N.H. Won’t Overhaul the Common Core. Its Schools Chief Still Wants To.

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 17, 2017 4 min read
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New Hampshire’s board of education has, for now, put a lid on a slow-boil debate over whether to chuck or amend its math and reading academic standards, voting July 13 not to open up a formal revision process.

The state, like dozens of others, adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010. But New Hampshire’s education commissioner Frank Edelblut, who criticized the common core during his unsuccessful campaign for governor last year, still plans to review the standards independently—and to potentially ask the board to approve his changes in the future.

At the board meeting last week, Edelblut outlined his plan to review the standards informally. He wants to look at the standards’ readability, cross-check them against Massachusetts’ pre-common-core standards, examine the changes other states have made, and follow up with local superintendents in New Hampshire that have made tweaks to the standards on their own.

The debate comes during what appeared to be a lull in pushback to the standards. The common core became a political football after the Obama administration encouraged states to adopt the standards as part of a federal grant program. In the aftermath, a handful of states repealed the standards or revised them, at least on paper, but that action slowed in recent months. (Check out our map showing which states have overhauled the common core.)

In New Hampshire, debate over the common core dominated several back-to-back board meetings. In May, the state’s main teachers’ union, superintendents, and business officials praised the common core during the public-comments portion of the meetings, arguing that it doesn’t make sense to change the standards now after teachers and districts have spent hours creating aligned curriculum and reorienting their teaching.

And in June, several skeptics of the standards got their turn to testify, including common core super-critic Sandra Stotsky, who has testified at hearings in several other states. But the most telling speech came from Edelblut himself, who cited college-remediation rates in the state as evidence that the standards perhaps aren’t living up to their goal of helping prepare students for college and careers.

Live Free (of Common Core) or Die?

As commissioner, Edelblut can review standards informally and suggest changes to the state board of education—like any other private citizen. But only the board can open up the formal process for revising standards.

Some see Edelblut’s desire to look at the standards as an attempt to fulfill a campaign promise. Both he and the eventual victor in the governor’s race, Chris Sununu, campaigned on a platform opposing the common core. (In what may be a case of keeping-your-enemies-closer, Sununu appointed Edelblut to the commissioner’s job in January.)

In an interview with Education Week last month, Edeblut said that he was merely trying to meet his duties spelled out in state code, which says the commissioner should continually review standards. “I’m new on the job here, so I absolutely don’t have anything definitive I’d be ready to propose at this point,” he said then. “I don’t even know for sure if there will be any changes proposed.”

But the tensions came to the forefront last week, according to the website Reaching Higher New Hampshire, which covered the most recent board meeting. At it, several board members questioned whether politics were really the driving force behind the discussion.

“I don’t think we’re talking about tweaks here, I think we’re talking standards, and it’s a political decision. I know common core has gotten a bad political review,” said board member Cindy Chagnon, who opposes a revision, largely on the grounds that such an action would be both costly and time-consuming.

Edelblut countered: “We have to reflect on the fact that voters spoke with some decisiveness to elect a governor who ran on repealing common core,” he said, according to Reaching Higher.

Tabled for Now

In the end, board member Bill Duncan pressed for a vote on language affirming the common core, which passed 3-1, with three abstentions. The language acknowledges Edelblut’s plan to look at the standards on his own, but states that the board believes that the standards “are serving our students well and are not in need of modification.”

Board Chairman Drew Cline, who abstained from the vote, demurred when asked last month whether he thought the standards should be revised.

“I am personally still learning a lot, and still talking to a lot of folks; I share concerns with other board members that this process be collaborative and not chaotic,” he said. “I also think that rarely is there a set of standards or rules that are 100 percent perfect.”

Photo: New Hampshire state education commissioner Frank Edelblut listens during a public hearing in Concord, N.H., earlier this year.—Elise Amendola/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.