More Attacks on Learn Everywhere

Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning. ~ Fred Rogers

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, participating in a scouts program, 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 Learn Everywhere program. It allows public-school students to participate in more educational opportunities like sports, volunteering, internships, and academic clubs; activities that to them might feel like play, but teach valuable skills and count as course credit. Learn Everywhere empowers a personalized education while remaining in the public-school system. Ironically, their home-educated peers already enjoy earning course credits in just this manner.

Unfortunately, partisan attacks in the legislature and Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) have tried to repeal and block Learn Everywhere before it can be implemented.

In 2019, Senate Bill 140 sought to repeal the program entirely. It passed the House and Senate, but the Governor’s veto was sustained this fall.

Following passage of the 2018 legislation to enable Learn Everywhere, the NH Department of Education developed rules that provide details on approval and operations of the program. The state Board of Education approved them in early summer 2019, sending the proposed rules to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR). This is a committee comprised of NH Senate and House members that must approve state agency rules prior to implementation. JLCAR met twice – once in July and again in October – to review the DOE’s rules and both times voted against them along party lines.

There are two bills filed for 2020 that attack Learn Everywhere: House Bill 1454 and Senate Bill 514.

HB 1454 is identical to the 2019 bill and would completely repeal Learn Everywhere before it can even start. It has a public hearing with the House Education Committee on Thursday, January 16th starting at 1:00pm in the Legislative Office Building, room 207.

SB 514 would undermine the authority of the state Department of Education to develop education rules as it regards Learn Everywhere. The department is empowered for all other areas of NH education including public district schools, chartered public school, private schools, home education, teacher certification, and more, all of which is reviewed and approved by the state Board of Education. However, this bill would dictate the rules for this program alone. A public hearing in the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee is not scheduled yet.

There are several aspects of Learn Everywhere that are misunderstood.

  1. Local Control

Learn Everywhere fully respects local control. It is an optional program for students that allows up to 30% of graduation credits to come from outside programs, such as dual-enrollment, Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs), or Learn Everywhere. Personalized learning through Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) is already available to students, but commonly limited to those within the same boundaries as the school district, if offered at all. Learn Everywhere expands on this successful program to include opportunities available by those approved for credit by the state DOE. Students would still need to obtain 70% or more of graduation credits from in-house sources.

Nothing is more consistent with local control than empowering families and students with choice.

Additionally, the state Department of Education is already responsible for the governance of graduation requirements as all public schools, both local and charters, issue state-approved diplomas. The DOE is also responsible for education rules in Ed 306 that pertain to curriculum, graduation requirements and co-curricular programs as well as those regarding alternative programs. Including Learn Everywhere accreditation is consistent with their existing authority.

  1. Cost

Currently many “extra” programs available through our public schools have an additional cost that is the responsibility of participating students’ families. Learn Everywhere is an optional program, not required for graduation, and the family, not the taxpayers, are responsible for any cost involved. This is consistent with other outside programs such as dual-enrollment classes. Also, many potential Learn Everywhere organizations may offer financial support to low-income students.

  1. Access

Concerns regarding access have been raised as it relates to the mandate that public schools must offer a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

This is reminiscent of the lawsuit against Harvard and MIT. These universities offered open online courses and other videos, but are facing a suit that they are not accessible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing even though the videos have captions. The issue is that if something is not fully accessible to all, then it shouldn’t be available to any. Instead of encouraging and supporting the expansion of these alternative learning avenues, some would shut down options for everyone.

Opponents assume that organizations accredited for Learn Everywhere cannot or will not be able to accommodate students with learning differences. While some potential Learn Everywhere organizations may not be equipped to handle every kind of learning difference, they are not being given the opportunity to try to make it available to students with special needs.

It is incorrect to presume that public education is fully accessible to all students. Currently school boards are empowered to reassign students with learning differences to other schools, including out-of-district public schools, public academies, and private schools, including religious institutions, and the funding follows the child. There are approximately 50 private schools across New Hampshire that are utilized by districts for this purpose.

Even within the public-school system, Local Education Agencies (ie district public schools) are responsible for coordinating services for students enrolled in chartered public schools; unless directed by the district schools, charters are not responsible for providing services to students. The LEA is also responsible for any testing of students suspected to have learning differences and developing an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for them. Similarly, participating Learn Everywhere organizations would need to work with a student’s LEA to understand his or her needs and make accommodations as appropriate.

Read more about Learn Everywhere at Attempts to End an Educational Option Before It Begins, Pushing Families Out of Public Schools, Want to Learn Everywhere in NH, Who is Opposed to Educational Opportunities, and 2019 Highlights Part 2.

HB 1454, the bill to repeal Learn Everywhere, has a public hearing in the House Education Committee this Thursday, January 16th starting at 1:00pm in the Legislative Office Building (LOB), room 207. The LOB is at 33 N State St, Concord, NH 03301. There is on-street parking and a parking garage nearby. If you want to speak at the hearing, you need to fill out a pink card and hand it in to the committee. If you’re unable to attend, you may email the committee.