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N.H. Board Votes To Eliminate Most Standards for Schools

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Despite strong opposition from major education groups, the New Hampshire state board of education has voted to eliminate a number of statewide minimum standards for schools.

The rules being abolished cover such issues as the ratios that govern the hiring of assistant principals, guidance counselors, and art, music, and physical-education instructors.

The board agreed last month, however, to drop its most controversial proposal--elimination of state limits on class sizes. New Hampshire currently requires schools to maintain a student-teacher ratio of 25 to 1 in grades K-3 and 30 to 1 in grades 4-12.

The goal of the plan, according to the board's chairwoman, Judith Thayer, is "to have our school-approval standards reflect the board's commitment to curriculum evaluation and student evaluation.''

By eliminating standards that do not influence student performance or are "burdensome and not educationally oriented,'' Ms. Thayer argued, the proposal would give local districts more control.

In the months since the board voted to approve the initial plan in June, the issue has spurred intense criticism from Commissioner of Education Charles H. Marston and most education organizations. Critics warn that dropping the standards could exacerbate the disparities between rich and poor districts and make it more difficult to win public support for education funding.

The board's proposal now goes to a legislative review panel. If approved, the plan is expected to come before the state board for a final vote in December.

While opponents of the plan said they were pleased that the board had made some concessions, in particular by retaining limits on class size, Mr. Marston and others said they were still concerned that the board had unnecessarily eliminated hiring standards for other positions.

Threat to Local Budgets Seen

The existing requirements "were already inadequate in the first place,'' Mr. Marston said, pointing out that the state requires elementary schools to hire one guidance counselor for every 500 students.

Mr. Marston and other opponents also have charged that eliminating the standards will have a disproportionate impact on low-wealth districts, which use them to justify local education expenditures.

"We have had some communities that have had to fight tooth and claw to keep a semblance of education programs and services intact for kids,'' he said.

But Ms. Thayer said it was unlikely that the changes will prompt a gouging of school budgets.

"I think that's insulting to local citizens,'' she said. "They care about the children and they care about education. The taxpayers in this state have been characterized by the education lobby as the enemy, when in fact they were the very people who fund this mega-corporation we call public education.''

Ms. Thayer has portrayed opposition to the plan as being spearheaded by groups primarily concerned about losing their jobs.

"[Ms. Thayer] has made it very clear that this is a union-motivated opposition, that everyone is under the control of the union agenda, that this whole thing is a job-protection issue,'' responded Mr. Marston. "It is those kind of statements that have tended to trivialize the [issue] and that's angered people.''

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