Vetoing Local Control

Ken Gorrellby Ken Gorrell, Weirs Times Contributing Writer

Rarely does a politician provide a glimpse into her foundational beliefs more revealing than Gov. Maggie Hassan’s veto of House Bill 603 last week. Hassan vetoed local control. She decided that NH parents and students are mere means to an end, and that federal moneymen, Big Education, and Big Business were her true constituents.
HB 603 would have recognized parents as the primary decision makers for their children’s education, giving them the right to opt out of statewide testing. In her veto message our governor cited “jeopardize federal funding” as one reason to limit parental rights. Her additional reasons also focused on issues other than the interests of individual children. Yes, “business leaders and educators joined together to oppose this legislation,” but why should they have final say in how your child is educated?
Hassan’s veto missive was full of statements presented as fact but which are really disputed talking points in an on-going, sometime heated, often technical debate. The issues extend beyond parental rights – as if that isn’t enough – to include the validity of these tests, how they shape (and shrink) curriculum and lesson plans, how test preparation displaces real learning, and how the test data is collected, disseminated, and analyzed.
Rather than addressing the issues fairly, Hassan resorted to empty fear-mongering (“…could do real and lasting damage to New Hampshire’s economic competitiveness…”) to justify putting the interests of NH citizens behind those who profit from the ongoing consolidation in education. Follow the money, they say, even if it means stepping on thousands of NH kids.
“New Hampshire’s economic competitiveness depends on our ongoing commitment to ensuring that our students and workers have the skills needed to compete in the future.” That’s true. It’s also a non sequitur in the context of mandatory testing. Long before these tests were foisted on us with their federal strings attached, NH communities were educating their children. We were committed to helping the next generation succeed. Does the governor believe otherwise?
The opt-out movement isn’t limited to NH; it’s nationwide and truly grass-roots. The reasons given by parents and educators vary but can be summed up by one line: Whose education is it, anyway?
Last year in Oregon, Maika J. Yeigh, Ed. D, penned a guest editorial explaining why her two children would not be taking the Common Core-aligned “Smarter Balanced” tests (the ones given in NH):
“Some assessments are designed to inform teachers and students of progress. Other assessments are designed to see how schools prepare children to meet overall goals. The SBAC does neither; instead, this is a 30-hour “high stakes” assessment where students, teachers and schools face tough consequences if large numbers of students fail — while at the same time being designed to fail large numbers of children.”
If you find it unbelievable that Smarter Balanced tests are designed to fail a lot of students, spend a few minutes reading through the results of an Internet search on the terms “Smarter Balanced” and “cut scores.” Contrast expert opinion and your own sense of fairness with the governor’s statement that “A valid annual assessment is a critical component of accountability.”
Gov. Hasssan described the Smarter Balanced Assessment as “an improved test that helps inform educators about whether students are meeting higher standards and helps direct any resulting changes to instruction.” Yet even leaders of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium admit that “it cannot validate whether its tests measure college readiness until it has data on how current test takers do in college.” Sounds like they are conducting an experiment — with your kids as guinea pigs.
The governor left herself an out, of sorts, declaring in her veto message that “New Hampshire continues to build on our efforts…developing assessment alternatives through the Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) Pilot Program” which “empowers our students and our teachers by reducing the amount of standardized testing in favor of more locally managed assessments…”
But “locally managed” isn’t the same thing as having “local control.” And the promise of yet another top-down testing program imposed on us should give no one hope that the situation will improve with a new set of mandated tests.
Governor Hassan vetoed local control last week. She stepped on parental rights. Days before her veto, Nevada governor Brian Sandoval acknowledged parental rights and parents’ primary role in educating children in the Silver State by signing into law the nation’s first universal school-choice program. Parents in the Live Free or Die state will have to wait until after the next election for a chance at similar freedom.

Ken Gorrell can be reached at