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Common Core education criticized as well intended but insufficiently rigorous

LACONIA — A panel of critics of the Common Core State (education) Standards Initiative (CCSSI) preached primarily to the choir at a forum sponsored and hosted by the Belknap County Republican Committee that drew 65 people to the Beane Conference Center this week.

Almost four years after the New Hampshire Board of Education adopted CCSSI — along with its counterparts in 44 others states — a groundswell of opposition is gathering momentum just over a year before students are due to be tested to the new standards. In July, New Hampshire Public Radio reported that the "backlash in other states hasn't really caught on in New Hampshire," where the issue "remains under the radar."

Two months later the Alton School Board voted three-to-two to reject CCSSI and in October, the Manchester school district, the largest in the state, followed suit when the school board voted 13 to 1 to develop its own standards. By now the debate is underway in numerous school districts around the state, including Nashua, the second largest, as well as in the Legislature, where a bill to jettison CCSSI has been filed.

Alan Glassman, chairman of the county GOP, said that his aim in organizing the forum was to present the facts about an issue that has aroused as much confusion as concern. Two of the panelists — Sandra Stotsky and Jamie Gass — were veterans of the successful educational reforms introduced in Massachusetts between 1999 and 2003. Both said that they have testified against CCSSI in some 20 states.

Stotsky, who recently retired after a long career in teaching and consulting, was among the 29 members of the committee that validated the CCSSI standards and was one of the five who dissented. She claimed that there were no teachers or English experts and only one mathematician among those who wrote the standards. The standards themselves, she described, as less rigorous than those of several states, including Massachusetts, and stressed that since they are not internationally benchmarked, they would do nothing to improve the competitiveness of American students. Stotsky feared that the standards would lower the performance of high school students two grade levels.

While Gass shared Stotsky's misgivings about the standards, he also expressed concern about how CCSSI was developed and introduced. Federal law, he noted, expressly forbids the federal government from imposing national educational standards. He said that CCSSI originated with the National Governor's Association, with funding from private foundations, chiefly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Although the Obama Administration inherited the program, it supplemented it with $4.3 billion in grants distributed among the states. Gass questioned the legitimacy of this approach, which circumvented the legislative process at both the federal and state levels, calling it "a horrendous misuse of the public trust."

Ann-Marie Banfield of Bedford, the educational liaison of Cornerstone Policy Research, addressed the privacy issues raised by CCSSI, noting that students will be required to complete questionnaires with 400 data points. She said that parents should be concerned about the nature of the information that will be collected as well as how it will be shared and used. Banfield noted that Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a Democrat, has written to the United States Department of Education to voice his concerns about encroachments of the privacy of students and their families.

Representative Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro), the fourth panelist, recalled that the state board of education adopted CCSSI after only two public hearings, one attended by six people, within weeks of the standards being published. "The Legislature was cut out of the discussion," he said. Cordelli anticipated that the Legislature will consider 10 bills dealing with CCSSI when it convenes in January, including at least one to repeal it and several addressing testing and privacy. Noting that the cost introducing CCSSI in New Hampshire has been estimated at $85-million, he said that he has filed legislation to require a fiscal analysis.

In response to a question from Norm Tregenza of Tuftonboro, a former state representative who said he has been following the issue through the publications of the John Birch Society, Gass said that CCSSI has nothing to do with the United Nations or Council on Foreign Relations. In fact, he reminded the audience that the impetus toward national standards began during the Reagan Administration. "These are peripheral concerns," Stotsky remarked.

Gass pictured the advocates of CCSSI as "misguided," but insisted that "they are not trying to do harm. All the people who advocate this are not malevolent." He explained that there has long been a rift among educators between those who favor fostering competencies to prepare students for employment and others preferring an academic approach marked by content, especially the classical disciplines of literature and history. The debate about CCSSI, he said, was the most recent manifestation of these differences.

Patty Humphrey of Chichester, a staunch advocate of local control of education policy, chided the panelists, particularly Stotsky, for endorsing the concept of national standards while rejecting CCSSI. Taking a more libertarian approach, she urged resistance to any and all federal intrusion in elementary and secondary education, which should be the responsibility of local communities. Stotsky replied that she thought it possible to employ "common standards," but those of CCSSI.

Doris Hohensee, the last panelist and longtime champion of home schooling, said that CCSSI was another assault on local control and parental rights and welcomed the mounting grassroots campaign against it. "It's the mothers taking back local education," she said.

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 November 2013 12:48

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Chris Shipp promoted to captain of Laconia Fire Department

LACONIA — Fire Chief Ken Erickson yesterday announced the promotion of Lieutenant Chris Shipp to captain and of senior firefighter Jay Ellingson to lieutenant. The promotions followed the earlier promotion of Captain Kirk Beattie to assistant chief.

Shipp, who joined the department in 1995 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2001, will be assigned to the Weirs Beach Station where he will directly supervise his platoon and oversee the three others, altogether managing all 12 firefighters posted to the station. Among the first paramedics in the department, Shipp has a degree in liberal arts as well as emergency medicine and fire science. Off hours, he serves as a selectman in Moultonborough.

Ellingson will also be assigned to the Weirs Beach Station. Earning numerous certifications and several citations during his 12 years with the department, he has served as an acting officer when necessary for the past few years.

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 November 2013 12:36

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Rejection of Laconia chicken ordinance came as a shock

LACONIA — The Planning Board's rejection of an ordinance which would have permitted the keeping of chickens in residential zones in the city came as a surprise to supporters of the change, many of whom assumed that it since it had been endorsed by the Zoning Board last month that passage was assured.
But the board turned it down by a 6-2 vote Tuesday night following a public hearing at which no one testified on behalf of the proposed ordinance, which has been under discussion for months.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that Planning Board members cited concerns over smell, noise and the disposal of chicken manure in a lengthy discussion before voting down the proposal.
''I'm disappointed that it didn't pass. I wasn't able to go the meeting, so I don't understand why they decided to vote it down. But it's too bad that they did,'' said Karen Barker of Lane Road, one of the founders of the Lakes Region Food Network who has been in the forefront of efforts to ease restrictions on raising chickens.
Barker said that she hopes to renew the push for changing the ordinance.
The proposed ordinance change which would have permitted the keeping of chickens in the residential single-family (RS), residential general (RG) and shorefront residential (SFR) districts. A special exception to the ordinance, granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), would be required.
Last month the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 4-1 to support the proposal, which was prepared by the Zoning Task Force headed by Suzanne Perley, which had studied the proposal since last spring.
Perley said that she was surprised by the Planning Board's vote.
''I expected it would at least get to the City Council (the next step). Now it's dead in the water,'' said Perley, who during the course of studying the proposal spoke with officials in all the other cities in the state that have adopted similar ordinances and found that none had experienced significant problems.
''We got a lot of input on the proposed change,'' said Perley, who said that there appeared to be ''a little confusion over the process,'' and wishes that she had conveyed more of the information the task force had gathered directly to the Planning Board,
She said that as of now the task force has no intention of revisiting the proposed ordinance unless asked to do so by the City Council.
The proposed ordinance, modeled on one adopted by Concord two years ago, would have permitted keeping not more than five hens — but no roosters, capons or guinea hens — for the sole use of the household in the specified districts by special exception. The breeding of chickens and sale of eggs were prohibited. Nor could chickens be slaughtered on the premisses. Chickens would be kept in coops placed in rear or side yards at least 10 feet from the primary residence and 20 feet from any lot line. Chickens would not be allowed to roam free. Not more than three cubic feet of droppings, stored in a closed container, could be kept at one time. Chicken coops could not be located and chicken manure could not be stored within the 50 feet of the Shoreland Protection Overlay District, which includes all land within 250 feet of the high water mark of public waters, or within any wetland or wetland buffer.
The current ordinance restricts the keeping of livestock, including poultry, to four districts — the commercial resort (CR), airport industrial (AI) and rural residential I and II (RRI, RRII) districts — effectively excluding chickens from the most densely populated parts of the city.
The zoning task force explained at public hearings held by the ZBA that requiring a special exception to keep chickens would effectively create a register. Applicants would have to pay a $125 fee and demonstrate that that the use meets eight criteria, including that keeping chickens will not impair the interests or character of the neighborhood.
Barker says that she believes that the requirement for a special exception is onerous, requiring too much time and paperwork on behalf of the applicants, and says that she has yet to find a town or city with a similar requirement.

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 November 2013 12:31

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Barnstead tax commitment rises just 0.1%

BARNSTEAD — The New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration has set the 2013 property tax rate at $23.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, six cents, or 0.3 percent, less that the 2012 rate.

The amount to be raised by property taxes increased by $14,885, or 0.1 percent, from $10,795,020 to $10, 809,905, while the total assessed valuation rose by $1,821,284, or 0.4-percent, from $466,188,570 to $468,009,854.

The town tax decreased from $5.50 to $5.24 and the county tax from $1.49 to $1.32 while the local school tax increased from $14.10 to $14.31 and the state education tax from $2.47 to $2.63.

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 November 2013 01:39

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