NH Education News Digest, October 2022

Dear Friends and Colleagues: 

We all know that teaching is much more than a profession. Teachers shape our lives in profound and lasting ways and are often drawn to the work by a deep desire to make a difference in the world.

Members of the Committee to Study New Hampshire Teacher Shortages and Recruitment Incentives listen to a presentation by Reaching Higher NH in September. Photo by Kayla Provencher.

But we can’t forget that teaching is a profession. Our teachers are well-educated, highly competent professionals, and they live in the same reality the rest of us do. In order to keep attracting new educators to the profession and ensure that all New Hampshire classrooms are filled with qualified, committed teachers, we must pay them competitively and fairly.

Unfortunately, New Hampshire teachers make less than teachers in most other New England states and less than their non-teaching peers. What’s more, the deep funding inequities in our state are reflected in their paychecks. These were among the findings Reaching Higher shared with a legislative study committee last month, as part of our work supporting critical conversations around teacher recruitment, retention, and diversity.

We hope our research helps lawmakers create and advance strategies that will ensure a strong teacher workforce so that all children have access to teachers who inspire, support, and challenge them.

The teacher workforce is one of many important issues at stake in the coming months. Read on for news on academic standards, the school voucher program, a court case affecting what’s taught in classrooms, and more. 

With Gratitude,

The Reaching Higher NH team

Reaching Higher leading the conversation on school standards revisions

The Concord Monitor highlighted Reaching Higher’s analysis of proposed revisions to the Minimum Standards for Public School approval in an article published last month. 

“We’re reading these with the lens of ‘how will this affect our students?’ How will this affect our families? How will this affect their communities?’ ” Reaching Higher Policy Director Christina Pretorius told the Monitor in an article that helps bring needed transparency and accountability to the process. “When it comes to equity, student protections, equitable learning opportunities, those are things that we really hold dear. Public education is for all kids.”

 View Reaching Higher’s webinar on the proposed rule changes here.

EVENT: Democracy and Public Education in Peril Webinar
October 24, 2022 | 4 p.m. | Register for the Zoom link here 
Hosted by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation
Speakers: Jennifer Berkshire, host of Have You Heard podcast, Tina Philibotte, NH Educational Equity Advocate, and Paige Clausius-Parks, Senior Policy Analyst at Rhode Island KIDS COUNT

Today’s young people are continuing to reckon with the social-political climate brought about by issues such as school shootings, anti-LGBTQ + legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the loss of reproductive rights post-Roe, as well as grappling with COVID-19, anti-Black racism, and attacks on our public education. At Nellie Mae, we fund efforts in New England that ensure our public education system is a place for young people to feel safe, supported, and respected; where there is critical thinking and diverse thought; and where talented teachers encourage debate and discovery.

Yet a powerful few continue to threaten this vision of educational equity, letting political rhetoric get in the way of what matters the most: teaching the truth about our country, including both its founding principles and flaws. It can be difficult to be hopeful during these times and to find healing and joy. It is critical for us to hear from those on the front lines in understanding how to collectively support communities, schools, teachers, and our young people through advocacy, resources, and knowledge-sharing measures so that our education system is a system that works for all.

Enrollment in statewide voucher program balloons, along with costs

New data released by the NH Department of Education last month shows that more than 3,000 students have enrolled in the statewide school voucher program in 2022, an 85% increase since the program’s inception in 2021. More than three-quarters of the students were already enrolled in private school or were homeschooled prior to receiving a voucher. At an average cost of $4,857 per voucher, the program will cost taxpayers $14.7 million in 2022.

Courtesy photo

Spotlight on Outstanding Schools

Schools around New Hampshire have reason to celebrate this fall. 

Three New Hampshire schools have been named 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education: Enfield Village School in Enfield, Hanover High School in Hanover, and The Birches Academy of Academics and Art in Salem. All three schools were recognized in the category “Exemplary High Performing Schools,” which are based on student scores on standardized tests. An awards ceremony will be held in Washington, D.C., in November. 

Meanwhile, the Manchester School District took time to applaud its progress in meeting students’ needs at a two-day CelebratEd festival last month. “This event is truly a celebration of our community and the ways we come together to support our students,” Jennifer Gillis, Superintendent of the Manchester School District, told the crowd. 

Federal judge hears first arguments in ‘divisive concepts’ case

Oral arguments began last month in a federal lawsuit challenging the ‘divisive concepts’ bill, passed into law in 2021, which prohibits certain ideas from being taught in NH public schools. Plaintiffs, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, NEA-NH, and a group of public school diversity and inclusion coordinators, argued that the law is worded too vaguely and leaves teachers unsure what they can and cannot teach. Lawyers for the state are trying to have the case dismissed. 

“One of the central problems with this bill is its ambiguity in what constitutes a banned so-called ‘divisive’ concept,’” Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said in an article published in Seacoast Online in July. “…One part of the bill purports to protect academic freedom while another portion bans the teaching on so-called divisive concepts. Frankly, the bill is indecipherable and internally contradictory.”

According to the state’s Human Rights Commission, there have been no credible complaints that New Hampshire teachers have broken the law, though it’s unknown how many complaints have been brought forward. 

Teachers have said that the law has “chilled” speech in schools, since they can lose their license if found violating it.

“Our pedagogy has changed,” Erin Bakkos, a teacher at Portsmouth Middle School, told New Hampshire Business Review. “There is a shift in teaching that’s happened, and I don’t think people are aware of it.”

“The law puts a  target on the backs of teachers and declares open season,”John Greabe, a law school professor and former high school teacher, wrote in a commentary piece for the New Hampshire Bulletin over the summer. “Frankly, it is difficult to conclude anything other than that chill is the goal – especially when one considers that earlier versions of the bill quite openly sought to prohibit many classroom discussions of the effects of racism and sexism. The clear message to teachers is ‘discuss discrimination in its various forms at your professional peril.’ ”

Reaching Higher Board Member: Let’s make sure students are fed

“When students come to school hungry they struggle in nearly every facet of their day,”  Reaching Higher Board Member and Concord High School teacher Heidi Crumrine writes in an Op-Ed for the New Hampshire Bulletin, published Sept 30. “Could providing our students two meals a day actually be a magic bullet?” Read the full piece here

Six months after Croydon town meeting, reverberations felt as NH heads toward November elections
Union Leader, Josie Albertson-Grove, September 18, 2022

A Brief History of the School Bus
Smithsonian Magazine, Lyz Lenz, September 2022

Three Miles
PODCAST: This American Life, Channa Joffe-Walt, September 11, 2022 (original radio broadcast March 13, 2015)
What Students Are Saying About the Growing Fight Over What Young People Can Read
New York Times, The Learning Network, September 22, 2022 
A tipping point for school accountability?
CommonWealth, Joel Boyd and Jack Schneider, September 29, 2022
Dual-language immersion: ‘Only a matter of time’ for New Hampshire? 
Keene Sentinel, Meg McIntyre, October 1, 2022