Press Conference on HB 323, the NCLB Waiver Bill

Earlier today we co-hosted a press conference at the Legislative Office Building lobby with NH Families for Education. The video is posted here, and below are my remarks.

Call every senator and tell them only the Hoell/Avard amendment is acceptable, otherwise HB 323 must be killed. The Senate Education Committee passed (yet another variation of) the Ladd/Reagan amendment in a Ought to Pass as Amended (OTP/A) 4 to 1 vote. The full Senate is expected to vote on it next Thursday, May 7th.


Good morning. My name is Michelle Levell and I am the Director of School Choice for NH.

HB 323 is a very critical bill as it is tied to the No Child Left Behind waiver. This waiver is the agreement that the state Department of Education makes with the US DOE so the state can have flexibility from some of the more punitive aspects of NCLB’s mandates. It also commits New Hampshire to contractual agreements with the feds for the next three to four years. This waiver drives all the state mandates to local school districts, such as the adoption of College and Career Readiness Standards (another name for Common Core) and the aligned assessments.

Common Core and the oppressive Smarter Balanced Assessments have been very controversial over the last few months. So why should the senate commit to more untested programs?

The New Hampshire Department of Education already submitted their waiver application, but it is not yet formally approved.

That brings up another question. Why is New Hampshire creating legislation that would bind the next legislature and our schools before the waiver is accepted? This is backwards and a poor legislative strategy.

This top-down approach to education skews accountability so that the local districts are more concerned with compliance to state and federal rules than to local taxpayers and parents.

In truth the NCLB waiver has string attached and turns NH into a puppet for the US DOE.

These strings are woven throughout HB 323, especially the current version as passed on the House floor. This amendment written by Rep. Rick Ladd was rushed through the chamber on a busy session day and not given a thorough public vetting. This is the version currently before the Senate Education Committee, and it has many flaws:

  • It  continues the over testing of our students.
  • It specifically includes the Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE), which is only in the pilot stage in four districts. There is no evidence that it is successful and therefore should not be written into state statute.
  • The department will require “certain readiness criteria,” which is a vague way of referring to College and Career Readiness Standards, aka  Common Core, to be allowed into this program.
  • It gives broad powers to the state Department of Education that would enable them to develop criteria and an approval process to determine which school districts may use an alternative assessment, all without any checks-and-balances by the legislature.
  • Because PACE is an integrated assessment program, parents would not have any opt-out choice.

Two very different amendments have been put forward to address these serious problems — one co-authored by Rep. Rick Ladd and Sen. John Reagan, and one by Rep. JR Hoell and Sen. Kevin Avard. They are very different, as this chart clearly shows.

HB 323 (2015) amendment graphic comparison

Unfortunately, the Ladd/Reagan amendment does not fully address the multiple problems found in HB 323.

  • The Ladd/Reagan amendment removes PACE and nominally reduces testing in elementary grades.
  • It keeps the same blank-check power for the state DOE to develop approval criteria and a process for districts to seek permission to use alternative assessments.
  • The feds still have approval authority.
  • All references to “readiness” standards, aka Common Core, remain.
  • This amendment does not recognize parents’ refusal as one of the exceptions for student participation.

Put simply, the Ladd/Reagan amendment is seriously flawed and unacceptable.

In stark contrast, the Hoell/Avard amendment would offer a true solution. This is the only amendment that could salvage the bill.

  • This amendment significantly reduces testing at all grade levels.
  • It removes references to “readiness” standards, aka Common Core.
  • It does not give the state DOE power to create new criteria and an approval process for districts to use alternative assessments. It also does not require federal approval for those choices.
  • Finally, it specifically recognizes parents’ rights to refuse their child’s participation in the assessments.

According to a letter dated March 5, 2015 from the US Department of Education, NH already has a two-year waiver approved, and it specifies the statewide use of PACE at every grade level. Only the Hoell/Avard amendment would give local school districts an option to use an alternative assessment and parents an opt-out. HB 323 as written and with the Ladd/Reagan amendment gives the illusion that PACE is state-approved and legitimizes the NH DOE’s backroom deals with the feds.

Unless the Hoell/Avard amendment can be passed, HB 323 must be killed.

Testing is not teaching. Our children’s education should not be based on failed education reform experiments. We should not relinquish control of our schools to state and federal agencies who are remote and inaccessible to the public. The senate should respect the checks-and-balances built into our political system and not abdicate their very important role of reigning in the state DOE, an extension of the executive branch. Parents’ rights must be respected. New Hampshire’s children deserve better.

Please tell every senator that only the Hoell/Avard amendment is acceptable. Unless they are willing to support it, HB 323 must fail.

The Senate Education Committee will meet in room 103, immediately behind me, starting at 9:00am. They are expected to discuss and vote on HB 323, along with a few other bills. Join us. This will indicate to the committee members that New Hampshire parents are tired of these federal strings that bind our schools to federal dictates.

Together, let’s save our kids.