Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut started his “brown-bag” tour of New Hampshire’s schools in Windham last week, even before his swearing-in ceremony, reported the Eagle Tribune. He acknowledged his tumultuous nomination process, but said that he’s coming in ready to learn and listen.
Commissioner Edelblut’s lack of experience was one of the reasons his nomination was controversial–he attended public school himself, but chose to home school his seven kids. He’s an accountant by trade and has a graduate degree in Theology. But, he says his business acumen brings a fresh perspective to the position. He acknowledged his nontraditional background, saying it shows his “passion for education:”
“I have opinions and I’m happy to share them, but I also know that I don’t know a lot of things, so I came to listen,” he said. “Hopefully what I can do is I can bring a perspective to some of the issues that guys have been tackling.
“I think it’s important to recognize that in spite of a somewhat difficult confirmation process, we all want the best for the kids.”
This was Commissioner Edelblut’s first meeting as Education Commissioner. He has touted himself as “the implementation guy,” but many Granite Staters have expressed reservations about his confirmation. People are closely watching how he responds to his brown-bag listening tour to see if it gives any clues on how he’ll manage the Department of Education.
During his gubernatorial campaign last year, he firmly rejected Common Core State Standards, which almost all of New Hampshire districts have adopted. He also didn’t support state funding of full-day kindergarten, which was a priority in Governor Chris Sununu’s budget that he released two weeks ago. But since Governor Sununu’s announcement that he chose Mr. Edelblut as Education Commissioner, he promised to put politics aside become the “implementation guy.”
His meeting with Windham administrators last week could give us some insight into which direction he’d like to take the Department. During the meeting, Commissioner Edelblut didn’t back off on his criticism of academic standards and testing:
Edelblut has been a vocal opponent of broad standards such as Common Core, and advocated for “personalized education” on the campaign trail last year. Thursday, he spoke of bringing focus back down the classroom level, and being clear with teachers about the goals they’re expected to bring students to.
“I think we need to make sure that we recognize that standards and assessments are tools to get the job done, but we can’t overemphasize them and somehow believe that standards are going to get kids educated because that’s not how it works,” he said.
Later in the meeting, Windham Superintendent Richard Langlois and Business Administrator Bill Hickey asked Commissioner Edelblut about full-day kindergarten:
“I’m still looking for good research in support,” Edelblut answered, noting that some studies, particularly a recent Australian study, have indicated that children may be misdiagnosed with ADHD in response to what is actually only age-related immaturity. He suggested structuring a class with more active learning and less “seat time” as a solution.
“I just want to make sure there are longitudinal benefits and we want to make sure we don’t run into any consequence of exacerbating the prevalence of ADHD diagnoses,” he said. “Maybe you have to structure it with lots of moving time, because that’s how kids grow and explore and create.”
Director of Guidance Julie Lichtmann and School Board representative Tom Murray agreed with the importance of active breaks like recess and physical education, especially among the younger students. Regardless of how kindergarten is structured, however, Edelblut described himself as the “implementation guy” and said he’d follow Sununu’s lead should full-day kindergarten become a state mandate.
The study that Commissioner Edelblut cited did not focus on kindergarten or the length of the school day. Nor did it imply that children should or should not attend full-day school programs. Rather, the researcher asserted that ADHD is “overdiagnosed and overmedicated,” and suggested that some children may be unnecessarily treated with stimulants.
In fact, peer-reviewed academic studies have suggested positive benefits of full-day programs as opposed to half-day programs. One study published in 2010 suggested that children who attended full-day programs had fewer grade retentions, fewer referrals to special education services, and better test scores in reading and language development than their peers. Teachers were able to give more individualized instruction and were less hurried. Full-day programs “level the playing field” for disadvantaged children by giving lower income children more learning opportunities.
All in all, attendees of the meeting were impressed by his willingness to listen and learn:
“Some of the initiatives that Rich wants to bring in could benefit all the schools in New Hampshire, and Frank can help us do that. And that’s exciting to me,” said School Board Chair Ken Eyring.
“I liked him today a lot. I think he got a poor representation of his background and I think that he cares deeply about education,” Superintendent Richard Langlois said. “I think a lot of his visions are parallel to visions that we have, that we want to do.”
“I found him very personable and very open and willing to listen,” Assistant Superintendent Kori Becht added.
Commissioner Edelblut has committed to visiting schools across New Hampshire throughout the coming weeks. We’ll be posting updates about his visits and transition. Follow Reaching Higher NH on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on the latest news, or sign up for our newsletter to get the week’s news directly to your inbox!
Read the full article here.
 Whitley, M., Lester, L., Phillimore, J., & Robinson, S. (2017). Influence of birth month on the probability of Western Australian children being treated for ADHD. Medical Journal of Australia, 206 (2), 85.
 Cooper, H., Allen, A. B., Patall, E. A., & Dent, A. L. (2010). Effects of full-day kindergarten on academic achievement and social development. Review of Educational Research, 80(1), 34-70.