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Your Turn, NH -- Ann Marie Banfield: Speak out against Manchester's failed education standards

August 10. 2014 9:49PM

THE MANCHESTER Board of School Committee, after listening to numerous requests from taxpayers and parents, decided to develop rigorous academic standards for the students in the public school system. What first appeared to be a roadmap to success has turned into a lesson in what not to do.

Several months ago, parents and residents spoke loudly at several school board meetings to oppose the Common Core standards that were adopted in 2010 by the New Hampshire Board of Education without asking any of the basic questions one would expect from intelligent, college-educated people.

Parents, teachers and content experts across the country are starting to discover the numerous problems with the Common Core standards. Teachers and parents are pointing to the confusing elementary math curriculum and the lack of high-level STEM-preparatory standards to the developmentally inappropriate primary grade standards as some of the reasons for their strong opposition. 

Manchester administrators and elected officials said they heard the concerns and committed to developing local standards that, according to Mayor Ted Gatsas, would be the best in the state and use Common Core only as a floor. Unfortunately, that never happened.  

After spending more than $60,000 for groups of teachers to develop local standards, it looks like Manchester got what Indiana got from its “revision” process, a warmed-over set of Common Core standards that are worse than what they started with. 

Indiana had some of the best academic standards in the country prior to Common Core. However, during a time of economic hardship in 2010, many governors, commissioners and state boards of signed on to Common Core to secure federal dollars that were up for grabs through Race to the Top grants. States abandoned stronger academic standards for inferior standards for K-12 for the prospect of Race to the Top cash. Indiana parents began waging war on their elected officials once they discovered what was happening in their children’s classrooms.

There was hope when Gov. Mike Pence decided to abandon Common Core and set up a revision committee. They did not realize how duplicitous he was. The committees that his education advisor set up were committed to giving Indiana what many critics refer to as “Common Core Lite” standards. Gov. Pence now pretends he got rid of Common Core, but he made sure he got it back. The standards have a new name, but that didn’t change what was in them.

Why is it so difficult for a state like Indiana and cities like Manchester to develop better standards even when they tell the public they are committed to developing the best standards in the country and state? While all states and local school districts have the legal authority to reject Common Core, develop better standards, and refuse to use Common Core-based tests, as Texas has done, the U.S. Department of Education has attached so many strings to the federal dollars it gives out that it has intimidated fearful school administrators.

The federal Department of Education also implies to state boards of education and superintendents that Common Core is the law of the land, even though Congress has never approved it. It will take real leadership from local school boards to call that bluff. 

Manchester had access to standards experts who have developed the best standards for several states, and the district failed to secure their approval for what it developed. This is an enormous failure on the part of the school district.

Compare this to what was done in Wakefield recently. Their school board took their time to learn about the problems with the Common Core standards, discussed it openly with the public, and made the decision to adopt the old Massachusetts standards. These standards were considered some of the best in the country. Rather than spend taxpayer dollars to rewrite Common Core, they decided to use proven quality standards. Massachusetts students using these standards have consistently tested highest in the country.

The process in Manchester could have succeeded. Local teachers could have shown other districts how to improve the quality of education their schools were providing. What kept them from showing a profile in courage?

Not only does Common Core not put public school children on a path to compete with their international peers, it does not even enable them to compete with children who attend elite private schools in New Hampshire. If you can afford a private elite education for your child, you can still ensure your children receive a world-class education. If you can’t, your children may never get that chance to compete. That is the promise of public education Manchester’s mayor, teachers, and administrators have betrayed.

Residents have an opportunity to address the Manchester Board of School Committee tonight at 7 p.m. in City Hall. This is their opportunity to demand something better.

Ann Marie Banfield of Bedford is education liaison at Cornerstone Action.

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