Op-Ed: Time for Truth on Proposed Changes to NH’s Educational Standards

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Fred Bramante


Full disclosure: Andy Volinsky and I are friends. We have fought together on education funding issues for 30 years. I was one of the first, if not the first person that Andy called when the Supreme Court came out with its landmark decision on the Claremont Education Funding case in 1999. Andy makes no bones about his politics. He is a proud liberal through and through. I do not say that disparagingly. My politics is murky at best. While I’m a registered Republican, I have voted across party lines in pretty much every election. I often joke that in the dictionary, under the word moderate, is my picture.

Andy has written an op-ed dated April 17th about the current Minimum Standards for Public School Approval, otherwise known as the ED-306s, a project that I am leading for the 3rd time. I led this effort in 1992,  then again in 2005 when the NH State Board of Education made the biggest changes in state education policy anywhere in the country in the past hundred years and started a national movement toward competency-based learning. Despite that, we got push back from some who were alarmed at this drastic change.

Today, virtually every state is  moving in the competency-based direction. And, once again, I’m leading the 306 effort through the nonprofit that I lead, the National Center for Competency-Based Learning. Andy says nothing about me in his article. That’s just my pal Andy not wanting to be critical of his friend. While I thank my friend Andy, my fingerprints, as well as members of our team of public education All-Stars, are on this draft as much as Commissioner Frank Edelblut or State Board Chair Drew Cline’s.  

Andy starts his piece with a Lake Wobegon analogy “where all schools are above minimum standards” he says sarcastically. I believe he’s largely correct in this analogy but, fortunately, his point is being addressed in a way that has never been addressed before. 

Unfortunately, all of us are familiar with national news stories about students who have received high school diplomas yet can’t read. We’re fortunate that we haven’t had those stories embarrass New Hampshire because, if I understand Andy’s point, they were possible. There is nothing in our current minimum standards that articulates a minimum level of skills that a student must have to earn a diploma from a New Hampshire high school! 

However, in this current draft, minimum graduation requirements by subject are now articulated for the first time and have been approved by the heads of the state’s largest teachers’ union and the School Administrators’ Association, clearly a raising of the bar. Yet opponents of the 306 effort who often claim to be nonpartisan, never cite this significant change in the state regulations because it flies in the face of their narrative of ‘lowering standards’ which is simply not true.

In addition to the graduation requirements, there are other changes to the draft 306s that also raise the bar including the clear focus on results/learning. The definition of a high school credit is now all about whether or not the student truly learned and doesn’t include weighted components often used by teachers like homework, class participation, quizzes, etc. to determine whether a student has earned the credit.

The addition of learning levels calls for a ‘move on when ready’ system thus giving students the opportunity to advance and not be slowed down by their age. But, once again, these topics are not even raised.

 Much effort on the part of the 306 critics is placed on the back part of the document  in the curriculum areas that is often referenced by the words ‘shall and may’. They use this as their leading evidence that the standards are being lowered, ignoring that the issue is being dealt with in what has been one of the most inclusive efforts on the 306s in state history with a framework agreed upon by long time educator Christine Downing and Commissioner Edelblut. 

They tell you that the draft removes local control. Totally untrue.

They tell you about potential school funding implications as a result of proposed language changes around class size. Andy knows how passionately I have fought on the issue of school funding. School funding is at the top of my bucket list. But, during our meetings, Dr. Mark MacLean, Executive Director of the School Administrators, made it clear to us that class size was used by many administrators in determining their budgets. While it hasn’t been put into the  document yet, the State Board is aware of this and Drew Cline made a public statement at the hearing that if they can’t find a satisfactory 21st century way to articulate class size it will likely revert to the old language. So, not only has the board said that they are working on it, they’ve articulated their likely solution. But, the anti-306 folks haven’t told you that.

So what else haven’t they told you? We are down to so few real issues because, in this process, we have listened and have acted based on what we’ve heard just like we said that we would. 

I am excited about the possibilities from these new rules and would be happy to debate any credible person on the issue including my great friend and one of the best lawyers in New Hampshire, Andru Volinsky. (Andy clearly likes the notion of going around the state and talking about education funding issues. I’ve been to some of his sessions and remain very supportive.) I’ve done my part  to bring the 306s to the general public and would gladly do more but the ‘progress prevention folks’ seem reluctant to engage so that we can get to the truth.  I’ve challenged them to debate but they’ve said ‘no’.

 I could go on and on about the great things in this document but literally no one brings them up. I’ve stated publicly that I want to speak with the students of New Hampshire about these proposed rules changes. Let’s see what they think about them. 

The real issue from the anti-306ers is that many of these folks don’t like the commissioner and detest the thought that, once again, a truly great document might come out of the New Hampshire Department of Education.   

Fred Bramante is a past chair and longest serving member of the NH State Board of Education in NH history. Under his chairmanship NH became the 1st state to declare that it was moving to a Competency-Based education system which started a national movement to competency-based learning. He is the President of the NH nonprofit National Center for Competency-Based Learning and currently leads the NH Department of Education’s effort to update the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval.

Disclaimer: InDepthNH.org takes no position on political matters, but welcomes diverse opinions. Email nancywestnews@gmail.com

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