Legislation would let parents pull kids from school district, Concord Monitor, 1/27/12

posted Apr 1, 2012, 2:44 PM by Bill Duncan

DNHPE Comment: This was written back when the bill was different but is still a good review of the views of the sponsors (highlighting added).

Published on Concord Monitor (http://www.concordmonitor.com)
By Sarah Palermo / Monitor staff
January 27, 2012

Rep. Laurie Pettengill of Glen doesn't want her tax dollars - any of them - sent to Switzerland to support a world government that would strip the United States of its sovereign powers.

If even one school district in New Hampshire follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum, that's exactly what will happen, she said yesterday, testifying before the House Education Committee.

Pettengill, along with several local state representatives, has sponsored a bill that would allow parents to pull their child out of a school that adopts the International Baccalaureate curriculum and take the $3,450 in per-pupil state funding with them to a new district.

"What we have here in the United States is the idea that the government isn't a hierarchy that ends with government having the most power. . . . The people tell our leader what to do. We don't believe in a globalist leader," Pettengill said.

International Baccalaureate programs are taught in 141 countries, including more than 1,200 schools in the United States. More than 750 offer the Diploma Programme for 11th- and 12th-grade students, including the New Hampton School and Bedford High School.

In that program, students receive certain textbooks and take particular exams, the same books and exams as students at all the other schools around the world that use the program.

The Merrimack Valley School District is pursuing authorization for the primary years program, for students in elementary and middle school. Only 281 schools in the United States offer that program.

At yesterday's hearing, Pettengill asserted that the program encourages students to think like world citizens whose rights are granted by the United Nations, not as American citizens, whose rights are derived from God.

The committee's chairman, Rep. Michael Balboni, a Republican from Nashua, wondered whether the program would put teachers in violation of a 1949 state law forbidding them to advocate for communism or the overthrow of the United States.

Rep. Charles Brosseau, a Republican from Campton, asked Pettengill, "Does this look like an attempt to influence our students toward the one-world government and against the sovereignty of the United States?"

"Absolutely," she answered.

But so what if it does? countered the bill's opponents. That's at the discretion of the local school board, not the Legislature.

The state's support of public education through the annual $3,450 in state funding per student changes the game, Pettengill said.

"It's a local issue as long as that's where 100 percent of your money comes from. But when I am sending money from Bartlett down to Bedford as a donor community, it is no longer a local issue," she said. 

[DNHPE Comment: Rep. Pettengill misunderstands how state aid works.  No money from Bartlett leaves Bartlett.]

The primary International Baccalaureate program doesn't include textbooks or standardized exams, but promotes a specific method of teaching that can be adapted to any material, said Merrimack Valley's assistant superintendent, Christine Barry.

Administrators there first turned to the program when they were looking for a way to improve student performance on mandated tests and unify the teaching methods at the district's seven elementary schools so students would be on the same level when they entered Merrimack Valley Middle School.

In researching the program, teachers and administrators visited schools in other states that used it. Each of those districts used different textbooks, many using the same books they had before signing up for the program, she said.

The program is inquiry-based, prompting teachers to ask questions and help their students understand concepts and processes instead of focusing on getting the right answer to one specific question.

"The textbooks remain the same and we are adhering to the state standards. But the teachers like the professional development that comes along with the program, because it is very difficult to change their way of teaching. It's not providing facts, but problem solving, critical thinking, those higher level skills," Barry told the committee.

"The students are more engaged in their own education," she said.

The local sponsors of the bill, including education committee member Rep. Gregory Hill and Rep. Seth Cohn, Republicans from Northfield and Canterbury, respectively, said they signed on after they were asked to help Merrimack Valley district residents who felt their local school board wasn't listening to them.

"I'm not judging one way or the other on IB, but if my constituents don't want to be part of it, they should be able to withdraw," Cohn said.

The bill supports the rights of the minority of parents, who wouldn't be able to pass a warrant article cutting funding for the program, or recalling school board members who support it, he said.

House Bill 542, which the Legislature passed over Gov. John Lynch's veto earlier this month, allows parents to pull their child from a class if they deem the material objectionable. But objections to IB aren't about a single book or class discussion, and HB 542 requires the parents to pay for the alternative materials, Cohn said.

This bill lets the parents send the child to a different school district and gives them the same amount of funding the home district would have gotten.

"Even if it's only one or two parents, that at least is the fair and appropriate thing to do," he said. "If the school district decides to move forward, then at least we have an exit strategy."

Giving individuals taxpayer money for education sets a dangerous precedent and regulating textbooks or teaching methods isn't the Legislature's business, said Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.

"I caution that if the state were to choose this path, the converse would have to be true. In a district that didn't have IB, citizens would have the right to have their children go to one that did. You can't discriminate, and it's a slippery slope, not to overuse a term," Joyce said.

The hourlong discussion about the merits or detriments of IB, "although interesting, is entirely and appropriately left to the local school board's opinion," he said.

Committee member Rep. Ralph Boehm, a Republican from Litchfield agreed.

He said he doesn't like IB, where it comes from or what it stands for, but he doesn't have any right to tell people in Bedford or Penacook or New Hampton how to run their schools.

"Local people vote for their school board and it's up to them to remove their school board if they don't like it and put someone else in," he said.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com.)
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