State board ‘implored’ to leave math, ELA standards alone

  • An administrator speaks to the State Board of Education about the state’s ELA and math standards. Lola Duffort/Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/12/2017 11:32:50 PM

School administrators, the business community, and the state’s largest teacher’s union are all pushing back against an effort to review the state’s math and language arts standards.

“Constantly re-litigating the Common Core war is really hampering the schools and districts from developing the models that communities and businesses are looking for,” said Carl Ladd, the director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, told the State Board of Education.

The board is considering which academic standards to revise and when. On Thursday, an hour-long chorus of administrators – as well as representatives from National Education Association and the business community – came to say that a revision of the state’s Common Core-aligned math and ELA standards, which were adopted in 2010, was a waste of time. Time better spent would be reviewing older standards, like in social studies, many said.

Brendan Minnihan, the superintendent at the Laconia School District, said the district had finally gotten around to taking a look at its social studies curriculum. He joked that they’d realized colonial America was taught in something like eight different grades.

“We were able to do that because we had finally gotten to take a breath after all the work we’ve been doing on our math curriculum and our English language arts,” he said. “Please, I implore you, don’t go back and make us start again.”

Similarly, Val Zanchuk, the chairman of the Business Industry Association, said that group had been working with the state’s educators to align teaching in New Hampshire with career pathways. The English and math standards are working well, Zanchuk said, and to re-open them would take away from the “limited bandwidth” the state has to work on more pressing issues.

“We believe that an attempt to refine or rewrite educational standards is unecessary, of marginal value, and a poorly timed diversion of that limited bandwidth,” he said.

Attacking Common Core, an initiative to create a set of nationally consistent standards, has become a common platform for many politicians on the right, nationally and in New Hampshire.

Last year both Gov. Chris Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut ran on anti-Common Core platforms in the gubernatorial race. Sununu nominated Edelblut, a businessman and former state representative, to his post atop the state’s Department of Education in January.

But while Edelblut had put forward a plan to review the state’s math and English standards – among others – board members, a majority of which are Democratic appointees, had appeared willing to at least consider a revision in previous meetings. The conversation about ELA and math first came about in February, before Edelblut officially took his post, with board members Cindy Chagnon and Bill Duncan bringing it up.

“I knew the governor wanted to review the standards because he campaigned on them. And I wanted to be cooperative with the new governor, and work together where we could,” Duncan said after the meeting on Thursday.

But while the board appeared unanimously willing to consider a revision earlier, many said Thursday they were inclined to back off, or at least recommend a highly circumscribed process, with the intent to tweak, and not re-do, the standards.

“Obviously my views have changed a little bit today listening to all the testimony of what all is happening,” Chagnon said, adding that other states had undertaken major, costly reviews of their Common Core standards with lackluster results.

“After their quarter of a million dollars, they ended up with pretty much the status quo,” she said.

But board chairman Drew Cline, who was appointed by Sununu to the board last month, argued the body needed to solicit more input before making a decision.

“I feel like we had invited some folks that it was understood what their position on this was going to be – everybody knew they were going to be opposing this – and to make a decision, based only on the input of administrators who thought it’s a bad idea is probably not getting the full input that we need,” Cline said.

But other members said the board had heard from opponents of the standards. A representative from the conservative advocacy group Cornerstone Action, Ann Banfield, spoke against the standards just that day, as did a mother from Goffstown and a Nashua school board member.

“In fairness, we did hear from people today who are significantly opposed to the Common Core and want us to review all kinds of standards. We didn’t prohibit anybody from doing that,” board member Helen Honorow said.

In an illustration of the growing tensions between certain members on the board and Edelblut – who clashed last meeting over whether or not the state should reconsider its science standards – Duncan pushed back sharply against Cline’s suggestion that Edelblut should be involved in the board’s discussion surrounding math and ELA standards. (Edelblut was absent from the Board’s meeting Thursday, away at his son’s graduation.)

“It does seem as if we may not have a shared view of the Commissioner’s authority in all this, and that it’s worth asking the AG’s office to say ‘Okay, let’s just be very clear about who has the authority to review and adopt the standards’,” Duncan said.

“I think we can certainly include that in next month’s meeting,” Cline answered.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or

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