New Hampshire is nearing the end of a more than three-year effort to revamp the state's core educational standards. When approved early next year, these new rules will steer the course of public education for at least the next decade. In this continuing series of stories, the Granite State New Collaborative will explore what those changes are, how they came about and what they mean for the future of public education in the Granite State.
Over decades as a teacher, administrator and educational consultant, Rose Colby has seen first-hand the difference between traditional teaching and competency-based education, an approach that encourages students to apply their learning to real-world situations.
For example, rather than passing a test after learning about solar energy, students following a competency-based model might be asked to build their own solar-powered cooker, she said.
"That's a much deeper assessment of a student," said Colby, who was a teacher and administrator in Goffstown and worked as the Competency Education Consultant for the N.H. Department of Education from 2007-2014, but is no longer associated with the department.
Although competency-based educationmay be a new term to many Granite Staters, there has been a slow transition to this model in the state since 2004. But that pace is likely to increase as the Department of Education is preparing a broad set of administrative rule reforms aimed at pushing more schools to adopt CBE standards. These "Minimum Standards for Public Schools Approval," better known as the 306s, are undergoing their 10-year update and are expected to be finalized by early next year.
The 306s are part of the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules established in 1983 by the state legislature to provide legislative oversight in the area of administrative rulemaking by the agencies of the executive branch.
These rules define the minimum standards for public school approval. The document is how the state defines its education system, according to Fred Bramante, president of the National Center for Competency-Based Learning, a non-profit that has been contracted by the state Department of Education to update the rules.
School approval is a mandatory process required by state law (RSA 21-N:9). All children residing in the State of New Hampshire between the ages of 6 and 18 are required to attend an approved public school, approved private school, or an approved home school program.
"The nuts and bolts of public education are defined in this document," Bramante said. "It's a big deal."
Many educators, including Colby, say that CBE is a good thing. Yet they worry that the proposed changes to the 306 rules could dilute the rigor of education, put unfunded and unsupported burdens on teachers and school districts, and even be used as a backdoor approach to defund public schools, all without educator input.
"When you look at the substance of the proposed overhaul, it's problematic," said Nicole Heimarck, executive director of Reaching Higher New Hampshire, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on providing public policy resources around K-12 education in the state. "With this proposal, the department is moving away from evidence-based practices and really weakening the standards for public school approval."
The changeswhich could be adopted as soon as next year"will have a consequential impact on how New Hampshire does schooling tomorrow and well into the future," Heimarck said.
A revision with limited public oversight
In the past, these every decade updates have been drafted internally by the department. Yet for this update, the DOE, led by Commissioner Frank Edelblut, signed a
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