Critics pan proposed changes to minimum ed standards

Apr. 3—CONCORD — Teachers, school administrators and some advocacy group leaders roundly criticized proposed changes to the minimum standards for public schools in New Hampshire during a State Board of Education public hearing Wednesday.

They charged the draft changes would eliminate class size requirements, water down curriculum standards and permit more unqualified educators to teach courses.

Brian Balke, superintendent of SAU 19 (Goffstown and New Boston), said the goal of the changes appears aimed at limiting how much financial support the state has to provide in the future.

"The purpose of the rules is to reduce what the state is potentially responsible for when it comes to funding," Balke said.

"The premise is if you reduce the standards, therefore you can reduce what you have to pay for."

Megan Tuttle, president of the National Education Association of New Hampshire, said this lengthy process has been difficult to follow.

"I am concerned that we are leaving the public to wonder how this process will produce standards our students deserve when the ball is continually being moved as to what version they are commenting on," Tuttle said.

Over a two-hour hearing, several speakers protested that changing some key minimum standards from "shall" to "may" means schools could adopt programs that fail to meet rigorous standards.

Janet Ward, vice president of the League of Women Voters, said her group has taken a greater role in the process after concluding Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut was permitting the standards to be diluted.

"Why have you chosen to recommend revisions to the 306 rules that so clearly, indeed blatantly, undermine our public schools?" Ward said.

Fred Bramante, the former Board of Education chairman who led the process to produce these proposed draft changes, defended them.

"In my biased opinion we have done our job well," said Bramante, president of the National Center for Competency-Based Learning. He led a task force that in February produced the draft rules that were the subject for Thursday's hearing.

Bramante said he helped lead the revision of minimum standards back in 2003, and this latest process is the most inclusive in state history.

"We are not insinuating the document is perfect," Bramante said.

Years in the making

The State Board of Education has a second hearing next Thursday to take testimony on the second half of these proposed changes.

The so-called 306 Rules spell out what public schools must do at a minimum to receive state approval.

The Department of Education began the latest project in 2020 when it recommended hiring Bramante's group to lead the process.

The contract was extended in 2021 and again in 2023.

The state Education Department issued an initial proposal in March 2023 and then hosted a series of listening sessions across the state.

The NEA and other advocates have worked to produce proposed revisions to these rules.

Tuttle said state officials have recently submitted revisions to Bramante's draft, but she said the proposed rules remain unacceptable to the group.

Other opposing speakers said that moving to a statewide model of competency and assessment could eliminate local control, and provisions that promote equity would be weakened as well.

They testified using the term "learning level" in the draft rather than "grade level," could end up weakening the state's responsibility to educate children.

Robert Malay, superintendent of SAU 29 which includes Keene, said the process has led to "high levels of mistrust within our education leadership."

He noted 90% of those who have commented on the draft rules since February have opposed them.