Opinion: What standards does PragerU actually meet?

By CARISA CORROW

Published: 09-14-2023 6:00 AM

Carisa Corrow of Penacook is co-author of “126 Falsehoods We Believe About Education” and founder of Educating for Good.

The debate about PragerU is about much more than the political leanings of its producers. Yes, we should all be concerned that the NH Board of Education and the education commissioner are seriously considering requiring that schools accept the video series created by the self-described “world’s leading conservative nonprofit that is focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.”

And, we should be more concerned that the leaders of public education in New Hampshire are advocating for poor pedagogical practices, are setting a bad example for our local school systems, and taking away local control, cheapening transcripts across the state.

Without getting too technical, I’d like to walk through a quality learning design process that educators in New Hampshire and across the country use. First, we start with the outcomes and expectations. “What do we hope students will learn from the experience? What will they be able to do with their knowledge?” The answers to these questions are found in a set of standards that have been adopted locally.

It’s important to note that there are two types of standards in New Hampshire when we’re talking about education. Minimum Standards, which are required by statute, and Academic Standards, which are guides for districts, not mandates.

The Minimum Standards, updated every decade, describe broad categories of what students need to learn in high school. Schools have to offer courses “relative to English Language Arts and Reading” but the minimum standards do not precisely describe what that looks like. It is up to the local school districts to adopt its standards.

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Academic Standards, such as the Common Core Standards, are adopted by the state as guides for school districts as they develop their programs. These standards are supposed to be aligned to the state test. Theoretically, if schools use the state-endorsed standards, that will prepare students for the test. I say theoretically because there is no evidence that one leads to the other. In fact, the best indicator of “proficiency” is not the standards a school uses, but the socio-economic status of the test taker.

The beauty of local control is that school districts can choose to adopt a different set of standards if they don’t live up to their local expectations. A good example of this is in the Manchester School District which created its own set of standards rather than use the Common Core as adopted by New Hampshire. They are still held accountable for the same state tests, but the standards they set are up to them.

Let’s return to the debate about adopting far-right publishers’ ideas on financial literacy. The NH Education Department has yet to publish or adopt any financial literacy standards since the new requirement was established by the Legislature. The closest we can get is a couple of standards from the 2006 Social Studies Framework, a document that’s nearing twenty years old.

Without a set of learning outcomes to refer back to, there is no way to even check the alignment between the proposed course and those outcomes. Even if this wasn’t a product from a conservative propagandist, it wouldn’t meet the high standard of curriculum alignment we expect from our districts.

In a September 15, 2022, Technical Advisory, the Education Department noted that schools should have more guidance from the state before the start of the 2023-2024 school year. That guidance has not been given. Instead, they focused on adopting a curriculum that doesn’t even fully align with the language set forth by the Legislature in RSA 189:10: “The school board shall ensure that personal finance literacy instruction designed to prepare students for success in making financial decisions is taught as part of the curriculum.” Note the learning outcome, students will be prepared to make financial decisions.

I think we can all agree that fifteen, five-minute videos and a multiple-guess test will not prepare students for making financial decisions. There are no rigorous practice problems, no competency-based performance tasks, and no space to talk through the nuances of financial health or to ask clarifying questions.

Standards always come before curriculum adoption in a quality system, New Hampshire educators know this. It’s our pedagogical expectation for our schools at the local level, it should be the same for our state education leaders. They should be setting the example of what quality educational practice looks like. Perhaps it’s time we put an educator back in charge of the New Hampshire Education Department, not a politician.

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