By Ann Marie Banfield
Addressed to Commissioner Edelblut and members of the New Hampshire Board of Education:
I am writing today in an effort to offer an assessment and feedback of the proposed ED 306 rules that have been put forward by Fred Bramante, President of the National Center for Competency-Based Learning. Based on the revisions and the process that produced them, I ask that the Board reject the revisions and ask for more structured, constructive and specific changes to the CBE framework.
You will see why I was extremely disappointed that an organization led by Fred Bramante, was put in charge of this important task. With no independent or peer reviewed studies on Competency Based Education in New Hampshire, why would this task be handed over to an individual, and organization with an agenda? This appears to be a conflict of interest.
CBE is currently required of public schools per state statute; however, with no conclusive evidence that CBE has contributed to improved student literacy since its inception, how are we to have confidence in rules that appear to be self-serving? Who really benefits from an even bigger push for CBE in the public schools? According to national assessments (NAEP), we are not seeing any real improvements using this model.
1. WHAT HISTORY SHOWS
History shows us that standards based education, or Competency Based Education as it’s called today, has never been a model that improves academic outcomes. When it was called Mastery Learning in Chicago in the 80’s, Outcome Based Education in the 90’s, or Competency Based Education starting in 2003, this SAME model was not about improving literacy. One would think that instead of implementing more of this model, a thorough and authentic review would be in order. We should not accept this biased reporting, but instead expect an independent and peer reviewed study that gives us an accurate look at how this model has actually impacted academic outcomes over the past two decades.
After reviewing NAEP scores, I have the strong impression that we are spending a lot of time and money redesigning public education into a workforce model that continues to leave many of our students illiterate in the core academic subjects. The continued use of clearly lowered standards in math, science and English coupled with the CBE emphasis on workforce skills, is failing many of our children in our public schools.
The big push for CBE came during the Obama presidency when he announced during a State of the Union that they’d be redesigning public education into the workforce model.
2. WHAT PARENTS SEE AND THINK
Those of us who attended the listening session on these proposed rules, did not expect to encounter a salesman –but that’s exactly what we got. Instead we needed to hear facts, truth and information. If there are some components to CBE that are working well, great, let’s hear it. But it’s also important to be honest with the audience on what is not working well.
Here are some of the many complaints I’ve encountered by public school staff, students and parents. The poor performance or lack of significant improvement in performance speaks for itself. The trend of NEAP scores for NH shows a student population barely “proficient” as defined. The other problems that come with CBE have also been left out of the discussion. Why? Why are we paying this organization to sell us a new model that cannot even be presented in an honest way? Public education has become a vehicle for those trying to profit off of fads, and ideas that experiment on children. In this case, CBE is a product to sell now, just like the book Bramante sells on Amazon.
3. DISHONEST PACKAGING
Problems with CBE as reported by Students, Staff and Parents:
1) It creates lazy students who can take tests multiple times.
2) NH graduates are not prepared for college when they get used to not preparing for a test because they know they can just take another one.
3) The grading system is a joke. No one understands it, including college admission officers.
4) Teachers grade subjectively because they are grading attitudes, values and beliefs.
5) Less focus on academics and more focus on empty (21st Century) skills.
6) This is forced on every teacher in every grade.
7) Employers want literate employees, not dumbed down workers.
8) Competent in what ? Competencies lack academic content.
9) The Graduation Competencies mean nothing.
10) This has not helped to improve academics in the classroom.
11) This has created chaos and slowed down the learning process in the classroom because of group learning. (Project Based Learning)
12) The push for technology with 1:1 devices doesn’t benefit students–it profits the tech industry.
13) Kids are distracted by Youtube on their Chromebooks, and not doing their homework. Parents cannot take the digital device away from their kids because they need the Chromebook for school work.
14) As the kids are working on their Chromebook, bullying messages keep popping up.
15) No more focus on what’s best for our kids. Now it’s all about what’s best for business.
16) This is training, not education.
17) Minimum standards, minimum learning.
18) Narrowing of the curricula to the point where subjects like history and civics are minimized.
4. THE FLAWED OR SKEWED OBJECTIVE ENDORSED BY BRAMANTE
The CBE model pushed in New Hampshire didn’t come from a desire of parents to change the model. It came from organizations like Nellie Mae, Marc Tucker, Gates Foundation, Jeb Bush, and Betsy DeVos. Nellie Mae prioritizes Competency Based Education in our schools with a focus on racial equity. But what is their biggest priority for students? In their own documentation Nellie Mae prioritizes community organizing. Nellie Mae even references Saul Alinsky, and the history of community organizing at the end of the introduction.
This is not a call for improvement to literacy or academic excellence, this is a call to political action.
These education activist reformers have had someone to push this model in New Hampshire over the last two decades. The sole study cited by Mr. Bramante in support of CBE during his listening tour, was produced by Nellie Mae through RFA. RFA, which offers education research for racial and social justice. conducted a two-year, mixed-methods study of New Hampshire’s extended learning opportunities (ELO) initiative. Funded by the Nellie Mae Educational Foundation, the study focused on assessing the implementation and effectiveness of ELOs on college and career readiness in districts across the state. These conclusions have not been evaluated and are not relevant to learning in elementary and secondary education.
Mr. Bramante offers us one study, and it’s funded by Nellie Mae? That’s the equivalent to Ford saying they have the safest cars on the road, but use a study paid for by Ford. That’s not exactly unbiased or independent. The explicit political agenda put forth by RFA and Nellie Mae, makes it impossible to have any faith in what is being presented.
KnowledgeWorks’ explains their work on CBE in New Hampshire: Policy Conditions in Action: Comprehensive Supports for Educators and Leaders in New Hampshire. In 2011, a group of postsecondary leaders in New Hampshire formed the IHE Network to influence policymakers and engage practitioners to promote innovative programs and policies that link educator preparation, new educator induction and ongoing professional development in the state.
KnowledgeWorks’ explains that they are replacing academics with competency-based learning which they see mirroring the “anti-racist” work of Marxist Ibram X. Kendi. KnowledgeWorks also says our Constitution is racist and that education has to fix that.
5. LEARNING A LESSON FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE
Good managers or executives do not surround themselves with “yes-men.” Instead they rely upon honest subordinates to spell out what is working, and what is not working. They explain to their bosses what significant changes will mean if they go forward with the change that is being presented. They do not rely upon a slick salesperson to sell them an idea that will not work well when implemented. Where are the critical thinkers? Where is the critical analysis of CBE?
This process would never be accepted in a competitive Fortune 500 company. The CEO would be given his marching orders with results like these using a biased study from a politically motivated source. The people of New Hampshire deserve and expect accuracy, honesty and a professional who presents information to the public without bias.
I’m embarrassed for all involved at the State level by the proposed rule changes document, and what has been allowed to happen in public education because no one is willing to be honest with the taxpayers in New Hampshire.
6. IN SUMMARY
There are plenty of critiques on CBE because this model has a long history of failure where it’s been tried.
1) Why Competency Based Education Will Deepen America’s Education Crisis
2) State Rep. Sampson: In Maine schools, ‘proficiency’ may not mean what you think it does (In Maine they call it Proficiency Based Ed)
3) Proficiency Based Education: What Does It Really Mean?
4) Competency-based education may not be a new concept
5) Is Competency-Based Education Just A Recycled Failed Policy?
I urge you and the Board to challenge this process and to critically address the proposed rules.
I recommend to terminate or amend the following proposed rules:
1) (4) Records retention, including electronic files; (4) Records retention, including electronic files, which shall require that: a. Complete and accurate records of students’ attendance and scholarship be permanently kept and safely stored in a fire-resistant file, vault, or safe; b. A schedule for the retention and disposition of original records and information be established in accordance with RSA 189:29-a; c. Access to all student records and information be controlled by written procedures designed to protect individual rights and to preserve the confidential nature of the various types of records in compliance with the federal “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” U.S.C. Paragraphs a. – d. were moved from Ed 306.04(g)
This section should include a requirement that any records that are shared or released must include written consent from the individual. FERPA includes a loophole that allows those with exceptions to access PII.
2) (11) Promotion of a school environment that is conducive to learning and supports strong family and community partnerships; (10) Promotion of a school environment that is conducive to learning and supports strong family and community partnerships. Such policy shall include: a. Engagement opportunities for parents and family members of students of all ages and learning levels; b. Parent educational activities throughout the school year to help parents support their children’s learning; c. Curricular and learning materials made available to parents, consistent with copyright licensure of such materials; d. Frequent communication of school performance, student progress, and personalized learning plans, using both print and online formats; e. Working with agencies and businesses to support community-based developmental activities that prepare young children for school and promote ongoing achievement; f. Promote collaboration among parents, schools, and community on school improvement and student achievement projects;
This is a positive improvement by making materials available to parents, and supports transparency.
3) Personal Learning Plans were removed as they should be since there was no legislation supporting PLPs, and it’s unrealistic to expect any school system to develop, and implement such plans for every student in the school.
4) (b) “Career and technical education” means organized educational activities that offer a sequence of learning opportunities that:
Define what is meant by changing courses to learning opportunities. How does this impact classes such as Algebra I, Chemistry, History?
5) (2) For the hiring and training of educators certified under Ed 500 to facilitate learning in their certified content area;
By using the term “facilitate” versus “instruct,” this language attempts to tell teachers how to teach. This should always be left to local teachers in conjunction with administrators and parents. It is not the role of the Department of Education to suggest or mandate teaching methods–especially when this kind of pedagogy has been proven to be ineffective in courses like math and science.
6) Pursuant to RSA 189:1 and RSA 189:24, each school district shall maintain a school year as provided below, which shall identify the total instructional hours offered, and recognize that students advance upon demonstrated acknowledgment of competencies, not based on seat time, pursuant to Ed 306.27(h):
Designed to address the personalized needs of students, including, but not limited to, dropout prevention, soft skills, and career pathways; and
Soft skills need to be defined IN all areas of ED306 as many have now included dispositions. SEL competencies are now being developed. This indicates a move towards the State determining the values, attitudes and beliefs children should possess. This is a government overreach.
Eg. CASEL Competencies include competencies for “social awareness.” https://www.positiveaction.net/blog/sel-competencies
AZ Department of Education Competencies include Transformative Social and Emotional Competencies which are viewed through an equity lens.
(5) Emphasis on important learning skills and dispositions.
The term “dispositions? facilitate? reduces or minimizes the role of the teacher in the classroom. The State should not be mandating pedagogy. Facilitating the learning of mathematics can be translated into teachers using a Constructivist approach to learning. This pedagogy has been heavily criticized by some top mathematicians who would argue that direct instruction is a more effective way to teach mathematics.
Legislators did not support a focus on dispositions when Competency Based Education was discussed by the House Education Committee. It is not the role of the State to develop the dispositions students need to have in order to pass their competencies. That is the STATE determining what VALUES a student must possess in order to pass their competencies.
6) If a district employs a school psychologist as an optional service pursuant to RSA 189:49, IV, the standards in (b)-(e), in addition to the requirements below, shall apply. (1) Nothing in this section shall prevent a school district from contracting services with a qualified school psychologist. Revised language (2) All such psychological services must comply with federal Every Student Succeeds Act requirements, including informed written consent; and (3) All such services must comply with state and federal student privacy laws and rules.
This is a welcome addition, but should be spelled out with more details since school administrators lack the ability to determine what are considered mental health assessments and services. A licensed Child Psychologist PhD should be able to provide a more detailed comprehensive list of services that would qualify as mental health services, and be authorized for school implementation.
7) “ Graduating competencies” lack a great deal of specific academic content that should be mastered in the core classes. What does a NH Diploma represent ?
8) Competency Based Education is expanded significantly in this document without any evidence to support it.
9) (a) “Acknowledgement of achievement” means when a student has demonstrated achievement of competencies at a proficient level associated with a program or course of study;
A student may complete the class and pass their competencies, but it does not mean that they have mastered all of the academic content in the core subject. This is a misleading statement. It would depend on the program chosen, if all concepts are taught and mastered. For instance, there are key missing concepts with Common Core math that may not be taught. https://static.ark.org/eeuploads/lt-gov/Errors_and_Omissions_In_CC_Math_Standards_Milgram-Wurman.pdf The core competencies, many times, lack academic content.
10) “Proficiency” means the minimum student performance required to satisfy the acknowledgement of a competency, and is distinguished from mastery, which is a level of performance that exceeds proficiency;
The goal is mediocrity versus excellence. This is what we got with Common Core, and this is what we get with Competency Based Education.
11) (3) Discipline, including behavior management and intervention for students. Such policy shall: a. Include provisions regarding student rights and responsibilities, rules of conduct, and penalties for misbehavior;
Change penalties to consequences.
12) (5) Character and citizenship, developed in consultation with school staff, administration, parents, and other representatives of the community, which shall incorporate in courses of study or instill in a caring educational environment, the following elements: a. Self-discipline, self-respect, and self-control; b. Pursuant to Part 2, Article 83 of the New Hampshire Constitution, humanity, benevolence, and truth and honesty with self and others; c. Fairness, integrity, and justice; d. Respect, courtesy, and human worth; e. Responsibility to oneself and others; f. Community service; and g. The rights and responsibilities of citizenship, pursuant to RSA 186:13, which shall be developed in consultation with school staff, administration, parents, and…..
While these may be admirable goals, is this more class time taken away from learning the academics? Should this apply to all children, even those who already possess these characteristics? Should they apply to only the children who are lacking these characteristics?
13) (4) In each middle and high school, a library media specialist to support the learning resources program and facility requirements of Ed 306.08; and
The change from “instructional” to “learning” indicates another change to the pedagogy. Facilitating the learning can be interpreted to mean teachers are no longer to instruct. This was a hotly debated topic among math professors in the 90’s when there was a push for constructivist learning versus direct instruction in mathematics. This led to fuzzy math and the math wars. The losers in this war were the children who no longer were instructed in mathematics, but were left to discover math. Inquiry math led students directly to private tutoring centers if their parents had the means to provide explicit instruction. RETURN all references to learning BACK to instruction. Bramante confirmed in the listening session that teachers were moving away from instructing to facilitating. That may be an education reformer’s agenda, but it’s not in state statute, and it shouldn’t be decided by anyone other than the teacher, administrators, while working with parents.
14) (c) The school board shall require that each school with an enrollment of 500 or more students provides
the services of an associate principal or 2 or more persons with administrative certification under Ed 506 who together act as a full-time equivalent to carry out administrative duties assigned by the superintendent in accordance with school board policy
Local is removed from this and other statements in the document. One of the concerns for this removal is the criticism that eventually local school boards will be completely removed in the CBE model. This deliberate move towards eliminating local school boards without any reference to local residents driving this agenda appears to be more of a centralized decision forced upon the residents of New Hampshire, who are the primary funders of their public schools. This appears to be agenda driven without any legislative action.
15) (a) Pursuant to RSA 189:1 and RSA 189:24, each school district shall maintain a school year as provided below, which shall identify the total instructional hours offered, and recognize that students advance upon demonstrated
acknowledgment of competencies, not based on seat time, pursuant to Ed 306.27(h):
Competencies do not insure the student has mastered the academic content. Competencies may not cover all of the content in a core academic subject since CBE is skills focused versus focused on academic content and knowledge.
16) (1) Designed to address the personalized needs of students, including, but not limited to, dropout prevention, soft skills, and career pathways; and
Soft skills can mean anything, and have been criticized by those who see a shift away from academics to a focus on empty skills. Soft Skills need to be defined.
17) (6) Preventative and responsive services employing theories and research related to resilience, risk factors, and multi-tiered prevention, to support evidence based strategies for effective counseling, crisis response, and behavioral
We know that mental health PII is now accessible to the Universities contracted to report back to the Federal Government on MTSS-B. The reports lack credible evidence that the MTSS-B is having a positive impact on the mental health of students in our schools. It has become a way for school counselors to ignore their ethical boundaries, turn schools into mental health providers, while hiring staff that lack the education and credentials needed to serve the students who truly need mental health services.
With the increase in reporting on escalating behavior problems in schools reported by teachers and parents, this is another costly program in our schools.
Mental health in schools should only be handled by a licensed PhD Child Psychologist.
18) Mathematics Program. (a) The school board shall provide a mathematics program at each elementary school consistent with competencies pursuant to Ed 306.26, which may include:(1) Opportunities for all students to solve problems by:a. Using multiple strategies;
Multiple strategies tells a teacher how to teach mathematics. In this case, it equates to forcing a teacher to teach a student how to divide using different algorithms. This has led to confusion, and children never mastering the traditional long division algorithm. This is a decision that should be made by the local teacher.
The competencies in the core subjects does not indicate a student would be competent in those core classes. CBE misleads parents into believing if their child passes the competencies, they have mastered all of the academic content. The competencies reflect skills, and are oftentimes void of quality academic content.
There is a deliberate attempt to incorporate the CBE model into the rules with no evidence it has helped elevate academic outcomes. That change comes with an agenda to change the pedagogy in the classroom by minimizing the role of teachers or instructors. The practices that continue with this model have had a negative impact on student behavior, and all of this has been ignored by Fred Bramante.
Ann Marie Banfield has been researching education reform for over a decade and actively supports parental rights, literacy and academic excellence in k-12 schools. You can contact her at: email@example.com