Editorial: Edelblut’s diagnosis of what ails N.H. education is way off

Published: 1/17/2019 12:05:09 AM

If education were a patient brought into the emergency room by first responders, and N.H. Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut was the chief of surgery, we fear that with just a glance at the patient he would order a pedicure, a prostate exam and a haircut.

Edelblut, in his recent column rebutting criticism of new alternative education programs backed by himself and Gov. Chris Sununu (Monitor Opinion, Jan. 15), completely ignored the very real and grave problem afflicting public education in much of New Hampshire.

To return to the patient metaphor, public education is emaciated for want of state funding and at risk of being bled by continued attempts at privatization.

Edelblut, a home-schooling fan and fervent proponent of alternatives to public schools, points to “a growing disparity in student performance.” He rightly notes that the performance gap between students from economically advantaged and disadvantaged homes continues to increase despite the high overall national ranking of the state’s public schools.

His diagnosis? Public school education is failing to meet the needs of too many children. His prescription: expand opportunities, both public and private, for kids to learn outside of school to keep school from getting in the way of their education.

Programs touted by Edelblut and the governor include LearnEverywhereNH and the N.H. Career Academy. Both programs have value and both will likely benefit some small portion of students for whom traditional schools, which are evolving constantly, are not a good fit. But they and their kin won’t cure what ails public education in New Hampshire, which, though of better quality than what’s offered in most states, is far behind what it should be in a global economy.

In a 2017 worldwide test of the science, math and reading abilities of 15 year olds, the United States placed 24th, 24th and 49th, respectively, behind nations like Latvia, Macao and Vietnam.

What Edelblut doesn’t mention is that in New Hampshire many children from disadvantaged homes live in disadvantaged school districts, and the gap between schools in property-rich and property-poor towns has been getting worse, not better, with some schools spending twice as much per pupil as others. Schools in places like Pittsfield, Franklin, Claremont and Allenstown cannot attract or keep experienced teachers, who can earn far better pay in well-off school districts.

With state building aid suspended and taxpayers already struggling to remain in their homes, such communities can’t build new, modern schools and provide the amenities other school districts offer.

In fact, most struggle to provide the basics.

The gap is also growing in the tax rate property owners in rich and poor communities pay to support public education. Disparities in educational opportunity and tax fairness were at the heart of the Claremont school funding lawsuits. The state Supreme Court found financing public education to be a state, not a local, responsibility.

New Hampshire needs a governor and an education commissioner who accept that reality, not gloss over it by creating programs that help the few at the expense of the many.

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