The NH Department of Education and Attorney General have repeatedly claimed that only public schools can provide an adequate education and that parents cannot determine the best educational options for their children. In letters to the Croydon School Board the NH DOE and AG state, “In order to meet its duty, the State of New Hampshire has implemented a system to guarantee that all public school children receive the opportunity for an adequate education. This system is exclusive to the public schools.” They also said this repeatedly at the Superior Court injunction hearing against Croydon last November.
This is the state’s foundational argument against Croydon’s school choice program and HB 1637, a bill that would allow small school districts to include non-religious schools in their tuition agreements.
Does the state fulfill its guarantee? Does every NH public school student receive an adequate education? What is an “adequate education”? Does that mean that our public schools provide a high quality education? How is it quantified or defined? The state claims that the statewide assessment and graduation rates are the mechanisms used to fulfill this promise.
If we examine the statewide assessment scores for 2015, we find that only 58% of NH students across all tested grade levels are Level 3 or better in English Language Arts. For mathematics, the scores are even lower at only 46%. That means that not quite 3 out of 5 students are at Level 3 or better in English and less than half are in math.
Is that an “adequate” education? What does it even mean to score at Level 3 or 4? Per the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the NH DOE, the levels are arbitrarily set standards of achievement (aka cut scores) determined by the 2013-2014 field tests, participating educators and the public, and finalized by each state. They were designed to be goals, and are not based on clear percentages of correct answers or grade-level expectations as were the old NECAP exams. According to the NH Department of Education, a Level 4 means students have “exceeded” and Level 3 means students “met” the achievement standards for the tested knowledge and skills. Does this mean that only those who achieve a Level 3 or higher on the statewide assessments are receiving an “adequate” education?
Certainly some districts did much better than the state averages. For example, Bedford tested 78% at Level 3 or higher in English Language Arts and 70% for mathematics for all grade levels. Londonderry also did well with 70% Level 3 or better in English, but only 55% in math. Windham, another well-off district, had similar scores. They have 74% of students scoring Level 3 or higher in English and 66% in math. Is it an “adequate” education when substantial percentages of students — even in wealthy communities — do not score a Level 3 or better?
If our wealthier communities have this range of scores, how well did our economically-challenged districts perform? The Conway district has only 58% in English and 36% in math receiving Level 3 or higher. The Littleton district has only 52% in English and 43% in math scoring Level 3 or above. It isn’t much different for the Keene district with only 58% in English and 44% in math.
What about our more urban communities? The Manchester district scored 58% in English, but notably worse in math at only 28% achieving Level 3 or above. Nashua scored 50% Level 3 or higher in English and only 40% in math. Is this still an “adequate” education? Does this still fulfill the state’s “guarantee”?
The state Department of Education said that the 2015 scores are only a benchmark because that was the first time the Smarter Balanced Assessments (aligned to College and Career Readiness Standards) were used. So how did NH do in previous years when NH administered NECAP and had to meet Annual Yearly Progress? The most recent year that information is available is from the 2013-2014 school year and not aggregated. The statewide results for 11th grade at or exceeding proficient were 77% in reading, 36% in math, and 54% in writing. The statewide 8th grade results are similar at 78% in reading, 64% in math, and 57% in writing. Has our public education system chronically left some kids behind? Has the quality of NH education changed just because the state is using a different assessment?
The state Department of Education and Attorney General claim that mandatory statewide assessments are part of the accountability to “guarantee an adequate education” and because private schools are not required to participate in the state mandated test (but may take other tests) that they inherently cannot fulfill a “guarantee of an adequate education.” So, with scores like these, does the statewide testing actually provide a guarantee?
The other criteria the state DOE claims that “guarantees” an “adequate education” is the graduation rate. Examining the graduation and dropout rates show that for the 2013-2014 school year (the most recent available), New Hampshire had a 88.65% graduation rate (including chartered public schools). In other words, just over 11% of NH high schoolers did not graduate, even though the state’s compulsory attendance age is 18, effectively eliminating any “drop outs”. While this is excellent on a national basis, it is not exceptional compared to NH’s private high schools. No composite information is available, so we took a sample of private (non-boarding) high schools across the state. The results are as follows:
Bishop Brady High School 100% graduation and college acceptance
Bishop Guertin High School 100% graduation and college acceptance
The Derryfield School 100% graduation and college acceptance
Kimball Union Academy 100% graduation and college acceptance
Trinity High School 100% graduation and college acceptance
By comparison, private schools meet or exceed NH’s public schools on this criteria.
So what is the state guaranteeing when their assessment scores are low and not all students graduate? Even based on their own criteria, New Hampshire fails to fulfill its commitment yet this is the basis of their argument against small towns being allowed to satisfy their obligation to provide education to their school-aged residents with private school alternatives. The state’s argument cannot be substantiated. They do not “guarantee” that all NH students will graduate nor receive a quality education, as measured by the statewide assessment.
An “adequate education” is defined in RSA 193-E and specifies the criteria and substantive educational content. Per statute “adequate” doesn’t refer to quality or achievement levels, it simply refers to a product. Is that what our public education system delivers? Maybe New Hampshire is similar to Michigan in that they have no legal responsibility to provide a quality education to public school students. If that is true, then the state should drop its lawsuit against Croydon and opposition to HB 1637. Let small districts provide educational options — not only be the education producer — to their school-aged children, especially ones that offer improved “fit” and quality choices.
Contact the House Education Committee before March 1, when they will discuss and vote on HB 1637. They can make four recommendations to the larger body:
1) Refer to interim study (can be considered a soft kill).
2) Ought to Pass (OTP) to support the bill.
3) Ought to Pass as Amended (OTP/A) if a committee amendment is supported.
4) Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) to kill the bill.
To contact the entire House Education Committee, you may send one email to HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us. The General Court website is experiencing several technical difficulties (the committee’s email is not always working), so consider contact the Representatives directly. Particularly mention if you are a constituent. Emails for each member of the House Education Committee:
The Croydon case vs the NH DOE will be heard in the Sullivan County Superior Court on March 9th. Please join us in support of all small towns across the state.
Also, please sign our petition to support school choice for small districts. It will send an email to Dr. Virginia Barry, the commissioner of the NH Department of Education, and the Honorable Joseph Foster, the Attorney General. It sends a message asking them to drop the lawsuit against Croydon and opposition to HB 1637.
For additional information on the background of Croydon’s innovative program and their legal challenge from the Department of Education, read the following articles.
HB 1637 — School Choice for Small Towns
Injunction Hearing for Croydon vs the NH DOE
Response to the NH DOE and Attorney General
It’s About Control, Not the Kids
The NH DOE Continues to Bully Croydon
The DOE Wants to End School Choice
Innovative School Choice Program in Croydon