Column: NH plans to rewrite rules for public schools


For the Valley News

Published: 04-04-2024 4:20 PM

Do you think that policy governing how New Hampshire schools run is made by local, elected school boards and perhaps by the Legislature? Think again.

We are about to see some radical changes in rules for public schools. These are changes that will occur largely under the radar through revision of the ED306 rules, which are administrative rules that guide the implementation of education law. ED306 rules set standards and limits so that all public schools operate by the same rules and assure that all students receive an adequate education.

What’s the problem? Despite allocating $75,000 to an outside contractor to develop a draft of the revised rules, the Department of Education has persisted in developing its own version of the rules, ignoring the inputs of public school teachers, administrators and parents. Reading the proposed ED306 rules and comparing them to the existing rules is a mind-numbing experience — for which most of us lack the time. What should jar us awake are the many concerns of educators that, under the new rules, local school board control is ceded to the state; educational standards are eroded by reducing required qualifications for teachers; legitimizing online courses for which there is no accountability; eliminating class size minimums, and much more.

The last opportunity for public input may pass quietly. The State Board of Education will hold a public hearing on April 3 in Concord at 1 p.m. on the first half of the ED306 proposed rules. A hearing on the second half of the proposed rules is tentatively scheduled for April 11. It is easy to be pessimistic. The NH Department of Education and the State Board of Education are not likely to respond to any testimony recommending changes or reconsiderations of the ED306 rules.

Is that skepticism justified? Look at the history of the development of the draft rules. The NH Department of Education engaged The Center for Competency-Based Learning (CCBL) to “facilitate a revision” of the ED306 rules and write a first draft. In 2022 a New Hampshire think tank was able to look at that draft. They noted that the draft proposed a significant overhaul of the rules that would have significant implications for public schools. The state Education Department submitted this first draft to the State Board of Education — which did give a pause to allow time for public input. CCBL did take on revision and organized 13 listening sessions around the state and, for the first time, met with the largest teachers’ union and with other educational professionals. At the listening sessions teachers, administrators, parents and others overwhelmingly expressed multiple concerns about hollowed out standards, local school board loss of control, and many loopholes that would allow the Education Department to weaken public education.

By some accounts, CCBL took the listening sessions into account in Draft 2 of the ED306 rules, submitted to the Department of Education in January 2024. The department is under no obligation to accept the CCBL draft. It is only advisory. The document that the department presented to the State Board of Education on Feb. 15 looks quite different from the second CCBL draft. The Reaching Higher New Hampshire (RHNH) policy director has analyzed the department version and its differences with the current rules. Beyond the six primary concerns about loss of local control and hollowed out standards, Christine Pretorius worries that the proposed rules are a mechanism for changing how New Hampshire funds an adequate education. (Remember that New Hampshire has yet to deal with the consequences of the ConVal decisions that mandate increases in state funding for an adequate education).

It is hard to visualize the impact of the proposed ED306 rules on students and school districts. In a webinar, Reaching Higher New Hampshire gave examples of how the new rules might affect education in a property poor versus a property rich town. The webinar is available at

In early April, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who lacks classroom experience, and the State Board of Education are likely to forge ahead with their version of the rules changes. Students and school boards will watch the consequences play out over the coming years.

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Susan Holcombe served on the board of the American International School of Kabul. She lives in Hanover.