Opinion: Edelblut’s radical policies

Published: 5/24/2022 6:02:14 AM
Modified: 5/24/2022 6:00:16 AM

Joe Onosko is UNH professor emeritus. Jeffrey Frenkiewich is Milford Middle School social studies teacher and UNH adjunct professor. The views expressed here represent those of the authors, not UNH or Milford School District.

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut recently attacked public school teachers, claiming they were acting against the best interest of our state’s families.

Instead of rebutting his false claims, we will demonstrate that it is Edelblut who is radically out-of-step with New Hampshire’s tradition of excellence in education, and that his policies have seriously undermined the performance and culture of our community-owned and operated public schools that serve 89% of New Hampshire families.

For decades our public education system has been ranked among the very finest in the country. Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association in a recent Concord Monitoropinion piece reminds us that when “…Frank Edelblut assumed office in 2017, New Hampshire was ranked #1 in the country in academic achievement. Now we are ranked #5.”

Edelblut’s first major policy decision back in 2017 was to discontinue the New Hampshire Department of Education’s nationally acclaimed pilot school reform program called “PACE.” This program provided intensive training for public schools to create more authentic forms of student assessment that were tightly aligned to their district’s actual curriculum.

Equally important, Scott Marion of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, and Paul Leather of the New Hampshire Department of Education argued the assessments satisfied federal ESSA testing requirements which spared children from so much standardized testing. Education First and other national organizations were raving about PACE saying it was becoming a national model of innovation in education.

Edelblut instead pushed through his state-run Learn Everywhere program that grants students “credit towards their high school diplomas for extracurriculars without approval from local districts,” and without transparency or quality indicators. So much for ‘local control.’

Also note that 5.8 million in taxpayer monies that could have funded the PACE program was instead used by Edelblut to pay for Prenda, a private online “micro school” that has been investigated by the Arizona Attorney General’s for questionable financial practices.

Edelblut has also ignored the state’s public school social studies K-12 curriculum framework which was last revised in 2006. Despite promising in 2017 that the process would be completed within a year, Edelblut has neglected the state’s primary vehicle for developing informed and effective democratic citizens.

Edelblut and New Hampshire’s Republican legislature in 2021 rammed through a voucher bill (Education Freedom Accounts) that has become a national model for school privatization advocates. Edelblut predicted there would be 28 voucher students for the 2021-22 school year at a cost of $140,000; however, as Forbes magazine reported, the voucher program is “mushrooming” out of control, with 1,635 enrolled in the first month at a cost of $8 million.

And vouchers don’t work! The Center for American Progress, a highly respected conservative policy organization, estimates students in voucher programs miss out on the equivalent of “more than one-third of a year of classroom learning.” The conservative Fordham Institute also rejected vouchers; “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”

In addition, Edelblut and the Republican majority passed a ‘divisive concepts’ bill in 2021 by burying it within the state budget rather than having the bill pass or fail on its own merit. Since passage, two federal lawsuits have been filed against state officials implementing the law, with Edelblut named specifically.

As reported by the Associated Press, Edelblut then doubled down, escalating hostility and fear in school communities across the state by creating a website at the New Hampshire Department of Education that “allows a parent or student who believes a teacher has broken the law to submit an online form, which is sent to the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights for investigation.” A conservative parents’ organization, Moms for Liberty, then offered a $500 bounty “for the person that first successfully catches a public school teacher breaking the law.”

Upon enactment of the divisive concepts bill, a majority of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion resigned, stating in a letter that Sununu signed into law a provision that will, “directly impact those who are working with some of our state’s most vulnerable populations.”

Just as shocking, Edelblut supported a Republican-sponsored bill (HB 1671) that, if passed, would have reduced the state’s definition of an “adequate education” to just four subject areas (English language arts, mathematics, natural and physical science, and social studies). Any additional “areas of study” could be cut. Edelblut referred to this education-on-the-cheap, gutting of public education as a “bold step.”

In short, under Edelblut’s leadership, taxpayer monies intended to support the state’s education system, particularly our public schools that serve 89% of the state’s children, have been redirected to homeschool parents, for-profit charters, and other private schools and programs while reform monies and initiatives for the state’s 480+ public schools have been gutted.

We couldn’t agree more with House Democrat Renny Cushing’s assertion that “Edelblut has been working to undermine teachers, school boards, and public education every step of the way.”

Governor Sununu must explain why he gave Edelblut another 4-year term to further undermine morale and confidence in our community-owned and operated public schools that serve 89% of New Hampshire children.

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