Law gives parents too much power in schools, Portsmouth Herald editorial, 1/27/12

posted Jan 27, 2012, 5:06 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Jan 27, 2012, 5:18 AM ]

This is just about the best and most concise critique of the much criticized HB 542. Readers should be aware that the same sponsor has followed up with HB 1575, which would all students to opt out of any course and substitute special teaching directed and paid for they the parents.

Joe Onosco has placed an OpEd in most every major paper in the state explaining the issue in detail.  Here is his piece in the Portsmouth Herald. 

Law gives parents too much power in schools
January 27, 2012 2:00 AM

Parents have always rightfully had a voice in how their children are educated, but a new law in New Hampshire comes uncomfortably close to letting them call the shots.

Trained educators — such as principals and teachers — should be developing the curriculum and strategies to educate our children. They still do, but parents have now been given too much direct access to interrupt the educational process.

Early this month, the state Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. John Lynch on House Bill 542, which creates a policy "allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent's or legal guardian's determination that the material is objectionable."

One big problem is the word "objectionable." It's much too broad. A parent, for any reason, can object to what their child is being taught and potentially change it. State Sen. Nancy Stiles, a Hampton Republican who supported the bill, wrote a recent letter to the editor pointing out that parents who object to curriculum must recommend alternative materials and pay for them, and that the school district must agree to it.

We think it was enough for parents to be allowed to have a conversation with teachers and principals. We didn't need a state law for that. There's no reason to allow parents to suggest new curriculum. Most of them aren't qualified to do it.

Parents who object to curriculum for, say, religious reasons didn't need this new law. Most principals and teachers we know will find alternatives in those instances, or excuse a student from certain lessons. But now parents can object if they disagree with the Everyday Math program. That's absurd.

Teachers already adjust lessons to meet the needs of different children in their classes. It's amazing to see how talented, dedicated teachers effectively keep the most advanced learners in their classes challenged while also giving extra help to those who need it. The new state law opens to the door to those same teachers being asked to teach a subject such as math in multiple ways, while still meeting the needs of all the children. That's illogical, unfair and counterproductive.

"What I'm really worried about is having a teacher prepare two or three different lessons for that one lesson," School Administrative Unit 16 Superintendent Mike Morgan said at a recent meeting of the Exeter Region Cooperative School Board. "Now, a teacher has to read three different books. What do you do with that?"

The new law gives parents too much opportunity to interfere. Other children in the class may be hurt by time wasted due to unfair new demands put on their teacher, which other parents could find "objectionable." Where does it end?

If parents don't like the curriculum, we encourage them to get involved with their schools, talking to teachers and principals and school board members, or they can even run for school board.

Potential problems caused by the new law are numerous.

"What about the amount of time associated with meeting with parents, indirect costs associated with developing all of this?" Morgan said. "There are other costs associated with planning, studying, following through. Even if a child is doing an independent study, someone needs to monitor the independent study."

If lawmakers want positive change for children, make it easier for school administrators to reward good teachers and weed out the ones who aren't worthy of the profession, even if they have tenure. Those are the kinds of reforms that could help improve education.

The new law doesn't accomplish anything.