Sunday, March 20, 2011

Abolishing the Department of Education?

Our state government is on a mission to pass a flurry of bills this year—votes that are coming so rapidly, it feels impossible to keep up.  Just last week, the house worked on 250 bills and amendments in a course of three days.  As overwhelming as that is, it is important that we as teachers and parents pay close attention to what is happening in Concord.
Retained in House Committee right now is Bill HB 219, which proposes a “bill [that] establishes a committee to study the abolishment of the department of education” (HB 219).  This bill caught my eye as I was reading through several of the other bills that are being considered about education.  Abolishing the Department of Education?  I understand that the bill is simply proposing a committee to study the abolishment, but the fact that we are even toying with the idea is alarming.

The committee will be charged with the duty to “submit proposed legislation for introduction in the 2012 legislative session, relative to the abolishment of the department of education and the transfer of all functions, powers, duties, and responsibilities to the state board of education” (HB 219).

I am curious about how this would work. 

The Department of Education in New Hampshire is currently divided into three major divisions: 
·The Division of Instruction (in which accountability, special education, technology, school health, and integrated educational programs are included). 
·The Division of Program Support (in which credentialing, data management, nutrition program and services, and school approval and facility management are included). 
·The Division of Career Technology and Adult Learning (in which adult education, career development, social security disability determination services, guidance and counseling, vocational rehabilitation, and youth workforce are included).

These are some pretty big responsibilities.  This means the Department of Education is responsible for assisting public schools in everything from ensuring all children receive a lunch to maintaining data on federally mandated testing scores to working on dropout prevention strategies to special education laws to much, much more.  If you visit the DOE’s website ( you will see it is pretty transparent about the work that goes on—minutes and agendas for all committees are available, so you can get a fuller view of what exactly does occur here.  By considering the work the DOE undertakes as insignificant enough to be brought upon the shoulders of one board shows the naiveté that many policymakers have about what exactly goes into quality education.  Education is made up of many layers that are not always evident from the outside. 

In essence, it may seem fiscally sound to transfer these duties to the State Board of Education.  But the State Board of Education is made up of seven unpaid members who cannot be professionally engaged in school work and meet six times a year.  In fact, all current seven members have full time careers elsewhere as lawyers, CEOs, and consultants.  While I have had the pleasure of meeting our Board and appreciate its dedication to education and believe the members to be thoughtful, deliberate contributors to the state of education here in New Hampshire, I am quite unclear as to how they would handle the responsibilities that the three major divisions in the DOE make up.  In the end, as a matter of practicality, programs would have to go, and we would watch our schools steadily decline due to the lack of support and direction.  We would see a disparity in education across the state as some communities picked up the slack and others simply could not.

I am confused by the rhetoric and messages that are coming from our government—both on a state and national level.  On the one hand, our leaders are demanding better schools.  And I agree, they can and should be improved.  But on the other hand, our leaders are expecting us to commit to doing this while they create a detrimental, discouraging environment that lowers morale.

Reform is one thing. Destruction, entirely another.

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