State Senator Dietsch explains position on Learn Everywhere and responds to criticism

  • State Senator Jeanne Dietsch at Peterborough Town Meeting in 2019. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Jeanne Dietsch Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/15/2020 1:41:59 PM

State Senator Jeanne Dietsch (D-Peterborough) explained her remarks and her position on Learn Everywhere legislation after some constituents criticized her statements on parents’ ability to choose curriculum for their children as “elitist.”

Audio published in an NH Journal article quotes Dietsch in the statehouse on June 9 during a House Education Committee hearing, expressing concern over parents vetting long lists of alternative learning opportunities with limited information on their quality.

“This idea of parental choice, that’s great if the parent is well-educated... There are some families that’s perfect for. But to force that and to make it available to everyone? … I think you’re asking for a huge amount of trouble,” Dietsch said during the hearing.

When Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) asked whether she believed that only well-educated parents can make proper decisions for the best interest of their children, Dietsch said, “In a democracy, and particularly in the United States, public education has been the means for people to move up to greater opportunities, for each generation to be able to succeed that much more than their parents have. My father didn’t graduate from high school, …so it was really important that I went to college,” she said. “When it gets into the details, would my father have known what courses I should be taking? I don’t think so,” Dietsch said. When asked the question again, she said, “If the dad’s a carpenter, and you want to become a carpenter, then yes — listen to your dad.”

Several constituents said the comments were insulting.

“It was hurtful to a lot a blue-collar folks who homeschool and those who helped their kids with remote learning,” Peterborough resident Kevin Brace said. “It’s sad that she said it, it was a very elitist thing to say,” he said, but that he doesn’t feel as though she should be vilified for her statement. “That being said, I wish she had just apologized,” he said.

“I did misspeak when I said well-educated, I should have said well-informed,” Dietsch said in an interview on Monday. “I’m sorry that I made people feel like.. [I said] they were incapable of making these decisions, but that doesn’t change the fact that some students don’t have the support,” she said.

Dietsch said she and Department of Education commissioner Frank Edelblut both want to expand Extended Learning Opportunities for high school students throughout the state and give the state’s Board of Education, an appointed body, authority to review and approve alternative learning programs, but they diverge on the methods. Dietsch said she does not want school districts to be required to accept credits from any institution the Board of Education approves. “The commissioner wants that list to be mandatory,” she said, rather than giving the local school board a say, as with current extended learning opportunities.

Dietsch said she is also concerned that the Learn Everywhere program doesn’t fund or provide professional guidance and support for students earning credits in alternative formats, the way existing extended learning opportunities provide. “How is the parent supposed to go through these options and do the research necessary to decide, first of all, what is this program, what does it offer, is it really a quality program?” she asked, if the state accepts an extensive list of options, including for-profit programs, but makes no provisions for guidance and education on the options. School districts like ConVal provide coordinator positions that mediate issues regarding student internships, she said. Without someone in that role, it could fall to the parent to step into a student’s workplace to resolve a conflict, which creates a very different and more difficult dynamic, she said. Homeschool families regularly vet and oversee different programs and curriculum, Dietsch said, “We can’t expect every parent to put in that level of time,” she said, particularly if some are working two or three jobs to get by. She introduced a bill that would allow school boards to choose whether they accepted a program for credit.

When asked to respond to constituents’ accusations of elitism and anti blue-collar sentiments, Dietsch pointed to her track record. “My dad owns a stockyard. I worked there as a teen, I helped with typing envelopes and so forth. I worked at a concrete company when I was going through college and I helped found MAxT Makerspace,” she said, and that she wants to encourage the opportunities available to students in extended learning opportunities programs, like ConVal’s Applied Technology Center or through internships with the Makerspace. “I think it’s sad that when you talk about somebody going into a trade profession that a lot of people take that as an insult,” she said.

“[Dietsch’s] response was  that we need oversight, kids are only successful because they’ve been through public school. That’s clearly not the case when you look at the data,” Dublin resident Alicia Ferguson said. Ferguson homeschools her children and knows another homeschooled family whose father is a carpenter. “We all have our blind spots, I feel like this is a blind spot she has,” Ferguson said, adding that she believes most parents have the best interest of their kids at heart, and that families don’t need heavy oversight to make decisions about their children’s education. Ferguson said she would be participating in a listening session Dietsch is arranging with local homeschool families in the coming week.

In the next couple of weeks, Dietsch said she would also be hosting a town hall on the future of education in New Hampshire. “What I’d really like to happen is to get all these voices together along with a real discussion of how we pay for our children’s education,” she said, noting that the working group tasked with reopening the state’s schools in the fall is not communicating with the state’s education funding commission, which decides how to fund education and legally defining an adequate education.

Dietsch is running for reelection in District 9, and launched her campaign on Friday night. 

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