EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 22, 2013

Education fight erupts among N.H. Republicans

Business and Industry Association at odds with conservative groups

By John Toole

---- — A public disagreement over education is playing out among groups traditionally allied with Republicans in New Hampshire.

The Business and Industry Association is at odds with leading conservative groups, Americans For Prosperity and Cornerstone Action, over adoption of new Common Core education standards.

The BIA is endorsing Common Core. AFP and Cornerstone recently hosted a forum highlighting concerns, including costs and loss of local control.

"I think this is a reflection of the fundamental split in the party among the tea party and libertarians and the traditional Republicans," said Bill Duncan, founder of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education. "This will be a challenge for Republicans in the next election and Common Core is part of that."

Republicans acknowledge the disagreement, but see it as healthy.

"It's bringing up spirited debate on the subject," Windham Republican Committee chairman Bruce Breton said. "This has been going on for months."

While expressing disappointment over the BIA's position, Cornerstone executive director Ashley Pratte downplayed the disagreement.

"I really don't think this will be a large issue that will split Republicans in 2014 or 2016," she said.

Cornerstone, announcing a forum last month with AFP at St. Anselm College, said many parents, teachers and legislators are questioning and opposing Common Core.

"How will Common Core impact home-school and private school students? What about all the data collection on students and their families? What will this cost taxpayers?" Cornerstone asked.

Pratte said a standing-room crowd of more than 250, including some Republican state legislators, attended.

State director Greg Moore said AFP opposes Common Core over the expense and because it undermines local control.

"We believe that education choice, whether in a public or private environment, will drive up achievement and provide a better learning environment for our students, leaving them better prepared to enter the workforce," Moore said.

The BIA last week gave its endorsement to Common Core.

"The standards are designed to ensure high school graduates are prepared to enter associate or bachelor's degree programs or enter the workforce," BIA said. "They are clear and concise to ensure parents, teachers and students clearly understand student expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language, and mathematics."

Moore does not see the disagreement with BIA as something unusual for AFP.

"As a group that is focused on economic freedom, we often find ourselves with differing views from other political parties and groups," Moore said.

AFP's concern is being consistent with its message to its 30,000 members in the state, he said.

Common Core emerged from dissatisfaction with the education system following enactment of the No Child Left Behind law, Duncan said.

It sets goals for what students should learn in each grade. Governors and chief state education officers pushed Common Core, which 45 states, including New Hampshire, have embraced.

President Obama and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are among Common Core backers. Supporters in New Hampshire include the state's teacher unions, school superintendents and the Democratic Party.

Gov. Maggie Hassan also supports the state-led effort, backed by the business and education communities, to help young people develop skills and knowledge needed for success in careers and higher education, aide Marc Goldberg said.

"Maintaining high standards in every subject, as well as ensuring that local school districts continue to have the authority, flexibility and responsibility to meet the best interests of their students, is critical as schools work to make sure that our students are college and career ready," Goldberg said.

Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said the GOP disagreement shows the business community is becoming disenchanted with the agenda pursued by the conservative groups.

"They are saying, 'Wait a second, this is not the right course for New Hampshire,''' Kirstein said.

Duncan said New Hampshire educators have been big contributors to Common Core and helped write the standards.

"This is not something foisted on New Hampshire," he said.

School districts throughout the state are adopting Common Core. In the Southern New Hampshire, "they are all on the path," at one stage or another, he said.

Sanborn Regional School District is four years into Common Core, he said.

"They are fully Common Core or virtually so," Duncan said.

Cornerstone's education liaison, Ann Marie Banfield, said she's heard from parents in Londonderry who are concerned about Common Core and it's not too late for opponents.

"Parents are understanding this is a problem and we can do better," Banfield said.

Testing is leading to lower student scores in other states, she said. Educators in states ahead of New Hampshire in implementing Common Core are reconsidering, she said.

"This is one of those issues where opposition will continue to grow," Banfield said.

Duncan maintains the Common Core disagreement is less a squabble within Republican ranks and more one of supporters of public schools versus those who prefer school choice.