By Michelle Levell
This week a video was posted of the state Board of Education meeting on Thursday, March 23, 2017. The agenda always allows public comment and states Board members will only ask clarifying questions but will not provide feedback. This day several parents signed up to speak. Nonetheless Chairman Tom Raffio was repeatedly rude, condescending, and disrespectful towards parents. He interrupted nearly every one and made a point of “correcting” them.
Six adults and one student addressed the state Board of Education about their frustrations and concerns surrounding Common Core (aka College and Career Readiness Standards) and associated testing. Some also discussed Competency-Based Education and the aligned grading system. They universally complained that the standards were exceptionally low in math and are putting students’ future education at risk in higher-level math and science.
Chairman Tom Raffio interrupted nearly every adult and chastised them for their “incorrect” opinions. When one parent dared to reply to him, Mr. Raffio cut her off. He consistently belittled their concerns and told them that they should only appeal to their local school boards even though many stated that they had already done so multiple times.
Below are several quotes from Mr. Raffio from the meeting:
Testing has absolutely nothing to do with the Common Core (video 12:40).
We know this is blatantly false. The statewide assessment, the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA), is aligned to College and Career Readiness Standards (aka Common Core) which were adopted by the state BOE in 2010. This information comes directly from the state Department of Education’s website about the standards and SBA.
Mr. Raffio chastised another parent saying:
I have to correct a few things. Competency-based education, Common Core has not been a disaster… When you speak of the public school system being disastrous, that’s totally incorrect as well.
He then further belittles the parent saying she should address this with her local board and it has “nothing to do with the over-arching policies here so I do have to correct that” (video at 21:57). In other words, she should not bring these issues to the state BOE; they don’t want to hear it.
Mr. Raffio literally interrupted Mrs. Doris Hohensee, a Nashua School Board member (at 31:32), to rudely tell her that she was coming up to the end of her five minutes to speak. When she was done (at 33:57) Chairman Raffio “corrected” her. He said he always found the department to be transparent on all requests. He also said it should be directed to local school boards. Mrs. Hohensee replied saying it’s impolite to correct people, instead of stating his opinion, when they’re bringing their concerns to the board. Mr. Raffio said that he “can’t let it stand” when the public express negatives about the department or board.
Mr. Raffio could not restrain himself and cut off another parent (at 40:18). When the parent tried to reply, he became even ruder and said she needs to address these concerns to her local board even though she had done so before.
Throughout the public comments, Mr. Raffio showed complete contempt for parents. He repeatedly “corrected” them and interrupted. It is no wonder that parents are hesitant to speak up when they are belittled and treated so rudely.
Is this how any state Board of Education member should treat the public?
Chairman Raffio’s attitude towards parents is not unique or new. The former Commissioner of Education, Dr. Virginia Barry, spoke at a public hearing on February 6, 2014 and referred to parents who objected to Common Core standards as “a small, loud group of misinformed individuals.” Mr. Raffio and then Commissioner Barry also spoke badly about parents and argued with Manchester School Board members at a May 9, 2015 public meeting about Common Core standards and parents’ ability to refuse their children’s participation in statewide assessments. In May 2015 BOE member Bill Duncan published a letter saying that parents must subjugate their children’s welfare for the state’s interests and participate in statewide testing.
All too often bureaucrats sit in Concord making decisions about our children’s education, but have no respect for the people whose lives are most impacted. Appointed state agency members and legislators make new statutes and rules that govern how our schools must operate. The state Board of Education members decide whether or not proposed charter schools can open, determine what state standards will be the foundation for all statewide assessments, and heavily influence what the Department of Education develops for teacher training and accountability (ie testing) tools.
Where is the accountability to parents? Chairman Raffio dismissed their concerns. He clearly believes parents should not be part of the discussion and decision process. But true accountability is to parents, not bureaucrats.
Mr. Raffio’s term on the state Board of Education officially ended on January 31, 2017. Governor Sununu may name a nominee anytime and has the authority to select the Chairman. Because Gov. Sununu has demonstrated a commitment to school choice, it should be an easy decision for him not to renew Mr. Raffio’s appointment.