When New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut was appointed to his post in January, the Republican politician assured critics that whatever his personal beliefs, he would consider himself “the implementation guy” for an agenda largely dictated by others.
In response to a question by Democratic Executive Councilor Andru Volinksy regarding whether he would object to local schools teaching creationism in their science curriculum, Edelblut called his point of view “irrelevant.”
“Whether or not I would have concern is irrelevant. I would not have jurisdiction,” Edelblut said.
And at a State Board of Education meeting Thursday, the new commissioner was sharply reminded of his circumscribed role when the State Board of Education unanimously rejected his proposal to reconsider the state’s science standards.
“Why on Earth are we doing science?” board member Cindy Chagnon asked Department of Education staff members once she saw that science standards had been scheduled for review this summer, along with math and English language arts.
Just last year, the board adopted the Next Generation Science Standards as the state’s model curriculum after a two-year review process. Many local districts – which aren’t bound by the state’s standards – had already adopted the NGSS, as have nearly 20 other states.
“What are we trying to give our schools and teachers whiplash or something? Like, what – you’re doing this again?” Chagnon said.
Edelblut interjected that the new review had been his idea.
“So we in this state are aiming for high standards. And that’s really what we want. And I don’t know if the review was done prior to the adoption of this board or subsequently shortly thereafter, but those (science standards) have been evaluated by a third-party reviewer and rated as a ‘C’ standard,” he said, referring to a 2013 report reviewing nationwide standards by the conservative education think-tank Fordham Institute.
He added: “I don’t want to be the guy who’s responsible for a ‘C’ standard. We want to have ‘A’ standards.”
But board members forcefully pushed back, saying that the state had spent two years painstakingly reviewing standards they had only just adopted, and that initiating a new review would confuse teachers and administrators on the ground.
“This would create chaos. This would create extra money spent. This would be ridiculous,” Chagnon said.
Bill Duncan, another board member, said the board had looked at Fordham’s critique when mulling the standards but they weren’t convinced.
“Fordham’s view of the standards is from 1950 science teaching. This is not the criterion for New Hampshire,” he said.
Duncan said the board initiating a new review was “out of the question” and suggested a vote on a motion making intentions clear to leave the standards alone for the time being.
Edelblut urged against Duncan’s proposal, arguing that science continually evolves.
“I would hope that this board would support a commissioner who was interested in making sure that we have standards that represent the most contemporary, the most cutting-edge opportunities for our students,” he said.
Board members argued that part of what made the standards valuable was their ability to incorporate new scientific discoveries.
“I’ve never been more certain of anything that we’ve done,” said Gary Groleau, another board member. “To send the message that we’re backing up, or not fulfilling that responsibility that everybody understands is more than problematic.”
The board ultimately voted unanimously not to review science standards until 2022.
(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or email@example.com.)