Editorial: Education bills get low grades

Thursday, April 12, 2018

There was a jarring headline on the front page of Wednesday’s Monitor: “Play-based kindergarten gets a boost.” When, we wonder, did kindergarten become so un-fun that legislation was required to jazz it up?

House Bill 1499, sponsored by more than a dozen Republican state representatives, “provides that kindergarten shall be play based and include movement, expression, exploration, socialization and music.” Manchester Rep. Victoria Sullivan, the bill’s prime sponsor, believes the rigors of the Common Core Standards have so altered the kindergarten experience that classrooms no longer function the way their German creator, Friedrich Froebel, intended. Her colleagues in the House overwhelmingly agreed with her, passing the bill, 328-8, last month. The Senate Education Committee concurred, 4-0, on Tuesday. And, unsurprisingly, there is some science to support the measure.

An Illinois State University study, as quoted by reporter Ethan DeWitt, recently found that childhood programs that focus too much on academic training “have been found to dampen motivation to learn and diminish regulation of attention and behavior.” To us, that sounds like a fancy way of saying that 5-year-olds are easily bored, so if teachers want them to learn they had better make class as entertaining as possible. That was true when our parents were in kindergarten, and when we were in kindergarten, and when our children were in kindergarten. We are certain it remains true now.

While the bill is innocuous enough (although a proposed amendment with the title “Chartered Public School Use of Unused District Facilities” would have changed that, but more on that later), it is also a good example of the silliness of these times. If a kindergarten teacher is unable to engage children, regardless of curriculum standards, he or she should re-evaluate their career choice. Or, if school administrators observing a kindergarten classroom determine that the teacher isn’t doing enough to reach the children, they should work with that teacher to improve his or her approach. That said, we find it hard to believe that New Hampshire is overflowing with boring, humorless and inflexible kindergarten teachers.

The phrase “common sense” is so overused by politicians that it has lost all meaning, but the idea of constructing a kindergarten class so kids have fun and learn at the same time seems like a clear example of common sense to us. For that reason, we can’t help but be a little bewildered by the very existence of HB 1499.

And that brings us to a proposed amendment discussed during Tuesday’s hearing that has Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s fingerprints all over it – and we don’t mean that as a compliment. The “Chartered Public School Use of Unused District Facilities” amendment, which had been destined for the kindergarten bill, is now part of formerly well-meaning legislation to establish a teacher preparedness study committee. In its amended form, HB 1636 now requires school districts to offer charter schools the right of first refusal, whether for an outright sale or lease agreement, on any unused facilities. It’s a rather remarkable assault on local control – and even establishes terms for leases. We believe that school districts, and the taxpayers who pay for school district buildings, wouldn’t want the state dictating whom they can rent or sell to and at what price. Furthermore, charter schools are in competition with traditional public schools for limited taxpayer dollars, which makes the mandated preferential treatment even more insidious.

The amended language of HB 1636 is just another attempt by Edelblut and his allies to drain resources from public schools under the guise of school choice. Lawmakers who value public education and local control should reject the bill.