AFT-NH Written Testimony on HB 1671
From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH
To the NH House Education Committee
Dear Chairman Ladd and Members of the Committee:
My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers -NH. AFT-NH represents 3,500 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees, and higher education staff across New Hampshire.
I write to express the overwhelming opposition of my members to HB 1671. The global problems that we arere experiencing in New Hampshire and across the country will be solved by the students within our schools today. We must ensure that every child has a complete, robust, and engaging curriculum that builds their minds, bodies, and characters. All public-school students deserve to learn in their neighborhood public schools the academic content, problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork skills that will allow them to succeed in a 21st-century economy as global citizens. To do anything less would be selling the more than 160,000 Granite State students who rely on public schools short. Indeed, it would be selling our future short.
Yet, instead of rising to this challenge, some New Hampshire politicians are considering House Bill 1671, a bill that drastically narrows what public schools would be required to teach to four core domains: English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. If this bill passes, public school students across the state could find classes in computer science and digital literacy, personal finance literacy, engineering and technology, world languages, music, and art education, as well as physical education, health, and wellness treated as nonessential luxuries which are no longer part of a state-mandated “adequate education.” Yet these are all subjects and content areas that are instrumental to the academic and personal development of students and the economic and technological development of our state as part of a global economy.
What’s especially disappointing is that NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut actually brought this bill forward and is advocating for it, calling it a bold step that will allow public schools to focus on finally closing the achievement gap. It is disappointing because it will increase the already large equity gap between public school students whose families can afford to offer enrichments beyond those four core domains and those whose families can’t. If HB1671 passes, it will leave so many children across the Granite State with a bare-bones, impoverished education. The Commissioner says that these other areas are still important and can be offered separately or integrated into core subjects. But we all know and have seen what happens when certain subjects were required and on state assessments such as with No Child Left Behind. On both a state and local level, taxpayers prioritize funding what is tested and cut what isn’t. Tested subjects quickly become the only focus.
As any teacher knows, it is often those subjects that HB1671 considers “extras” that keep a student engaged in learning throughout the school day. We all have our stories of a child who becomes more successful in core academic subjects after something in one of those “less essential” areas caught their attention and lit up their mind. For one boy I knew it was drawing. When he learned in Art class how to draw with perspective to make things “look real,” that changed his outlook on school. He got a taste for learning something he enjoyed and found that he enjoyed learning. Suddenly the things he was picturing in his brain he could draw on paper, and they looked how he imagined them! He was so pleased with himself that he wanted to draw all the time. This helped him open up and communicate more. He could draw pictures about what happened in the books he read, and then write about it, so it improved his writing. He showed more persistence in working on his math, especially when he could draw his solution, and then label it with equations. His academics improved because of his love of art.
At a time when schools need to focus on the best and most engaging instructional practices to support student learning in ways that overcome the wide impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commissioner’s focus seems to be on saving money on the backs of students’ futures and simply offering more virtual learning as a solution. Offering world languages and engineering and art online does not come close to the experience that could happen in the classroom.
Similarly, asking a high school English teacher to weave Art into her English class is going to only give public school students a small taste of what is directly adjacent to the curriculum being studied, not a full, robust grounding in the discipline. Asking the elementary school teacher to also weave in art, music, computers and digital literacy, physical education, and health actually crowds the plate of that elementary classroom teacher MORE, as she is now teaching all those subjects along with language arts, math, science, and social studies! How many of them will she be able to do well? However, leaving those subjects out of elementary schools means you are not educating the whole child and not preparing them for middle school, never mind life.
This bill would relegate a rich curriculum and deep learning opportunities to a privilege that would be open only to well-off students, leaving the majority of New Hampshire students who rely on a public-school education with only the “basic, no-frills” education that the Commissioner apparently believes they deserve. AFT-NH members emphatically reject this premise Our state needs to re-focus on supporting innovative approaches to curriculum and instruction by continuing to require the content that would greatly improve students’ access to the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. All children deserve that kind of education. I urge you to vote Inexpedient to Legislate on HB 1671.