On September 9th, 2015, the Manchester Education Association hosted a forum for candidates running for Mayor in Manchester. Mayor Gatsas was unable to attend due to a prior commitment. The candidates who did attend were asked questions on education, drug addiction, and other important issues.
Patrick Arnold, Joyce Craig, Alibaba Shaikh and Glenn Ouellette took questions and answered how they would govern as Mayor if elected to that position.
There are many issues in public education that are important however the BIGGEST issue right now is the Common Core reform. This federal reform involves eroding local control in education, data mining on students, mediocre academic standards, and a shift away from academic excellence to workforce training.
As we watched this forum we were surprised by the lack of questions that targeted the federal reform taking place in the Manchester school district. Based on the answers coming from some of the candidates we were also surprised by the lack of concern from them too.
The federal reforms are driving big problems in the Manchester schools as we’ve heard from not only parents but the Manchester teachers too. While there were some good questions asked, we feel this was a missed opportunity to go in depth on what is driving the problems students, teachers and parents are facing in the district.
1) Over testing to meet the mandate of the Common Core “Smarter Balanced Assessment”
2) Revised Manchester Academic Standards that are basically the same as Common Core
3) Personal data collected on students
4) 21st Century Skills or competencies that take away time spent on mastering the academic content.
During the discussion, Glenn Ouellette hit on some important points when he talked about the big problems with the federal mandates. However we noticed the other candidates never really addressed this problem.
Where are the problems coming from in public education and what can be done to alleviate those problems?
Patrick Arnold began by talking about why he was running for Mayor and mentioned that education should be a priority but he felt it was not a priority right now. He talked about leveling the playing field but what does that mean? Does that mean uplifting the children who need it and how does he plan on doing that? He didn’t offer any specific plans. Often times that can mean bringing those who are successful down versus uplifting those who need extra help.
Arnold did manage to take shots at Gatsas during this forum but offered no real plan to fix the problems. Maybe we are supposed to just trust that he can do it better even though he offered no real solutions to the problems that exist.
For instance, we know from the Manchester teachers that the over-testing is a real problem in the classroom. We’ve heard a real problem and yet, not only did he fail to acknowledge that problem, he offered no solution. His solution was to use the pulpit to “inspire and communicate” to the city of Manchester that there is “opportunity.” This was his solution to children of color who are not taking higher level classes.
Arnold missed an opportunity to talk about the lack of quality curriculum in the classes and the over-testing that teachers have been talking about. Where does that come from? Reforms like No Child Left Behind and Common Core. If the district is not preparing students of color academically, then there is little opportunity for them to reach those higher level classes.
Joyce Craig said she was proud to lead the fight to override the Mayor’s veto on the teacher’s contract and that Manchester is not living up to it’s potential. She said Manchester needs a leader now. That’s true, the Mayor is a leadership position which makes us question again, where Craig was when parents were fighting for better quality standards than what Common Core was going to offer their children.
Leaders take on challenges for the right reasons. They don’t sit back and refuse to get involved.
Craig talked about every student deserving a quality education and as alderman she worked on the budget and full day kindergarten. Yet she was absent when people from all over New Hampshire attended the school board meetings pleading with the board members to reject the dumbed down Common Core standards. Craig managed to miss an opportunity to show real leadership for better quality academic standards for the students in Manchester.
When asked about how to get students of color in the higher level classes, Craig’s response was to get parents educated about the opportunities in high school. She wants to make sure every child has a clear understanding about their opportunities. She didn’t mention the lack of quality academic content that parents have been talking about for years. That can become the root of the problem for many students when trying to reach higher level classes. If they are not adequately prepared in the academic content, then the administrators in the district failed those students. It is the administrators who have aligned curriculum to dumbed down academic standards and it’s often times up to parents to fill in those gaps. If parents do not have the resources to fill in those gaps, students can and do fall behind. Unfortunately Arnold and Craig seem to have no idea where some of these problems originate and therefor lack solutions to fix them.
Craig said the most important thing in education is a great teacher in a classroom. We would agree with that statement, but when you tie that teacher’s hands through federal mandates and abusive testing practices, you’ve undermined that teacher’s ability to do their job well.
Alibaba talked about the need to make the kids and their parents self sufficient. He wants to make Manchester a sister city to Silicon Valley. His focus was on economic opportunity and talked about making sure immigrant children receive time to qualify for the higher level class.
Alibaba seemed to want to cut through the political posturing and find real solutions but we wonder how long it would take for him to figure out where some of the problems lie. He didn’t mention the biggest problems which are the oppressive regulations placed on the district through mandates that come from the federal reforms.
Glenn Ouellette right out of the gate talked about the failures of No Child Left Behind. He did not hesitate to talk about the problems that come from federal reforms and federal money.
On the question regarding children of color having access to higher level classes, Glenn said that if we teach what we are supposed to teach, everyone will have the same opportunity. This as a good point because it goes after the root of the problem. If Manchester students are receiving a quality academic education, the doors open for all students including students of color. That wont happen with Common Core standards and since the new Manchester Academic Standards almost mirror the Common Core Standards, we are concerned that those doors will remain shut.
Glenn brought up how the federal mandates may be costing the district MORE in the long run. For example, if the district takes in 20 cents per child and has to spend 50 cents per child to meet the mandates,it doesn’t make sense to accept the federal funding. Especially if those mandates do more harm than good.
Glenn said he opposes the federal education reforms like Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment setting him apart from the other candidates on the stage who still haven’t figured out where many of these problems are coming from. The problems with teaching to the test when there are great teachers in the city shows just how convoluted education in Manchester has become.
Glenn Ouellette was the only candidate on that stage who showed up for every school board meeting speaking on behalf of parents in Manchester calling for superior academic standards. He not only took the time to educate himself on Common Core, he showed the leadership the other candidates say is lacking right now. Candidates like Arnold and Craig who keep talking about a lack of leadership failed to show leadership on one of the most important debates in Manchester.
Parents in Manchester need to look past the political posturing when it comes to some of the candidates running for mayor. Money will not fix the problems in Manchester because we know where the problems exist. It’s easy to campaign on more funding for the schools but if these candidates ignore the root causes of the problems you will simply end up paying more for a poor quality of education.
As the election date moves closer, parents need to demand better solutions from some of these candidates. If not we fear taxes will increase but the status quo will remain the same. Demand something better from your next Mayor.