Op/Ed: New Hampshire can do better at creating a 21st Century Education System

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 7.12.38 PMNew Hampshire’s political and educational leaders are debating the role of the common core standards and the Smarter Balanced assessments, and Manchester has requested a waiver from testing, because Superintendent Dr. Livingston and her teachers know that standardized testing actually hurts children; it does more harm than good to their emotional, psychological and physical well-being. In the 21st century can’t we do better, can’t we come up with a new vision of a system of education that actually empowers the full and unique potentials of each child— the whole child?

This is what is very wrong about the United States Department of Education’s policies on standards and testing, it is not the model or prism of thinking that will allow the United States nor New Hampshire to flourish in the 21st century and beyond. Sadly, the New Hampshire Department of Education is not doing enough for Manchester and all SAUs.

Consider that if New Hampshire did not apply for a waiver from the United State Department of Education in June 2013, then 75 percent of their schools would have been labeled “failing” in 2014, in spite of having made personalized learning state-wide policy way back in 2009! Additionally, per pupil spending in New Hampshire is at the top when compared nationally. We can only conclude that given innovative policies like personalized learning along with substantial per pupil expenditures that the NHDOE is ineffective when implementing policies, what is called ineffective linkage between policy and practice.

New Hampshire could be in the forefront nationally when attempting to disrupt this outdated model where recently Secretary Arne Duncan approved a waiver request from districts in California and Massachusetts, why not New Hampshire’s Manchester district?

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 7.13.53 PMAs Congress debates the reauthorization of the ESEA (No Child Left Behind Act) numerous educational leaders have taken both sides of the standardized testing issue, and now with a whole new set of standards known as the Common Core the debate has been heightened; this is as it should be since our children’s future well-being is at stake. I hope to place an exclamation point on those voices locally and around the country that are against such outdated practices. I have consulted recently to the United States Department of Education on the Race to the Top initiative where there is a strong chorus nationwide against NCLB type testing requirements. In all but a few of the States waivers have been granted holding schools and districts accountable using archaic methods. In fact, very forward, visionary, 21st century thinking has emerged nationwide, and many school districts will need to play catch up.

Can’t we do better?

A 21st century schooling model teaches young people to learn how to inquire inward, into their deepest selves to know what is important to them, their futures, and then to connect their knowledge more deeply. Substantive academic studies demonstrate that when standards guide the pedagogy then students cannot and do not transfer this learning to other areas of their life, and even to other academic subjects, thus risking the potential for future success. Most directly and importantly, numerous research studies demonstrate that the most important protective factor and key indicator of a positive life course trajectory for children is self-knowledge, not how well one performs on a test.
Standardized testing reflects a 19th century education model in that it rests upon the psychological assumption that cold cognition, or thoughts and information should be rationally processed. Whereas a 21st century education model is built upon hot cognition, or where intrinsic motivation, emotions, interests, life purpose in service to others, self-direction and self-regulation, personal choice, and individually designed futures are the priority when designing and evaluating curriculum and instruction, not facts and information simply. The field of psychology has evolved dramatically but these models have not influenced educational schooling best practices.

Doesn’t it make sense to create a system that is learning based, giving priority to the person’s individual needs instead of the standardized scale of learning? Shouldn’t we be imparting competencies that develop the strengths of each person and dedicate resources to make certain that students are learning in accordance who they are, their sense of their own purpose and dreams for their lives? All this and more is possible, yet the current paradigm of education does not allow for us to create new methods that place students and their potential at the center of schooling.

What is often missing when standardized tests are the measure of educational effectiveness is the ability to take a deeper look at the inner self of the learner, to know who they are and want to become. Therefore, the focus of modern education should be on each student’s needs across all domains: social, emotional, physical, psychological and academic.

A true modern education teaches students’ understanding of their own hopes and dreams in life, to enable them academically, professionally, and socially to become the types of people they aspire to be with all the self-attributions they have and would like to develop.

We need to envision a transformed system of education that can support learners in gaining self-knowledge for personal and professional potential so they can demonstrate real competencies to succeed in life, rather than curricula based upon standardized knowledge and common core academic standards, a primary focus in education today.

New Hampshire policy makers have not done their homework to research 21st century best practices; therefore, our communities and society will remain stuck in the 19th producing people who are not well and not flourishing to the level of their God given potentials. We can do better! Parents, let’s demand more from our educational leaders so that our children are happier, healthier, and more able to flourish from their schooling experiences.


Henry G. Brzycki
Henry G. Brzycki

Dr. Henry G. Brzycki is President of The Brzycki Group and The Center for the Self in Schools, a human development and learning organization based in State College, Pennsylvania. He is the author of the book and research on emerging best practices to improving psychological and physical well-being of our children through schooling: The Self in Schooling: Theory and Practice – How to Create Happy, Healthy, Flourishing Children in the 21st Century. Dr. Brzycki can be contacted at: Henry@Brzyckigroup.com.