The education of New Hampshire students is critically important to the company I lead, Northeast Delta Dental. This is why I am involved in every way I can be, currently as chairman of the New Hampshire State Board of Education and of the New Hampshire Coalition for Business & Education.
The Department of Education and New Hampshire teachers have been working with what became the Common Core State Standards since I joined the State Board in 2007. So, I voted enthusiastically for the new standards when they were completed in July 2010.
And now, as chairman, I have the opportunity to speak with teachers all over New Hampshire about how the new standards are working in their classrooms. I hear wide acceptance and appreciation for how important an accomplishment Common Core has been.
Simpler. Clearer. More focused. “Now we have the opportunity to help each student make the most progress she can.” These are the kinds of reactions I receive.
Melissa Keenan, assistant superintendent at White Mountains Regional School District, testified to the House Education Committee that, “in 2010, when we adopted the Common Core State Standards, we were a district in crisis.” Now the district’s results are much improved, and Common Core is “challenging our students to read and write critically across the curriculum (and) research an argument that is well supported.”
White Mountains Regional has accomplished this at very little cost. Pittsfield superintendent John Freeman spoke for the superintendents I previously spoke with when he said at a recent Education Committee hearing, “we are engaged in continuous improvement, and we just integrated this latest upgrade in standards into our normal course of standard operations.”
In spite of these great successes at low cost, we now have five separate bills in the New Hampshire House seeking to reverse the gains we have made in these last years.
I am aware, as we all are, of the controversy surrounding the standards and the difficulties some states have experienced while implementing the standards in a way that benefits children. That is why I am all the more proud of our accomplishments here in New Hampshire.
There is no question about the quality of the Common Core standards themselves, but a lot of the opposition may come from a fear of the new test. People have heard that our new Smarter Balanced Assessment is “high stakes,” like similar tests in New York and other states.
But other states’ experience is not a forecast for New Hampshire. We have avoided those mistakes.
Our Department of Education negotiated the best No Child Left Behind waiver in the country. With the support of the legislature, our teachers, their unions and our superintendents, the waiver allowed us to implement the new standards and the required annual assessments in a way that supports teachers and learning. We have avoided the high stakes approach taken by other states.
In the first two years, there is no federal requirement that the annual tests play any role at all in teacher evaluation. After that, while student performance must be part of the evaluation in Title I schools, the annual assessment need only be a minimal part of that performance assessment. These kinds of decisions continue to be left to the local school districts.
Our student data will not be at risk either. New Hampshire leads the country in protecting student data. While the new test creates no new risks, Rep. Neal Kurk of Weare, author of our existing privacy protections, has worked with the Department of Education on a bill to update existing law to reflect new data security realities. I hope this effort gets strong bipartisan support.
Northeast Delta Dental relies, as do other major New Hampshire companies, on New Hampshire public education at all levels. We require critical thinkers who can engage our customers in a literate and confident way, and solve problems that require strong foundation knowledge and a range of math, statistical and writing skills. With the adoption of the Common Core standards, New Hampshire companies can be confident that our educators share that goal.
Northeast Delta Dental applauds the dedicated work of our New Hampshire educators in putting these improved standards to work in the classroom for our students.
It would be a blow to New Hampshire companies and to New Hampshire public education if any of these anti-Common Core bills were to become law.
Tom Raffio is president and CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, chairman of the State Board of Education, and co-chairman of the NH Coalition for Business and Education.