inside sources print logo
Get up to date New Hampshire news in your inbox

NH Students Getting Help Closing COVID Learning Gap

To close the learning gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic school shutdowns, New Hampshire’s Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced a new program to offer a 24-hour tutoring service for up to 100,000 students. 

“New Hampshire is stepping up to help students not only recover but reach even higher academic goals,” Edelblut said.

So far, 25 schools have registered to take part in the new Tutor.com program, representing opportunities for more than 11,000 students to get the education help they need. Another 40 schools are also in the process of signing up for the program.

Edelblut said eventually the program will be universally available to all New Hampshire 6 through 12 grade students in public, private, charter, and homeschool programs. The Executive Council approved the $4.8 million three-year contract with Tutor.com last month.

Edelblut went to Jaffrey’s Conant High School this week to announce the start of the partnership. 

“This program will empower students by providing them with personalized, focused attention from tutors who can assist them with math, English, science, SAT prep, and more,” he said. “This 24/7 resource will provide support to students and their teachers.”

Tutor.com gives students no-cost access to one-to-one tutoring, test prep, and homework help with support in multiple languages. Students may engage with their tutors via two-way text-chat or voice, choosing the communication style that works best for them. Tutors undergo background checks and are rigorously vetted, and they provide support using a Socratic approach that is encouraging and empowering, asking guiding questions to help students understand difficult concepts on their own. School districts are being encouraged to register for Tutor.com’s free access for their students; students outside of those districts will be able to register individually. 

“We are proud to partner with NHED to support middle and high school students across the state. We are dedicated to helping students achieve their academic goals and to reducing the stress on learners, families, and teachers,” said Sandi White, Senior Vice President, Institutional Partnerships, Tutor.com.

Test scores are down nationally as a result of the COVID shutdowns, according to data from the National Assessment of Education Progress report. Test scores for students aged 9 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in math compared to 2020. According to NAEP, that is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990 and the first ever score decline in mathematics

Conant Principal David Dustin said students at his school have been struggling since the pandemic shutdowns and teachers have worked hard to get them up to speed. The COVID learning gaps have put many students in education holes that are hard for even dedicated teachers to handle alone, he said.

“They do whatever they can to help their students and still they can’t meet the needs of all their students.

Tutor.com will help support teachers, as well as parents who are working to get their children back on the right track.

“We know our parents in our community really want their children to succeed,” Dustin said. “This tool will help them.”

The tutoring program is being funded with federal COVID relief money, and Edelblut said the expectation is to close the learning gaps that exist by the time the contract is done in 2025.

“The goal for all of us as educators is to really try and close those learning gaps,” Edelblut said. “We don’t expect that our students 10 years from now are going to be suffering from those learning gaps. We’re trying to close those gaps now.”

 

COVID Classroom Lockdowns Blamed for Record Low Test Scores

Decades of educational gains were lost during the COVID-19 classroom lockdowns, leaving vulnerable students with learning gaps that will last a lifetime, according to new data out this week. 

The National Assessment of Education Progress report, released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education, shows test scores for nine-year-old students declined five points in reading and seven points in math compared to 2020. According to NAEP, that is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990 and the first-ever score decline in mathematics.

In an odd twist, Democrats who pushed to keep classrooms closed are now blaming Republicans for school shutdowns.

Dr. Aaron Pallas, a professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, told The Wall Street Journal it could take decades for these students to close the learning gaps, if ever. “I don’t think we can expect these 9-year-olds to catch up by the time they leave high school. This is not something that is going to disappear quickly.”

New Hampshire’s Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the results are not surprising given the long school shutdowns and remote learning challenges from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“COVID negatively affected student performance across the board and exacerbated systemic problems in achievement that preceded COVID, notably high performing students–top quartile–holding steady or making modest gains/losses while bottom quartile students–those already the most vulnerable–are falling farther behind,” Edelblut said. “In math, the top 10 percent of students nationwide declined 3 points while the bottom 10 percent declined 12 points. English Language Arts tells a similar story for national trends. Among these declines, black students fared the worst.”

The NAEP scores for New Hampshire students will be released in October.

 Jason Bedrick, the Heritage Foundation research fellow at the Center for Education Policy, says the scores show the depths of the shutdown’s calamity.

“The dismal NAEP scores confirm what we already knew: the unnecessary school closures that the unions demanded were disastrous for children, especially the most disadvantaged. Black and Hispanic students saw two-to-three times the decline of White students. For Black nine-year-olds, for example, nearly three decades of progress in math was wiped out. Proficiency rates were already low. This is a calamity,” Bedrick said.

A calamity the Biden White House is trying to pin on the GOP.

On Thursday, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said it was the Biden administration who re-opened classrooms, and she said it “was the work of Democrats in spite of Republicans.”

In fact, Democrats overwhelmingly supported teachers unions’ efforts to keep classrooms closed long after most European countries had students back in school. In July 2020, the Democratic National Committee even ran TV ads accusing President Trump of trying to re-open classrooms too quickly.

“Desperate to reopen schools because he thinks it will save his reelection, threatening their funding, ignoring how the virus spreads, risking teachers’ and parents’ lives, going against the advice of experts,” the DNC ad says.

Edelblut said he is looking forward and is focused on solutions. He said all options need to be on the table to guarantee that students going forward can get the education they need.

“Recovery back to where we were before COVID should not be our goal. No one was satisfied with that performance. We now have an opportunity to lead and transform the disrupted education system to serve all students, top performers and those who are not finding success in the current system,” Edelblut said.

New Scholarship Program Tackles NH COVID Learning Loss

Students suffering the effects of the long COVID lockdowns are getting some help, thanks to a New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) scholarship program. 

The Yes, Every Student (YES!) scholarship program is designed to help families and residents whose education was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic by awarding $1,000 tutoring scholarships to New Hampshire students, which includes public, non-public, home education, and Education Freedom Account students. It is the second year in a row the Department of Education has offered the scholarships.

“Although it has been two years since the start of the pandemic, some students may still feel that they are not meeting their desired academic performance,” said DOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut. “These scholarships will be used to help children that may have experienced disrupted learning and provide them with individualized tutoring and support to target their unique educational needs.”

Andrew Yates with the national education non-profit yes. every kid praised New Hampshire’s scholarship program.

“We commend Commissioner Edelblut for putting forward a universal scholarship program to help all NH students seek tutoring services to help combat Covid learning loss,” Yate said. “Every family and student has faced unique challenges during this pandemic, and we support allowing all students the opportunity to find the best pathways to their educational success.”

According to a recent Harvard study, students in K through 12 schools that went remote during the pandemic have fared worse than students who stayed in school, losing ground in math and reading.

“In districts that went remote, achievement growth was lower for all subgroups, but especially for students attending high-poverty schools. In areas that remained in person, there were still modest losses in achievement, but there was no widening of gaps between high and low-poverty schools in math,” the study states.

Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and philanthropist, recently noted that students in high poverty areas who were abandoned to online learning have experienced an education gap that will impact them for decades.

“In K through 12, we have a learning deficit that will take us a long time to erase, and sadly it’s a deficit that in the inner city is almost two years,” Gates said.

According to a report from the consulting firm McKinsey, the learning gap experienced by school students now, especially minority students, threatens economic depression in the years to come.

“Our analysis shows that the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year,” the report states.

Parents in New Hampshire responded to closed classrooms and learning loss by fleeing the public school system.

“Until the pandemic, enrollment decline in New Hampshire was relatively slow but steady: between 0 and 2 percent each year,” NHPR reported. “But in 2020, enrollment declined by 4.5 percent, about 8,200 fewer students in one year.”

The scholarships from the Department of Education can be used for tutoring as well as special education therapies and services. The state has about $2.3 million in funding from the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund under the CARES Act for the scholarships. Last year, the DOE awarded nearly $1.9 million to almost 500 recipients for tutoring and other needs.

To apply for a Yes! scholarship, visit Yes, Every Student. Please email questions to [email protected]

Democrats and Teachers Want Edelblut Ousted Over ‘Activist’ Complaint

Democrats and the state’s biggest teachers union say Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut needs to be stopped after he called out “activist” teachers who he says undermine New Hampshire family values. 

Edelblut set off a firestorm when he drew attention to classroom materials and teacher assignments he says show there is a problem between teachers and families. Many families in New Hampshire feel their values are being undermined in the classroom, he told NH Journal.

“The actions of some educators, which have become increasingly apparent through social media as a result of the pandemic, are undermining the sacred trust that educators hold. Our education system needs that trust to exist,” he said.

Edelblut called out schools that are teaching woke ideology in New Hampshire classrooms. Edelblut published a 74-page document that shows teachers using materials from critical race theory activist Ibram X. Kendi, an article teaching students how to protest police, one asking students in middle school for their preferred pronouns as part of a math class orientation, and another teaching 4th graders there are multiple genders.

“Some people identify as a gender that is not male or female, some identify as more than one gender, and some people don’t identify as any gender,” states one lesson for 8- and 9-year-olds.

Concerned parents have been contacting Edelblut about the classes that he says are running against the long-held trust the parents have in teachers and schools.

“To be fair, most educators do not engage in such practices,” he said. “When you send children to school you are trusting the teachers not to undermine your values, and educators who do that run the risk of eroding that trust in all teachers.”

The teachers unions and their allies in the New Hampshire Democratic Party reacted by blasting Edelblut, saying he is targeting public education with the goal of undermining the system.

“Our commissioner has turned his clearly visible disdain for public education into a crusade not to remodel our schools, but to close them,” said Megan Tuttle, president of the NEA-NH, the state’s largest teacher’s union. “By continually destabilizing what was once a model for public education in America, he is hoping more and more parents will opt out of New Hampshire public schools and choose the private and religious ones he favors and funds so generously with our tax dollars”

House Minority Leader David Cote (D-Nashua) and Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester released a letter calling for Edelbut to be removed. They accused Edelblut of being more interested in furthering his political career than in educating New Hampshire’s children.

“Frank Edelblut does not put the best interests of New Hampshire children first. His goal is purely to enact an extreme, far-right agenda to further his own personal political ambitions, whatever they may be. He is playing games with the very futures of our children and it is simply unacceptable,” they wrote.

Florida’s Department of Education got headlines last week when it rejected 41 percent of math textbooks because they included lessons allegedly inspired by critical race theory or other controversial educational theories like “social-emotional learning.”

One math problem in a book rejected by Florida begins with the phrase “What? Me? Racist?” In another, a fifth-grade math textbook featured standard math problems with the phrase “How can you understand your feelings?”

“Math is about getting the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said last week.

Edelblut said he does not have the authority to stop schools from using any specific text.

“In New Hampshire, that’s a school board issue,” he said. “What happened in Florida would need to be done by a school board in New Hampshire.”

Instead, Edelblut is focusing on supporting most teachers who stick to teaching students free from ideology.

“We want to make sure the teachers have the training and skills to be effective in the classroom and not be undermined by educators who undermine the value systems of children and hurt parental trust of the system as a whole,” he said.

Tuttle has lashed out at Edelblut since he first published the document, saying she and the other NEA-NH members are happy to be considered activists. 

“If it’s ‘activist’ to believe we all deserve the right to live, learn, work, and thrive no matter our color, immigration status or sexual orientation and gender identities—no exceptions, then every one of our members is an activist teacher,” Tuttle said in a statement directed at Edelblut. “Politicians like you push rules that restrict our freedoms and do your best to try to divide us. You are very mistaken If you believe calling us activists is an insult.”

 

 

 

Youngkin Follows NH’s Lead with Anti-CRT ‘Tip Line’

Virginia’s newly elected Republican Gov. Glenn Younkin is borrowing a page from New Hampshire by setting up an email tipline for parents to report on teachers who use Critical Race Theory (CRT) curriculum in the classroom.

Youngkin, who won an upset victory for governor in a state Joe Biden carried by 10 points a year earlier, campaigned hard against the use of CRT in Virginia classrooms. On his first day in office, he signed an executive order banning “divisive concepts” like CRT from the state’s classrooms.

He told media this week the email tipline allows parents to report teachers “behaving objectionably.”

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations that they have that will help us be aware of things like ‘privilege bingo,’ be aware of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia. And we’re going to make sure we catalog it all,” Youngkin said. “This gives us a great insight into what’s happening at a school level, and that gives us further ability to make sure we’re rooting it out.”

“Privilege bingo” is an actual classroom exercise used as part of a CRT-based curriculum to highlight racial differences among students and label certain children “privileged” based on race, regardless of their actual circumstances. The Fairfax County, Va. public school system apologized for using it after parents found out about the classroom exercise and complained.

Youngkin’s moves mimic those taken by the New Hampshire Department of Education. Last fall, Commissioner Frank Edelblut set up a website that allows Granite State parents to report violations of the state’s new anti-discrimination law. New Hampshire did not directly ban the teaching of any specific concept but instead banned teaching that any group was superior or inferior based on race, creed, or sexual orientation.

“This website in support of the commission provides parents with an online site to address concerns that their child may have been discriminated against,” the DOE said in a statement when the site was launched. “Parents, guardians, and teachers are able to submit a public education intake questionnaire that will be reviewed by a [state Human Rights] commission intake coordinator to determine if there are grounds to file a formal complaint.”

Edleblut did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but his staff indicated that any complaints filed through the website would go directly to the state’s Human Rights Commission (HRC). Edleblut has said that by going to the HRC, the due process rights of any teacher accused of violating the law will be protected.

Ahni Malachi, the commission’s executive director, refused to say Tuesday how many cases, if any, had been referred to her office since the website was published. She did say that no cases have been fully adjudicated at this time. But it is not clear if there are any cases pending before the commission, are still in the investigative stage, or are heading for mediation. The commission’s website lacks transparent information on the number of cases handled, and there is no public data available on the website beyond 2018 numbers.

NHJournal has reported on multiple Granite State school systems, including Manchester, Laconia, and Litchfield, that were found to be using CRT-inspired content.

New Hampshire’s anti-discrimination reporting system caught flak from teachers unions after it was learned a group of activists, Moms For Liberty, was offering a $500 bounty for the first verified report made to the commission. While Edleblut distanced himself from the bounty scheme, the heads of New Hampshire’s two teachers unions accused him of engaging in dangerous vigilantism.

“Totally innocent teachers could lose their teaching license over claims that are not backed up by any evidence. Edelblut has declared a war on teachers, a war that the overwhelming majority of New Hampshire parents will find repulsive,” AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes said.

Meg Tuttle, president of the NEA-NH, said Edleblut was keeping New Hampshire children from learning about injustice.

“Politicians like Commissioner Edelblut are using the dog whistle strategy of distraction, division, and intimidation in their efforts to dictate what teachers say and block kids from learning our shared stories of confronting injustice to build a more perfect union,” Tuttle said.

To date, no bounty has been paid, according to Moms For Liberty. Both the AFT and NEA have since filed independent federal lawsuits against the state over the anti-discrimination law.

The lawsuits incorrectly describe the law as banning the teaching of “divisive concepts.”

NH Teachers Union Blasts State Ed Board Rule Limiting Remote Learning

New Hampshire’s largest teachers union blasted the State Board of Education for voting to tightly limit the use of remote learning by Granite State public schools.

Under the rule changes finalized by the board Thursday, schools can only use remote learning for weather events such as snowstorms, and when parents request the online-learning option. Since the beginning of the pandemic, local school districts have locked down classrooms for months at a time, despite evidence showing that has a drastically negative impact on children. In some communities, parents organized protests in response.

On Thursday, the Board of Education made it clear whose side it is on.

“Parents have to have some say in the matter,” said board chairman Drew Cline.

Cline said the rule changes still leave school districts with the flexibility to adopt remote learning as needed in specific instances, but the state won’t be returning to months of at-home education for entire school districts. Cline said remote learning during the 2020-2021 school year was disastrous for public schools.

“We had more than 8,000 students leave the public school system in New Hampshire in 2020, and most of them didn’t come back,” Cline said. “One of the main reasons is [families] didn’t want remote instruction imposed upon them, they didn’t like that they had no options and no say.”

Megan Tuttle, president of the NEA-New Hampshire, the state’s largest teachers union, was quick to blast the decision. Tuttle accused the board and Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut of disregarding the health and safety of students and teachers.

“While educators, parents, and healthcare professionals are focused on keeping our children and families healthy and safe, Commissioner Edelblut and the State Board of Education are focused on penalizing school districts for making the difficult decision to temporarily switch to remote instruction during a communitywide outbreak,” Tuttle said in a statement.

Cline noted schools are free to close classrooms if they feel the need. But instead of simply moving classes to “Zoom school,” as some parents call it, schools will have to make up the days in classroom instruction later in the year.

Educators agree New Hampshire students lost ground across the board due to the effects of online learning.

In Manchester, Superintendent Jonathan Goldhardt told the city’s board of education this week that thousands of his students are now getting failing grades.

“The number of students getting at least one F grade went up dramatically during the mostly remote and hybrid 2020-2021 school year,” Goldhardt told board members, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Test results tell the same story.

Proficiency for ELA at the third-grade level was 44 percent in 2021, compared to 55 percent in 2018 and 52 percent in 2019. Math proficiency at the third-grade level was 45 percent in 2021, compared to 55 percent in both 2017 and 2018, and 57 percent in 2019. 

Eighth-grade proficiency for ELA was 49 percent in 2021, compared to 62 percent in 2016, 58 percent in both 2017 and 2018, and 53 percent in 2019. Proficiency for math at the eighth-grade level was 33 percent in 2021, compared to 47 percent in 2016, 46 percent in 2017, 47 percent in 2018, and 45 percent in 2019. 

Cline said the board listened to unions and others opposed to the rule changes, but those in opposition never presented an alternative plan. Ultimately, the changes were about listening to parents and keeping students in schools, he said.

“We’re moving forward with this rule to give parents real-time buy-in and opt-in,” Cline said. “We want to make sure public schools are listening to the parents because we don’t want a repeat of 2020 where we lose another 8,000 kids.”

The NHJournal Senate GOP Primary Power Rankings: Week One

For months, Gov. Chris Sununu kept the NHGOP frozen in place as it awaited what many had thought was his certain decision to enter the 2022 U.S. Senate race. Instead, he announced he will seek a fourth term as governor, which sent Granite State Republicans scrambling.

For the first few days, the rumor mill revolved around the “usual suspects” of potential Senate candidates, namely a trio of former U.S. senators. But Kelly Ayotte, Scott Brown, and Judd Gregg all said they’re not entering the race.

Now a new list is emerging — one that is almost certain to grow in the coming days — of potential Republican candidates. NHJournal asked 10 Republican strategists, officeholders, and activists to give their impressions by ranking the possible candidates in order of their strength. We also asked for a comment or two about the would-be contenders.

To foster brutal, intra-party honesty, NHJournal is not disclosing the names of the GOP panelists who participated.

We will be updating this list as events warrant, but here are the first NHJournal GOP Senate Primary Power Rankings:

 

The NHJournal GOP U.S. Senate Primary Power Rankings

 

  1. State Sen. Chuck Morse
  2. Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith
  3. Commissioner of Education Frank Edelbut
  4. Matt Mowers
  5. Rich Ashooh
  6. Bill Binnie
  7. Phil Taub
  8. Corky Messner
  9. Tom Moulton
  10. Jeff Cozzens
  11. Former congressman Frank Guinta
  12. Ret. General Don Bolduc

 

 

TOP TIER:

Senator Chuck Morse: Senate President Morse made the top three of all but one of the GOP panelists’ rankings. The consensus is he’s the “safe” pick for New Hampshire Republicans.

On the plus side, “Morse is the most likely to run on the Sununu accomplishments platform, which the polls show is a winner,” one Republican noted. On the less-than-plus side, “every time he has tried to go beyond Salem he flops,” said another. “Highly credible, but not really known outside of Concord and Salem.”

Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith: In what must be a surprise to nearly everyone — including Kevin Smith himself– the Londonderry town manager’s name also appeared near the top of nearly every list.

Smith hasn’t run for office since losing the GOP primary for governor in 2012, which the panelists viewed as both a strength and a weakness: Lower name ID, but also a harder target for the Hassan campaign to hit. “A star just waiting for the right moment to shine. He has a great economic development record. And he scares Democrats,” one panelist said. But another noted that, while “he’s young and ambitious, smart and well-spoken. — what has he done lately?”

Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut: The Commissioner of Education and one-time gubernatorial candidate has made no secret of the fact that he has political ambitions. And as many of the panelists noted, Edelblut would start with the most inspired, motivated base. He would likely own the Trump/conservative lane in a primary, and that’s a pretty big lane.

But, as one panelist asked, “Has he drunk the Kool-Aid? Is it too close to the ReOpenNH crowd?” Another commented: “Edelblut owns the number one issue of the moment — education. But he snuck up on everyone in 2016. That won’t happen again.”

SECOND TIER:

Matt Mowers: Mowers is in the second tier largely because most of the panelists believe he’s going to hold onto his front-runner status in the First Congressional District GOP primary rather than risk a U.S. Senate race. “Unless one of the other candidates catches fire, he has a clear path to win the primary for CD1 and become the next Republican congressman from New Hampshire.”

Rich Ashooh: “People like him, which is why he’s near the top of the list” summarizes one view of Ashooh. “He’s conservative and he gets along with everyone.” But sources inside Trumpworld NH say Ashooh’s a non-starter for some because they believe he was less-than-loyal to the president in whose administration he served. “He worked for Trump, but his instincts are all Warren Rudman. Those days are over for the GOP.”

Bill Binnie: Anyone who can write a check for $25 million to kick-start his campaign is going to be taken seriously. And while the media magnate’s 2010 race may not have gone well (“disastrous,” one panelist calls it), that was 12 years ago. And another added: “He’s got a great story — business built from scratch, a former race car driver, it’s great. But he told it once before and it didn’t work. What’s changed?”

Phil Taub: The most volatile name on the list. Some insiders had him near the very top, others nearly at the bottom. The consensus is his fundraising is appreciated, as is his work on behalf of veterans. But he’s also described as “a moderate who endorsed Jeanne Shaheen in 2014.”

Corky Messner: He’s got millions of dollars in name ID left from his 2020 bid, and he’s been working both hard and smart for the NHGOP since losing to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen last year. However, he did lose badly and the general consensus is being the guy in front of the camera, as opposed to working for the GOP backstage, may not be his skill set.

UNKNOWNS:

Tom Moulton (NOTE: On 11/16, Moulton announced he’s not considering a run): He was the University of New Hampshire’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2021 and he owns a successful company, Other than that, most of the political insiders put Moulton down as a TBD.

Jeff Cozzens: Jeff Cozzens got a lot of buzz when he entered the GOP primary for Second Congressional District and Gov. Chris Sununu promptly tweeted out his encouragement for the Littleton brewery owner’s candidacy. There are rumors the governor would be happy to see Cozzens switch and run for the Senate, and strategists say he’s got a great story to tell. But most of the panelists put him in the “wait and see” category.

BOTTOM TIER:

Former Congressman Frank Guinta: Lots of talk that former Congressman Frank Guinta is looking seriously at a run. Not a lot of talk that it’s a good idea. “A retread who lost his last race while being called a ‘Damned Liar’ on the front page of the Union Leader isn’t the answer,” said one panelist. Another added: “He’s been a D.C. lobbyist since leaving office – you can’t drain the swamp when you’ve planted your roots in it

Ret. General Don Bolduc: Phenomenal bio, horrible candidate. Short an endorsement from Trump — which is always a possibility — Bolduc’s candidacy is already over. Calling the most popular Republican in the state, Gov. Chris Sununu, a “Communist Chinese sympathizer” isn’t widely viewed as a winning strategy. One panelist called him “one of the worst candidates for major office our state has ever seen.” Plus, as one panelist put it, “He already lost to a guy named ‘Corky'”

Prenda’s Micro-School Model Creates Opportunity for Students — and Adults, Too

Months before New Hampshire passed Education Freedom Accounts legislation and drastically expanded parental choice, the state’s Department of Education had already contracted with Prenda to bring its micro-school model to the Granite State.

Now Prenda is here, offering opportunities for students who need more personalized attention than they’d get in a traditional classroom — and for adults who would like to be part of educating the next generation.

“Prenda is a model of education called learning pods. These are small groups of mixed-age kids — between five and ten students — who will meet in an informal space and do their education together,” says Kelly Smith, the company’s founder and CEO. “They will study academic core subjects like math, reading, science and social studies. They will also collaborate on creative projects, engineering, business. There’s a lot of group dynamics and fun.

“The goal is to empower these kids as learners, to give them an education for the 21st century. We want them to be someone who knows how to learn, who goes out and chases down the material, the content, the skills that they need to accomplish their goals.”

With New Hampshire school enrollments declining and districts forced to close schools, the micro-school model could be the perfect solution in some rural communities, as well as for parents whose students struggle in large classroom settings.

Education pods exploded onto the education scene during the COVID-19 lockdowns as frustrated parents looked for ways to get organized, adult-led education for kids otherwise abandoned to “Zoom school.” Multiple studies have shown that online-only learning has been an academic disaster for many students, particularly elementary school.

A study by the Rand Corporation found that students using the “personalized study” model similar to micro-schools experienced significant improvements, often surpassing the national averages in math and reading achievement.

But while the goal is student empowerment, Smith insists “there’s a critical role of an adult in this education.”

“Playing the role of a human being who’s present with these individual kids.  They know each child individually, they motivate, they coach. They inspire and mentor,” Smith says.

What these “learning guides,” as Prenda calls them, don’t do is set the academic standards or pick the content.

“They do not prepare lesson plans. They’re not responsible for the pedagogy. In fact, we have a whole system and support for that: remote resources, experts in learning science and teaching special ed and all the things that need to be considered,” Smith says.

“There’s a real need for a caring adult who knows you and is invested in you and wants you to be your best self. Unfortunately, not every student shows up perfectly motivated and ready to learn.

“Learning guides play the key role of the human who’s there helping you decide you want to be a learner,” Smith says.

N.H. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut is a believer in the Prenda model. Last spring, his Department of Education entered a $6 million contract to make Prenda services available to districts where they are needed. The program, called Recovering Bright Futures, is designed to help students recover lost learning from the COVID-19 lockdown.

Much of the conversation about expanding education choices in New Hampshire has focused on the students and what they hope to achieve. But without adults who are passionate about education and willing to step into roles as mentors and guides, etc., the demand for alternative models like micro-schools may exceed the supply.

“There are probably people reading this interview who are thinking ‘I could make a contribution in my community, maybe I could do this [be a learning guide.] We’d love to talk to them.

“And,” Smith adds, “they get paid.”

State Continues Work on ESSA Plan, But School Funding Inequality Still a Concern

States are inching closer to implementing their own education plans that fall in line with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In a bipartisan manner, Congress got rid of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015 and rolled back some of the federal government’s control over education policy, giving states more power to set their own goals and increase accountability.

In New Hampshire, state officials released their ESSA draft plan in May and accepted public comments until Friday. The draft version of the Granite State’s plan stresses competency-based tests over standardized assessments, and vocational education tied to industry needs. ESSA doesn’t change how often schools must give out standardized tests. It is still required that testing occurs in third through eighth grades and once in high school, but the law gives states flexibility in deciding what schools need to report, what their goals are, and what criteria determines if a school is struggling or not.

For example, New Hampshire school districts still need to report their high school graduation rates and the test scores of annual standardized assessments. Those school districts participating in the state’s pilot PACE program don’t take standardized tests every year, but use locally-designed assessments. If the federal government renews the state’s waiver, that program will continue.

However, under the state’s ESSA plan, schools would also be assessed based on new metrics, including progress toward English language proficiency and how well the average student is progressing from year to year at the elementary and middle school levels. Another indicator would also track how well the lowest-performing students are progressing each year.

High schools will also measure and report on college and career readiness. Schools will be scored on how many students fulfill at least two of nine requirements aimed at showing they’re ready for life post-graduation. Those requirements include SAT or ACT scores meeting or exceeding the college- and career-ready standard, getting a passing score on an AP or International Baccalaureate exam, scoring at least a Level III on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test, earning a career technical education credential, completing a N.H. Scholars program, or finishing a N.H. career pathway program of study.

Depending on how well students perform under those metrics, schools would be flagged for extra support if students aren’t reaching those benchmarks. Schools who need additional help would get it through Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI), and Targeted Improvement and Support (TSI).

Using the different metrics, schools would receive CSI help if they score in the bottom fifth percentile in the state or if their graduation rates are below 67 percent. TSI schools would be identified when subgroups consistently underperform according to the goals set by the state.

The state’s ESSA plan sets overall goals of 53.77 percent proficiency in math and 74.04 percent proficiency in English language arts by 2025. For different subgroups of students, the state has other goals. For example, students with disabilities are expected to hit 25.05 percent proficiency in math and 41.34 percent proficiency in English by 2025. Economically disadvantaged students are expected to be at 37.09 percent proficiency in math and 56.47 percent proficiency by 2025.

Some of those benchmarks could be hard to hit for school districts who are already strapped for cash and are seeing a decline in student enrollment. According to a report released last week from the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, it projects that state aid to school districts will shrink by $16 million over the next five years.

In December 1997, the N.H. Supreme Court issued its landmark Claremont decision, calling for equal access to an adequate education across the state, regardless of community wealth or property values. The policy institute concluded that little has changed since that decision was handed down.

Image Credit: New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies

The report notes that there has been a 40 percent increase in state aid to education since 1997, but there has also been a 15 percent decline in school enrollment statewide and significant disparities still exist from one community to another.

For example, property-poor communities like Claremont and Franklin continue to tax their residents at disproportionately higher rates to finance their education.

The research suggests that the disparities will continue and possibly worsen unless there comes a major change in how education is structured and funded.

In response, state education commissioner Frank Edelblut announced last week that the N.H. Department of Education would form its own committee, headed by the department Director of School Finance Caitlin Davis, to study the school finance problem and report its findings to a legislative panel that is considering changes to the state’s formula.

Since the release of New Hampshire’s ESSA draft plan, the education department has already received hundreds of comments, including some from civil rights advocates who want to ensure the state is held accountable for providing equitable learning opportunities, especially for marginalized students.

Now that the public comment period has ended, the state has about a month to tweak the plan based on the feedback before it’s submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for review and final approval in September.

Follow Kyle on Twitter.

Sign up for NH Journal’s must-read morning political newsletter.

Public School Advocates Concerned About GOP Amendment Seeking to Shift Power to Education Commissioner

A proposed draft amendment for an education bill would dramatically shake up the state Department of Education and shift some power and authority to the state education commissioner. Yet, the senator who introduced it said it simply “allows managers to manage their department.”

Frank Edelblut, the new commissioner who previously lost the Republican gubernatorial bid to Chris Sununu in the 2016 election, is already a controversial figure within Sununu’s administration for his pro-school choice views, and this amendment isn’t sitting well with public school advocates.

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield (Photo Credit: NH Senate website)

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield (Photo Credit: NH Senate website)

The amendment, drafted by Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, was first posted Wednesday by Reaching Higher NH, an organization supporting high standards in public schools.

Reagan said the bill came at the request of Edelblut and it “permits the commissioner to make some managerial changes.” He said he doesn’t understand where the backlash on the amendment is coming from.

“He should be able to do what he wants to do,” Reagan told NH Journal. “They [public school advocates] don’t like anything that disturbs their monopoly of state dollars. They see something and try to discredit Republican management of government. You should be able to let your managers manage your business.”

Among the proposed changes, Reagan is proposing to eliminate four existing divisions in the state Department of Education (DOE) and replacing them with four new divisions under the direction of the commissioner, and giving the commissioner authority over several programs, funds, and personnel.

The proposal is poised to be an amendment to House Bill 356. Reagan said he talked to Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, who is the author of HB356 and Ladd gave him the go-ahead to attach the amendment to his bill.

Public school advocates are concerned that the amendment “introduces greater volatility and uncertainty around how we hold N.H. schools and districts accountable for delivering an adequate education to our children.”

Reaching Higher NH says the amendment would make it easier for public funds to go towards schools or education offerings that are not subject to the same rigorous public oversight as public schools.

“The amendment would grant the Commissioner of Education expansive authority that exceeds the discretion provided to most other state departments,” the organization wrote in a blog post about the amendment.

In New Hampshire, the state education commissioner is largely seen as the face of the DOE, simply carrying out policy that the state Board of Education introduces.

“The Department of Education, consistent with New Hampshire’s local control ethos, has historically served primarily as the provider of state education funding and as the intermediary between local school districts and the federal Department of Education,” the post stated. “In these roles, the Department provides much needed expertise and serves as an important guardian of students’ rights to a public education.”

The amendment calls for eliminating four divisions, including the Division of Educational Improvement, Division of Program Support, Division of Career Technology and Adult Learning, and Division of Higher Education within the DOE and replacing them with four new divisions, which have not yet been determined, all under the direction of the education commissioner.

Yet, Reagan said he believes the bill means the divisions will just be retitled, “making it easier for the head manager to move managers around. It’s what any organization should be allowed to do.”

Advocates say the amendment would remove an institutional check that exists to prevent the DOE and New Hampshire public education from becoming overly-politicized.

For example, the Division of Educational Improvement currently has the responsibility to “determine if a district is making diligent efforts to resolve personnel shortages that result in children with disabilities being placed out of district.” The amendment would transfer that power to Edelblut.

Reaching Higher NH also said the elimination of the divisions and allowing the commissioner to create new ones allows for a standard of appointing division directors that could lead to nominees who do not have the education or experience to lead those offices.

That was a significant criticism for Edelblut as education commissioner since he does not come from an education background (his children have also been homeschooled), yet he was tapped to lead the department anyway.

“By eliminating the specific responsibilities of the directors, the amendment lowers the standard for appointing directors — the governor and Executive Council will no longer be able to assess whether the Commissioner’s nominees have the education and experience necessary to serve New Hampshire’s kids and families,” the organization wrote.

Advocates are also concerned with the new amendment in terms of financial accountability and how public funds are used within the DOE. The amendment allows the education commissioner to move funds within the department at any time without approval if it’s under $75,000. That means Edelblut can transfer funds allocated for a specific purpose and reallocate them for something else.

“Transfer funds…as the commissioner deems necessary and appropriate to address present or projected budget deficits, or to respond to changes in federal laws, regulations, or programs, and otherwise as necessary for the efficient management of the department…,” the amendment states.

Reagan said the measure was intended to ensure the education commissioner could move funds where there is a need in the department.

“It’s for small amounts, like allowing office managers to use the funds for pencils to instead be used for toners,” he said.

The Legislature’s finance committees, the governor, and Executive Council still must approve transfers of $75,000 or more, but Reagan said they shouldn’t be “controlling” the department at “that level of detail.”

HB 356 has already gone through some changes before it was introduced to the Senate Education Committee on March 23. When it was first introduced in January by Ladd, it would simply tweak the base adequacy funding amount — the amount the state gives to a district per pupil — from $3,561.27 to $3,591.27, only a $30 increase.

He told the House Education Committee that he wanted to use the legislation as a starting point to eventually form a joint committee with the House and Senate to work on a new formula for the next year in time for the next biennium. The committee voted in favor of his amendment, essentially changing the bill establishing a committee to study education funding and the cost of an opportunity for an adequate education, and the House eventually passed the bill at the end of March.

The Senate Education Committee is expected to act on the legislation this month. Reagan’s amendment has not been formally introduced to the committee yet, but a public hearing on the bill has already happened before this amendment was known to members of the public. Advocates are calling to have another public hearing to discuss the amendment.

NH Journal reached out to Edelblut for comment and will update the story with a response.

 

Follow Kyle on Twitter.

Sign up for NH Journal’s must-read morning political newsletter.