I was encouraged after reading the recent opinion piece in the Exeter News-Letter penned by Mark Portu and endorsed by fellow members of the Exeter Region Cooperative School Board and its Budget Advisory Committee.

Board members recognize that a $53 million operating budget to provide education to students at the Cooperative Middle School, Exeter High School, Exeter Adult Education and the Seacoast School of Technologyis a lot of money. However, instead of explaining at length why we need to spend that much money to educate our children, they have set a goal over the next 12-24 months to find an alternative and implement a new model for quality yet fiscally responsible education at the local level. That is a breath of fresh air.

While we can all attest to the fact that spending money on a quality education is a benefit to society as a whole — studies show that an educated populous equates to better jobs, better taxpayers and upstanding members of our community — it’s what we get for our money that needs constant review.

As a member of Leadership Seacoast’s Class of 2013, I’ve been preparing for our next curriculum day — Education Day on Wednesday at Spaulding High School in Rochester. In preparation I’ve combed over several studies conducted by the N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies  on education funding and education quality and attainment, reviewed reports from Early Childhood Advisory Council, and watched the 2010 documentary “Waiting for Superman.”

I don’t know whether it was the emotional journey of several young students highlighted in “Waiting for Superman” that tugged at my heartstrings or the shocking statistics I discovered as I read through these numerous studies, but I now feel empowered to make changes. While I’m not an educator on the front lines, I know there are ways as the editor of a local newspaper, as a mother and as a taxpayer I can bring about change. For example, I can call attention to the need for education reform.

Since 1971 educational spending in the U.S. has grown from $4,300 to more than $9,000 per student but reading and math scores have flatlined, according to statistics presented in the 2010 documentary. Among 30 developed countries the U.S. ranked 25th in math and 21st in science. The film also claims that by the year 2020, it’s estimated that there will be 123 million high-paying, high-skill jobs in the United States but only 50 million Americans will be qualified to fill these positions.

Following the release of the fall 2012 New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP)  test scores, New Hampshire’s Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry said, “We know that close to 60 percent of the students who score below proficient in mathematics on the Grade 3 NECAP test are likely to still be below proficient when they reach Grade 8.”

Paul Holloway, chairman of the N.H. Community College System’s board of trustees, said some 65 percent of students who enroll are required to take some form of remedial math.

Last June a panel of Exeter High School alumni who are recent graduates and currently enrolled in college said they were not prepared for college-level writing, nor scientific writing.

“I took honors and (advanced placement) English courses, but I didn’t know how to do science writing,” said Dylan Ryan, Class of 2010 and student at Duke University, in June. “I could do literary analysis and creative writing, but I couldn’t write a lab report.”

If we’re paying tens of millions of dollars on educating our children but not providing them with the skills they need to compete for a job in the work force we’re doing something wrong.

We need to make changes and it starts at the local level. We shouldn’t adopt an attitude that education reform has to start at the national level and trickle its way down. There are things we can do here and now in the Exeter area.


Emily QuirkEmily Quirk is Exeter News-Letter Editor at Seacoast Media Group and a member of the Leadership Seacoast Class of 2013.