My LATEST Letter to the NH Executive Council Regarding Frank Edelblut’s Nomination
This is a revision to an earlier post, which I intend to erase now that I’ve got a better edit. Here’s hoping both DeVos’ nomination and Edelblut’s are derailed… and someone reasonable is next in line….
I read with interest Union Leader reporter Dave Solomon’s article describing the four-hour Executive Council hearing that took place yesterday regarding Frank Edelblut’s nomination to serve as Commissioner of Education in New Hampshire. The article flagged two quotes that reveal two fundamental misunderstandings on Mr. Edelblut’s part:
“I have no intention of dismantling public education, but I have every intention of helping the system move forward and offer a product that parents and educators want for our young people,”
He suggested that the public school system is offering a product that some parents and some students are not completely happy with and said parents are voting with their feet.
“If public schools are meeting the needs of all students, why do parents have an interest in seeking out the alternatives,” he said. “The only reason parents choose private, or charter or home school is because they believe that option will better serve that child.”
First, Mr. Edelblut should realize that public schools are NOT a product! The term “product” insinuates that public schools compete in a private “marketplace”. That is not the case nor should it ever be. Public schools are an essential government service like plowing and maintaining roads and providing police and fire protection. Public schools, like towns and cities, are governed by democratically elected citizens. They are not beholden to shareholders who seek to maximize profits and “keep customers satisfied”. Indeed, sometimes what “customers” may want from their schools is contrary to what our democracy needs. Children need to learn how to read and compute, to learn scientific facts, to read common historic texts like the Constitution, and to develop cognitive skills that will enable them to think independently and creatively. As Commissioner of Education Mr. Edelblut will be responsible for developing and implementing regulations designed to ensure that the state government provides all children in the state with the opportunity to attend high quality schools. He will not be “offering a product” or “running a business”. He will be heading a vitally important government agency.
Second, contrary to the assertion Mr. Edelblut made at your February 1 meeting, there is no evidence that parents in New Hampshire are “voting with their feet“. Data from the State Department of Education belies this claim:
|School Year||FY 07||FY 08||FY 09||FY 10||FY 11||FY 12||FY 13||FY 14||FY 15||FY 16|
|% Not in public||11.15%||11.03%||10.96%||10.71%||10.77%||10.87%||11.07%||11.15%||11.08%||11.08%|
|% In private||9.59%||9.40%||9.23%||8.81%||8.83%||8.92%||8.95%||8.90%||8.71%||8.59%|
Mr. Edelbut and others may challenge the homeschool figures. As the NH website notes, due to changes in reporting requirements the asterisked numbers in bold red are estimates. The FY 13 and 14 estimates were calculated by the State Department of Education. I calculated the FY 15 and FY 16 counts assuming a 3.8% increase in the number of homeschooled students, which was the average percentage increase for the previous three years. Those estimated home school enrollments, which are arguably high, also affect the bold red “% not in public” school figures as well. The non-public numbers inbold green are irrefutable, as are the “% in private” school numbers. Those numbers show an indisputable decline in the number and percentage of NH students who are attending private schools. Based on this data, there is no evidence to support Mr. Edelblut’s contention that NH parents are “voting with their feet“. It is possible that Mr. Edelblut has data to support his contention that parents are “voting with their feet”. If that is the case, he should share that information with the Executive Council. Moreover, as the leader of public schools in New Hampshire, IF there is evidence of an outmigration of children from public schools I would hope that Mr. Edelblut might provide the Executive Council with a sense of how he might work with school leaders and school boards to stem that tide. However, if he does not have any evidence to support his assertion, I would hope his statement would be corrected in the public record so that parents, taxpayers, and voters are aware of the continuing support for public schools.
When you meet with Mr. Edelblut on February 15 after he has talked with leaders and State Board members, I hope you will invite him to share some insights into how he might help further the initiatives underway, particularly those dealing with personalization, a direction he supports. I hope that Mr. Edelblut will be pleasantly surprised to find that NH public schools are not stuck in a status quo mode, beholden to unions, nor “failing”.
I trust that the Executive Council realizes that teachers, administrators, and school board members are working hard to improve schools in this state and would welcome another leader who would support their efforts. I also trust the Council realizes that New Hampshire’s schools, like public schools across the country, are struggling with the effects of poverty on its students, on the impact of opioid addiction on families, and with financial challenges. I hope the Executive Council realizes that these problems cannot be fixed by applying business principles. Problems like these require a coordinated effort by government agencies who serve children and families, and they require support from the community at large.
In closing, I hope that the Executive Council will assess Mr. Edelblut’s candidacy based on his ability to work collaboratively with other agency heads to provide a strong safety net for children, his ability to understand how public schools are governed and operated, and his advocacy for public education. If his characterization of public schools as “product” and his statement that parents are “voting with their feet” are any indication, I fear that Mr. Edelblut’s business background and homeschooling experience might stand in the way of his ability to lead public schools in New Hampshire. I hope that his meetings with the State Board members and conversations with public school parents, teachers, administrators, and local board members have changed his perspective. If not, I trust the Executive Council will respectfully ask Governor Sununu to submit a new nominee for the assignment.