scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Education experts concerned about a ‘seismic’ shift in N.H. rules

Critics say the proposed changes to public schools include eliminating a review of equity gaps in achievement and could undermine teachers

The Mary A. Fisk Elementary School in Salem, N.H.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

A once in a decade review of the foundational rules New Hampshire public schools must follow has drawn criticism, both for a process critics say has lacked transparency and for a proposal they believe represents a “seismic” shift in expectations around education.

Education experts are concerned the process amounts to an overhaul that could undermine public schools by removing important guardrails, undermining teachers, and privatizing learning by replacing required instruction with “opportunities.” Concerns have come from Reaching Higher, a nonprofit education policy think tank; the NEA, a union that represents educators; and the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, a nonprofit whose membership includes superintendents and other school administrators.


The authors of the new rules, led by Fred Bramante, insist the process has been transparent and that the plan will ensure students graduate with the skills they need to succeed. Bramante is the former New Hampshire State Board of Education Chairman and the founder and president of the National Center for Competency Based Learning. He’s been involved with the past three revisions of these rules, starting in 1992.

The State Board of Education is in the process of reviewing those rules, as Bramante and his organization hold a series of listening sessions throughout the state to seek feedback on the draft.

According to Bramante and the Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, the proposed rules represent a shift toward competency-based learning that began in 2003, where students advance in school based on mastery of skills, rather than time in the classroom.

The ultimate goal of a competency-based model is “less about instruction in a traditional classroom, but more about learning in that anytime, anyplace environment,” according to Bramante.

Over the past two years, he led a 13-person committee to create a draft of the new rules, which were released publicly in March. In addition to following state laws, public schools also need to follow a set of administrative rules called Ed 306 rules, meant to ensure all students have a rigorous and high quality education, while giving school districts and teachers enough flexibility to implement them in different districts around the state.


“Taken on the whole, the changes are broad, messy, and unclear,” according to the New Hampshire School Administrators Association in written feedback on the rules.

NEA president Megan Tuttle said one major concern is that no current teachers were included on Bramante’s committee to draft the new rules.

“This is a document that’s going to essentially alter how things work in schools, and so to not have the voice of the people who it’s going to affect the most is really bothersome,” she said.

Bramante said he is reviewing the resume of a current teacher to include that perspective as the committee works on revisions. He defended the committee’s composition, and said that they have over a combined 50 years of experience in the classroom even though they didn’t include a current teacher.

“There’s been a lot of anger from the communities over this just because it’s changing the minimum standards in such drastic ways,” Tuttle said.

“This looks to be a pretty seismic shift,” Keene Superintendent Rob Malay agreed. He said implementing the kind of changes outlined in the proposed rules would take time — including the shift toward competency-based learning.

“The one that my team is really scratching their head on is the shift from grade levels to learning levels,” Malay said. Teachers understand the concept, according to Malay: where students don’t advance to the next level until they demonstrate proficiency through assessment, but it could be a dramatic change for schools.


“You might have a student who is three, four years older than another student at the same learning level, in the same room, and how they coexist knowing that they’re at different maturity levels socially, outside of the academic focus could have a big cause for concern,” Malay said.

From his perspective, the process of drafting the rules was opaque.

Bramante pointed to listening sessions throughout the state this spring and summer as evidence of what he called “the most inclusive process in the history of education in the state of New Hampshire.”

Another major area of concern is that the draft removes a requirement that districts review equity gaps in achievement.

“We found it really concerning,” said Christina Pretorius, the policy director for Reaching Higher NH. “Making sure that every school district in the state has these policies is really important to make sure that every student in the state regardless of where they live has a safe and inclusive school environment.”

She said these changes also raise the question of what the state is required to pay for. “If the state is requiring them, the state has to pay for them,” she said. “And so by removing some of this guidance does it open the door for the state to say, we don’t require this, so we’re not going to pay for it.”


Education funding is a longstanding issue in New Hampshire, where the state is facing a lawsuit over how little it contributes to the cost of education.

In an interview, Bramante told the Globe he believed that removing equity from the rules was a change made by the Department of Education, after the committee submitted a draft to the department for review last fall.

Edelblut defended the decision to remove equity in a meeting with press Monday. Previously the rules required districts to “review ways in which equity gaps in achievement can be reduced and barriers to learning eliminated.”

Edelblut said that language doesn’t require a school to take action beyond the review. The new language requires school administrators to “develop a plan to address academic underperformance of individual students and the elimination of barriers to learning.”

“If you think about the issue associated with equity is really the underperformance of either individual students or groups of students,” he said. “We’re trying not to build a rule that is trying to play into the cultural conversations broadly, so much as make sure that students who are underperforming are getting the support they need to succeed.”

He said underperformance is “more precise” language than equity, and the new language raises the bar, requiring schools to not just review an issue but to create a plan.

Another major area of concern for both Reaching Higher and the NEA is that credits would be diluted under the proposed rules, by removing the requirement that a certified educator approve credits through what are called extended learning opportunities — where a student learns outside of the classroom through an independent study or an internship, for example.


“It takes the educator out of it, and that’s a problem,” Tuttle said. “I don’t think you would go to a mechanic or a doctor who didn’t have the degree that you would want them to have to get the same service.”

But Drew Cline, the chair of the State Board of Education, said that’s consistent with current state law. “Kids by law already right now can be given graduation credit, if they meet the competency,” he said, without a credited teacher needing to approve credits.

Edelblut said this already happens, when students are allowed to transfer credits that haven’t been approved by credited teachers from charter schools or community college toward public school.

The State Board of Education is expected to start the rule making process later this year.

Tuttle said teachers are watching and they do not like what they see. “There’s this angst and anxiety among the educators in New Hampshire because this is essentially changing how they do what they’re doing,” she said. “We have an educator shortage and if we’re trying to attract educators to New Hampshire and retain the ones that we have this is not helping it.”

A schedule of listening sessions is available online.

Amanda Gokee can be reached at Follow her @amanda_gokee.