A New Group with an Old Agenda

There is a “new” public education lobbying organization in New Hampshire called Reaching Higher NH. Don’t be fooled by their name. They do not support higher standards for our public schools, or the benefits that our schools gain from competition (school choice), or parental involvement in their children’s education. Their goal is to reinforce the education establishment’s implementation of Common Core, top-down control of our public education system, and efforts to shut concerned citizens out of the discussion.

In their major debut announcement in the Union Leader on October 23, 2015, one of the Reaching Higher NH Board members, Mr. Scott McGilvray from the National Education Association – NH Chapter, was quoted saying, “We wanted to bring together a whole lot of people who could be one voice. The other side is not as big as it seems in the media, but they have real loud voices at the State House and out in the public.”

That condescending and dismissive attitude is common among NH’s education ruling elite. In 2014 Dr. Virginia Barry, Commissioner of the state Department of Education, referred to parents as “loud and misinformed” in testimony before the House Education Committee on a Common Core bill.

Mr. Arne Duncan, former Secretary of the US Department of Education, said nearly the same thing in November 2013 when he referred to Common Core opponents as “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

It is particularly ironic that the agencies supporting Common Core are the ones now making excuses for the dismal assessment results and are trying to blame those who oppose this massive experiment. The NH DOE has yet to release composite scores to the public, but a few districts have made them public ahead of the November 12th release date.

When facts and reason do not prevail, Common Core supporters and educrats resort to insults.

Mr. Scott McGilvray’s presence on the Reaching Higher Board is particularly concerning. As the president of the NH chapter of the National Education Association (NEA), it is reasonable to assume the NEA’s views on school choice and parents’ rights are shared with this new organization. The NEA’s position on homeschooling states,

“The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used. The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools. The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting.”

Another Reaching Higher NH Board member is Dr. Mark Joyce, the executive director and lobbyist for the NH School Administrator’s Association (NHSAA). This organization has consistently opposed school choice and parental rights in their children’s education. Although their website is not particularly current, their winter 2015 newsletter is publicly available. In it they extol the benefits of Common Core standards, tying teachers and schools to assessment results, and deride tax-credit scholarship programs that “drain public resources” although the funding comes from private sources. They also make negative remarks about educational options, charter schools, online learning options, and appear opposed to less restrictive homeschool regulations.

Reaching Higher NH is also a spin-off organization from Mr. Bill Duncan’s activist blog, Advancing NH Public Education (ANHPE). The tab on the far right of the ANHPE’s banner is labeled “current education bills” and is a direct connection to the Reaching Higher NH site. The layout and formatting of the two sites are nearly identical, too. Although Mr. Duncan currently serves on the state Board of education, he remains an activist opposed to school choice and parental rights in education. One look at his articles on “vouchers” (a factual misrepresentation of the tax-credit scholarship program), reveals his anti-choice opinions. This is also important because there is yet another repeal bill filed for 2016. Examine Mr. Duncan’s strong support for Common Core standards and testing. Not unexpectedly, Mr. Duncan supported Governor Hassan’s veto of SB 101, a bill that would have made Common Core optional in our public schools. Mr. Duncan also advocated for the PACE experimental assessment program in the final negotiations between the House and Senate on HB 323, the most contentious bill of the year.  Mr. Duncan also supported the veto of HB 603, the parental opt-out bill. His position — and that of ANHPE and Reaching Higher NH — is obvious. Clearly, he has a major role in this new organization and its opinions. Mr. Duncan and Reaching Higher NH oppose school choice and parents’ rights in their children’s education.

Reaching Higher NH is also supported by the Chairman of the State Board of Education, Mr. Tom Raffio. In fact, he is the person who filed the organization with the Secretary of State’s office and his business address is the one listed for the new organization.

Note that the organization is registered as a 501(c)(3), so it is prohibited from “substantial legislative activity” or lobbying. We will have to see how they conduct themselves once the 2016 legislative session begins. Reaching Higher NH expressly encourages would-be supporters to “testify to the New Hampshire House or Senate Education Committees on policy issues you care about.” If their notes from last year’s bills are any indication, this could be a problem for them. They have bills broken into various categories including “especially bad” and “especially good.” They list several bills as “especially bad” although we at School Choice for NH supported most of them, particularly HB 301 that would allow opt-outs from the state’s databases and HB 471 that would empower local school districts with greater independence. Additionally, if Reaching Higher NH has paid staff that lobbies the legislature, then they must also register as such with the Secretary of State and wear an orange badge when at the State House. It’s interesting to note that Mr. Bill Duncan is the contact for their executive director search.

Reaching Higher NH, as evidenced by their Board members’ and supporters’ long-established positions, have a strong bias against school choice and parental rights in the education of their children. These individuals and organizations also benefit by the implementation of Common Core and supporting the education establishment’s reforms. Citizens and legislators should be aware of this as they consider any position this lobbying organization may present.