HB 371 would restart process of updating minimum standards due to concerns over NH Department of Education’s proposed overhaul

On Monday, February 13, the House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on House Bill (HB) 371, which would restart the process of updating the state’s Minimum Standards for Public School Approval (also known as the ED 306 administrative rules). The hearing will take place at 11:30 a.m. in Room 205-207 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord, NH. 

The New Hampshire Department of Education (NHED) began updating the minimum standards, which serve as the foundation for all of the state’s public schools, in 2020. The process has been marked by secrecy, a lack of transparency, and concerns about conflicts of interest among members of the small workgroup that drafted it. 

The draft revisions also reveal substantial changes that could undermine and destabilize the state’s public schools and move towards an “unbundled” system that commodifies teaching and learning. 

“HB 371 gives New Hampshire an opportunity to start over, so that everyone can have a seat at the table and a voice for what we want for our students, our schools, and our state’s future. This process must authentically engage students, families, and communities, so we can build a collective vision for our public schools, and have a strong foundation for each child to learn, grow, and thrive,” said Christina Pretorius, Reaching Higher NH’s Policy Director.  

About HB 371

HB 371 would create a state commission to review and recommend changes and updates to New Hampshire’s Minimum Standards for Public School Approval. Commission members would include critical voices, including:

  • Teachers and content experts
  • Behavioral health experts
  • Special education experts and advocates
  • Parents and students

The commission would also include several lawmakers because the minimum standards are the foundation for the state’s responsibility to offer, and fund, a public education for each child in the state.

The commission would make recommendations and monitor the state’s implementation of the standards to ensure that each school is adhering to them. 

HB 371 would also require the NH State Board of Education to initiate the rulemaking process after receiving the recommendations from the commission. 

The commission proposed in HB 371 is very similar in structure to the commission that crafted the state’s Holocaust and Genocide Minimum Standards, a subsection of the ED 306s that outlines what schools should include in academic programs regarding the subject. That process was open to the public, with meeting minutes, recordings of meetings, and extensive resources. 

Concerns over Process

There have been deep concerns in the field around the process for the revision of the minimum standards. The NHED, which is the state agency responsible for drafting administrative rules like the ED 306s, contracted with a third party organization to draft an initial proposal. 

There were no practicing teachers among the nine members of the workgroup. Members included one practicing school principal, one practicing school superintendent, an educational consultant, and representatives from the state’s virtual charter school, the NH School Boards Association, and the business community, along with members of the NHED and NCCBL. 

The workgroup met for several months but had no public meetings, minutes, or documents. In the fall of 2021, the workgroup sent a draft of revisions to the NHED.

Since that time, the NHED has engaged with several groups to collect feedback on the proposal. However, the feedback sessions were limited to a small group of people, and the group was only permitted to look at a small section of revisions. According to sources familiar with the process, there was a lot of pushback that it was inauthentic and “not a good use of time.” Participants said they felt “ill-equipped” to give meaningful feedback because they were such a small group. In many instances, a single teacher was asked to be a representative voice of an entire content area. 

At no point, according to sources, were the people involved allowed to look at the proposed overhaul as a whole — they were only permitted to see the sections that pertained directly to their academic content area. 

The latest version of the proposed overhaul, which was said to have incorporated feedback from content experts, was released to a small group of individuals in mid-January. A copy of that document can be downloaded here:

Concerns over Content

There are many concerns with the content and scope of the NHED’s proposed overhaul that have not yet been acknowledged by the NHED or addressed in the latest version of the document:

  1. Opens the door to privatization and commodification of public schools: Changes to terminology throughout the document, including the replacement  of the word “courses” with “learning opportunities” and “instruction” with “learning.” These changes are concerning, as they appear to build a system that minimizes formal instruction in favor of a commodified, independent, and private education marketplace. 
  2. Fundamentally changes or removes equity and student protections: Eliminates references to protected classes identified in anti-discrimination protections, eliminates the establishment of a fair and equitable code of discipline, and focuses on individual student “under-performance” rather than closing equity gaps. 
  3. Does not update program elements: While the latest version restores the language of the existing program elements, it does not update many of them to reflect what we know about student learning or subject matter. 

Reaching Higher NH is working on a more extensive analysis of the updated version of the document. 

About the Unbundling of Public Schools

The language changes from “courses” to “learning opportunities,” as well as the apparent standardization of competencies and credits, present a concerning trend. While we cannot determine the intentions of the task force or the organization with which the NHED contracted, the National Center for Competency-Based Learning, these changes — while subtle — could create the conditions for “unbundling” K-12 public education. 

“Unbundling” is a term that is beginning to appear nationally, particularly in the context of higher education programs, but pro-voucher and pro-privatization organizations are beginning to advocate for its adoption in K-12 education as well. Under an “unbundled” education system, schools are standardized to the point where they can be broken into different elements and then outsourced and commodified. 

Read more about our analysis here and view the Powerpoint presentation here.

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