing their own reviews and proposing changes to the proposal before the board.

The public hearing Wednesday before the State Board was on a proposal from Bramante’s group.

Bramante said at the public hearing “we have done our job well and led a more inclusive effort than in all the 30 (rewrites) combined.”
He noted New Hampshire led the nation in using a competency-based learning model for kindergarten to 12th grade students, but has lost ground to some other states.

“These revisions will once again put New Hampshire in its rightful place of national leader,” Bramante told the board. “This will give students more ownership of their education.”

Mark MacLean, executive director of the School Administration Association, who worked with a group to propose changes to the rules proposal, said he hopes the board will consider making it better, but was concerned about eliminating class size limits, noting they are essential in establishing budgets and scheduling for students.

“This is a great opportunity the state board has in front of them today,” MacLean said, “for a hallmark effort for students to continue their learning and to empower educators across the state.”
Others noted a political bent to what was proposed.

“The 306 rules are not a political playground to advance one party’s agenda, no matter what party it is,” said Robert Malay, Superintendent of SAU 29, which includes Keene.

“The rules exacerbate the high level of mistrust of the state’s educational leadership.” 

He said 91 percent of the people surveyed do not support the revisions presented to the board in February.

“The changes not only impact more than 160,000 students enrolled in public schools,” Malay said, “they also impact their families, staff and the communities.”
Janet Ward of Hopkinton, who is vice president of the League of Women Voters NH, said she has asked Edelblut in the past what he believes the role of public schools is in a democracy, but has never received an answer.

She said her organization considered the question and after much discussion and debate “we believe public schools are essential in our democracy and we voted to support our public schools.”
 Today she said she wants to ask Edelblut one question: “Why are you considering revisions to the 306 rules that so clearly and blatantly undermine our public schools?”

State Board of Education chair Drew Cline, said the purpose was for the board to hear testimony on the revisions of the rules, not to have conversations, and Ward said she was not anticipating a conversation.

SAU 19 superintendent Brian Balke, who lives in New Boston, said he has a premise for the changes the board is considering in its rules, to save the state money.

“Ideologically and philosophically one can make the case the purpose is to reduce what the state is potentially responsible  for when it comes to funding education,” Balke said. “The premise is if you reduce the standards, you reduce what the state has to pay.”
Adam Osburn of Goffstown echoed similar sentiments, saying by changing “shall” to “may” throughout the standards, which makes it optional and not mandatory, that will make it easier for school districts to reduce or cut programs if property taxes increase and students will lose access to those opportunities.

That, no limit on class size, and not having to hire certified teachers will open the door wider to the disparity between school districts, he said, and that is a long-standing flashpoint in our state.

Longtime educator Dean Cascadden said he has lived in lakefront communities and in property poor communities and also worked in both and there is no comparison to the opportunities for the students in the property wealthy communities.

The disparity is one reason you should not lower the standards or make them voluntary because they are the baseline for all school districts, he said.   

“The306 rules are critical in making an unfair system work,” Cascadden said.

Michaud agreed, saying lowering the standards will mean some students will lose access.

“Weakening the requirements widens the gap to access and opportunity, putting every child’s future in jeopardy,” she said. “Kids are not customers, you cannot allow a family’s resources to dictate education.”
Dover School Board member Micaela Demeter also expressed concerns about the proposed rules saying they absolve the state from paying for an adequate education for the state’s students, while local property taxes pay 70 percent of the cost of public education.

And she said they would exacerbate the inequities that are in place now. “You are sending the wrong message to the education community,” Demeter said.

Once the standards “are watered down” they will not mean the same thing from district to district and “and you will diminish equity across the state.”

NEA NH president Megan Tuttle said educators have had to fight their way to the table from the beginning of the revision process.

“While NEA-New Hampshire has taken every opportunity to share our feedback and amplify educator input, the New Hampshire Department of Education’s current proposal fails to address many of the concerns identified by public education leaders,” Tuttle said. “We hope that the Department and State Board of Education will continue to work with stakeholders and the public to produce a revision of the 306 Rules that will help to guarantee no matter where a student lives, they receive consistent access to quality education.”

David Trumble of Weare told the board the proposed rules will change state policy and that is not the purview of the state board or the department.

“An agency cannot make changes of this magnitude,” he said, noting the standards for “art, health and physical education are eliminated.”
These are changes in education policy, Trumble said, and only the legislature can do that.

Deb Howes, president of the American Federation of Teachers NH said the rules have to say all the schools in the Granite State have standards that treat students equally and adequately no matter where in the state they live, whether it be Berlin or Bedford, or Franklin or Windham.

What the new rules would do is not make the education as robust for students in Berlin as in Bedford, she said.

Greg Leonard of Keene, a public school teacher, said if the board approves the new rules, “you will do irreparable harm to children in our state.”
He said there is no evidence to justify the changes that are being proposed and no opportunity for the public to challenge them.

“You are bypassing the democratic process and New Hampshire’s long tradition of local control over education,” he said.

Due to the weather Wednesday, the board will hold the comment period on the first half of the 306 rules open for the hearing on the second half of the proposed changes April 11 beginning at noon in the Department of Education building at 25 Hall Street, Concord.

The board has to decide the final rule changes to be presented to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.

The legislative committee cannot force the state board to change its proposed rules, but can object to them.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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