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April 20 - Thumbs Down on Common Core

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News May 20, 2015

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

Thumbs Down On Common Core

Granite State public schools will not be forced to implement the controversial Common Core
learning standards for students, if both New Hampshire
ʼs House of Representatives and Senate get their way.

On April 15 by a 202-138 roll call vote, the House approved Senate Bill 101, which would prohibit state government from requiring implementation of Common Core standards by local school districts. For readersʼ information, Common Core would require public school students by specific grade levels to have mastered certain minimum skill levels as well as learned certain subject areas. They have been developed in collaboration with the United States Department of Education, national educators, and business leaders like Bill Gates of Microsoft. Many states have voted to require their local school districts to implement and follow Common Core.

Senate Bill 101 was approved by a majority of my fellow representatives after a spirited debate, and a recommendation by a majority of the House Education Committee to approve the bill. Bill proponents like Tuftonboro Rep. Glen Cordelli declared that Common Core has been “a divisive and confusing issue” for New Hampshire and its school districts. Rep. Cordelli said that the bill simply states “clearly” that Common Core standards are not required to be implemented in any of our stateʼs school districts, even if the New Hampshire Dept. of Education is encouraging districts to implement at least as he claimed.

However, Senate Bill 101 opponents like Manchester Rep. Barbara Shaw said that the bill is unnecessary since current state law doesnʼt require school districts to adopt Common Core, nor does the New Hampshire Education Department mandate districts implement such standards. Rep. Shaw declared that Common Core “meaningfully addresses the problem of low expectations” in public schools throughout our nation and “equalizes learning opportunity.” She added that many of our stateʼs school districts have found that it “aligns very well with career and college ready standards already in place.” Finally, she said that many Common Core standards are “based on analysis and application of knowledge” which as a thinking process is “a valuable tool for 21st Century learning.” 

Senate Bill 101 now proceeds to Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has not yet indicated whether she will sign, veto, or let the legislation become law without her signature. The bill is sponsored by a group of 10 Republican legislators led by Nashua Sen. Kevin Avard, and including Former House Speaker and Mont Vernon Rep. William OʼBrien.

For readersʼ information, I voted “no” on approval of Senate Bill 101. I voted “no” on the bill because neither current federal or state law does mandate Common Core upon New Hampshireʼs school districts. I realize that such standards are controversial, and may not adequately address the problem of low expectations for many students in some states and school districts. But the more I learn about Common Core the more I tend to believe that the opposition to these standards is an over-reaction to improving New Hampshireʼs public schools, especially since each local school district has a choice implementing them or a different set of standards. In summary, Senate Bill 101 is a solution in search of a problem.

Also on April 15 the House passed another Senate bill which had been recommended by a majority of the House Education Committee. This legislation was Senate Bill 195, which would encourage our stateʼs public schools to teach cursive handwriting and memorization of multi- plication tables. It was passed on a 186-155 division vote after a similar spirited debate as on Senate Bill 101.

Supporters of Senate Bill 195, like Merrimack Rep. Josh Moore, declared that New Hampshireʼs state government should encourage cursive handwriting because cursive still has “a place in our society,” and will be needed by future generations in order to read our nationʼs founding documents like the Declaration of Independence. Rep. Moore added that memorization of multiplication tables is beneficial in early childhood, and for later becoming proficient in mathematics. He emphasized that the billʼs provisions were not a mandate on local school districts.

Nevertheless, Senate Bill 195 opponents like Dover Rep. James Verschueren stated that they had nothing against the memorization of either multiplication tables, or the teaching of cursive handwriting. But they said that the billʼs text, which included the use of the word “encourage” is “fuzzy statutory language.” They added that a Senate resolution encouraging the memorization of multiplication and teaching of cursive would have been a more appropriate legislative vehicle rather than a bill.

Senate Bill 195 now goes to Gov. Hassan for either her signature, veto, or letting it become law with no reaction. The bill is sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators led by Hampton Sen. Nancy Stiles.

For the record, I voted against Senate Bill 195. I totally agree with the billʼs supporters that teaching cursive handwriting as well as the memorization of multiplication tables is a good idea. But I also agree with the opponents that a resolution, rather than a bill, would have been a more appropriate legislative approach. The use of the word “encourage” in the bill is vague language, which should be avoided in any proposed law we pass whenever possible in my opinion. Also if the bill had required the teaching of multiplication tables and cursive writing in public schools, that requirement would have been a mandate on local districts like Claremont. A mandate that would be unconstitutional under the New Hampshire Constitutionʼs Part I, Article 28(a), which bans state mandates on its political subdivisions, including school districts, without appropriating state funds to pay for such mandates. Anyway, I know from my experience as a substitute teacher that Claremontʼs schools still teach cursive handwriting and the memorization of multiplication tables.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net