Expanding Educational Opportunities

Have you ever noticed how focused children can be when playing with Legos or coloring? Mr. Fred Rogers had it right decades ago when he said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”

This is no different if the student is five years-old or fifteen.

Children learn through a variety of activities, including those outside the traditional school environment and schedule. Whether it is participation in a sports activity, volunteering at a local animal-rescue shelter, joining a robotics team, or taking part in a theater production, children learn from hands-on engagement outside the four walls of a classroom or the hours of 8:00am to 3:00pm.

This is the concept behind the New Hampshire Department of Education’s new program called “Learn Everywhere.” It will allow public-school students to participate in more educational opportunities like sports, volunteering, and academic clubs; activities that to them might feel like “play,” but teach valuable skills and count it as course credit! Ironically, their home-educated peers already enjoy earning course credits in just this manner.

This innovative program adheres to the state’s philosophy and statutes, maintains the strong tradition of local control, while allowing greater flexibility for students to pursue interests and potential careers while earning high-school credit. Local school districts have policies governing how many credits from alternative learning options may be applied towards graduation, so this does not diminish local districts’ control for granting diplomas.

The state BOE already credentials schools and teachers; this simply allows the BOE to also credential these courses, unbundling learning from bricks and mortar, while expanding the opportunity for an adequate education.

New Hampshire already has a process for determining course credits [found in our education rules for determining minimum standards] which includes a review by the NH BOE. If successful, a “Learn Everywhere” program would get to operate for one year with the possibility of a five-year renewal. Annual reports would be submitted to the state board to ensure the program meets requirements for an opportunity for an adequate education.

Modeled on the existing Charter School authorization program, “Learn Everywhere” is adapted for individual programs instead of entire schools. It builds on Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) that are available and managed at the local district level. “Learn Everywhere” allows for these opportunities to extend beyond zip-codes, making more options available for students and simplifying the process for organizations and businesses that wish to participate in multiple areas.

“Learn Everywhere” will not impact school funding because these opportunities already exist. They are simply awarding credit towards graduation for participation. Many of these programs are available for free or reduced fees like those available through the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA, other community organizations, and after-school clubs. Typically, alternative learning programs are at the family’s expense, not the district’s. For example, if a student pursues classes at Southern NH University, those programs are available at a discount, but the family is responsible for the tuition, not the local district school. “Learn Everywhere” is fully consistent with this practice.

Like other alternative learning opportunities, “Learn Everywhere” is entirely optional, for students and organizations.

Education is not one-size-fits-all and this program recognizes and provides an opportunity for Granite State students to explore more educational options as a complement to their traditional classroom experiences. Increasingly, public education recognizes the need to individualize learning; “Learn Everywhere” augments these efforts to expand options to more students across districts.

Increasingly education is moving to “course choice,” not just “school choice.” More and more learning occurs across platforms, with a little here and there. Even now students may take some classes at the local district school, some online, some at home, and some through the local community college. “Learn Everywhere” recognizes this trend and positions NH as a front-runner in this new frontier for public education.

At a time when public-school districts face tight budgets, declining enrollment, and demands for more individualized instruction, New Hampshire’s “Learn Everywhere” program is a win-win for students, schools, organizations, businesses, and our communities.

Support Individual Learning Opportunities

The state Board of Education will hold a public hearing on the “Learn Everywhere” program on Thursday, February 14th starting at 9:00am. Send them an email about your family’s experiences with hands-on learning.

If you would like to share your stories with us, you can email them to info@SchoolChoiceNH.org.

 

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