State Board & DOE working on way forward for Learn Everywhere, including rule changes, stakeholder meeting

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At its meeting on Thursday, March 14th, the State Board of Education laid out the next steps for the rules authorizing the Learn Everywhere proposal. The State Board held a public hearing on the proposed rules in February, and the Department of Education is convening a stakeholder group meeting on Monday, March 18 to gather input.

The proposal would allow the State Board to approve programs that would require districts to award academic credits for learning outside the classroom. It would transfer the authority to approve academic programs from the local school district and school board, to the State Board of Education, a 7-member body whose members are appointed by the Governor and Executive Council.

Programs run by nonprofit and for-profit organizations like the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, Big Fish Learning Academy, and others could be eligible to offer academic credit. As currently written, the rules would require districts to accept these credits towards their graduation requirements.  Read more about the Learn Everywhere program and how it compares with existing opportunities for our students here.

During yesterday’s meeting, several Board members raised concerns with the current proposed rules.

Talks of rule changes

The Department of Education presented the State Board of Education with the proposed “Learn Everywhere” rules in December and held a public hearing in February.

The initial proposal drew concern from educators, administrators, and other stakeholders and support from others, such as the Business and Industry Association, the Department of Business and Economic Affairs (BEA), New England College, and MyTurn. Read the submitted testimony here.

According to State Board of Education Chairman Drew Cline, the Department anticipated a lot of input and expected to make changes to the proposed rules based on the feedback from the hearing.

One that we heard loud and clear that I think is going to absolutely be in the final rule, whatever the final rule looks like, is limiting the number of credits… certainly no more than half,” Cline told the Board. “We heard a lot of feedback from people about the possibility of doing all or most of your high school coursework through Learn Everywhere, and that was not the intent.”

Cline continued, mentioning concerns with the State Board not having enough content expertise to approve programs.

“The Department is going to do accreditation legwork, but we are going to reach out to the field to get help in that accreditation process,” he said.

The rules would make clear that the Department would reach out to “ELO coordinators, districts, superintendents, principals, or whoever we can reach out to” that have the content expertise necessary to approve programs, Cline added.

“I think it will make the gap wider, instead of smaller”

Board member Cindy Chagnon brought up the costs associated with programs, and how it could widen the equity gap, especially in more rural areas of the state.

“Parents will have to pay these costs. So, maybe in Manchester, there is a Boys and Girls Club and it won’t cost anything if they can walk there, but if you get up to these towns in the north, I don’t think there are all these wonderful opportunities… I think it will make that gap bigger, instead of smaller,” she said.

But Cline said that the rules could present organizations with the opportunity to create a new “market” for offering academics, with a “tiered structure” for low-income students.

“You have these programs in Manchester, and out there, and if you have the opportunity to get those credits, you would create a market for that. You would create opportunities. The Boys and Girls Club has said they would come and do this,” responded Cline.

“I think you will see a tiered structure where they’d offer low income kids tuition-free opportunities. A lot of these organizations already do that–the YMCA has sliding scales… and I think you’re going to see more of that,” he continued.

Board member Helen Honorow mentioned conversations that she has had with Commissioner Frank Edelblut around Learn Everywhere.

“The Commissioner, he talked about parents not being able to afford a whole private school, but they could buy a piece of private school. That’s something he talked to me about. And we [the Board of Education] heard that this will increase the equity gap,” she told the Board.

“I heard the Commissioner at our last meeting talking about, that this is really going to the minimum standards. The diploma that you get when you get a minimum standards diploma. Should we be in the business of trying to encourage people to try and get a minimum standards diploma?,” Honorow continued.

“I want kids to have every opportunity possible, but I can’t see taking the educator out of it, and that’s what I think this program does,” she said. “That’s why I want us to focus on ELOs and making sure districts are able to offer them.”

Removing educators as gatekeepers

Member Honorow also expressed concern over how, as currently written, the Learn Everywhere rules would circumvent the educators that currently act as a safety net to make sure learning stays student-centered.

Currently, ELO coordinators work with students and community and business partners to design an experience that aligns with the district’s curriculum, has set learning objectives, and has a way to mitigate problems. But that is lost in the Learn Everywhere program, she said.

“The educator who is responsible for that ELO, when there were issues and that student talked to us about it, that educator took responsibility, has responsibility to make sure the resolution of the issue continued to be student centered and in that student’s best interest.”

“We have many permutations of learning outside..but that it has to have the educational focus with a certified educator that is going to be supervising and managing, in many ways.”

Cline had a different understanding, saying that the Learn Everywhere program would complement ELO programs, not supplant them. “My understanding is that this is not really designed to supplant ELOs, as much as compliment them. To give an alternative. Still have both and. To find another way to do it,” he said.

“I’m a huge fan learning outside of your building. And the concept of Learn Everywhere sounds so good until you get to the nitty gritty which is how is this going to be effective educational experience that a community can rely on and the way you do that is with an educator involved,” Honorow responded.

Stakeholder Meeting

Cline announced a nonpublic stakeholder group meeting that the Department of Education will be holding on Monday, March 18 to collect more input on the Learn Everywhere rules.

Representatives from the New Hampshire School Boards Association, the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, the Business and Industry Association, Career and Technical Education and Extended Learning Opportunities, and the disabilities community are among those invited to the meeting.

Board members asked Chairman Drew Cline questions about the meeting, including when it would be held.

“We also have to be careful if we get a quorum of the Board there,” Cline said.

“Have educators and classroom teachers been made aware of this meeting?,” asked one Board member.

“I’d have to check… I can reach out to some,” responded Angela Adams, a Program Specialist with the Commissioner’s office.

“The idea was not to get this as a public meeting, it was just to have a real conversation and try to work through some of the issues [with the rules],” answered Cline.

“I didn’t know about this meeting next week and I think we need to publicize it. To the extent any of us are able to attend, we should be there. Again, it’s talking about a board program, a board initiative,” Member Honorow said.

“The board was not brought into this, and it’s in some ways a board program. Because we are going to be, under the regulations as currently drafted, the certifiers,” she continued.

Data on ELOs

As noted in our post from last month’s State Board of Education Meeting, the question about how many Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) currently exist in the state, is integral to the discussion of Learn Everywhere.

The NH School Boards Association presented data collected on ELOs and on February 28th, the NHDOE sent out a request for schools to submit information on current ELOs by Monday, March 11th. The template required schools to submit student-level information on extended learning opportunities.

Some stakeholders have expressed concern over the compressed timeframe for response. However, the Extended Learning Opportunity Network, a collaborative of coordinators, educators, administrators, and teachers from across the state, has made a significant push to help collect this information.

Impacts of Pending Legislation

The New Hampshire Senate recently passed SB 140, which would affirm local districts’ roles in granting academic credit and remove the State Board’s authority to create rules on alternative programs that was given to them in 2018.

By passing the bill, it would effectively stop the proposed “Learn Everywhere” program. It passed easily on a voice vote, and now heads to the House.

Board members questioned whether to pause on the rulemaking process, since if it passes both chambers and gets signed into law, the rules will be moot.

“SB 140 has passed [the Senate]… It’s going to the House. I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but what’s our plan? Should we take a step back? We’ve done that in the past [with rules regarding Manifest Education Hardship],” asked Helen Honorow.

“Just to remind everybody, [SB 140] was a legislative fix from the Senate’s perspective on whether the Board of ed has the authority to require districts to take credits that we say you need to take,” she continued.

“I don’t know, we’d have to take a look at it. I think that, especially if we’re able to get an extension, we take a step back,” answered Cline.

Next Steps and a Possible Extension

Cline outlined the next steps for the Learn Everywhere rules. The State Board must vote on the rules by their May meeting in order for it to meet the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR)’s June deadline.

However, the State Board can request a 30-day extension “with a good reason,” noted the Department of Education’s Administrative Rules Coordinator, Amanda Phelps.

“[Collecting] public comment could be a good reason, and they would probably give us a 30-day extension for that,” she told the Board. “Should I ask for an extension?”

“We should be able to better assess it in April,” Cline responded.

During the meeting, the members reminded everyone that they are still accepting public comment on the proposed rules.

Next, the Department of Education will draft a final version of the rules, which are then brought before the State Board of Education. If the State Board approves the rules, they are sent to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) for review. If the SBOE does not approve the rules, they are sent back to the DOE.

Once submitted to JCLAR, the committee will consider the proposed rules at their next meeting. JCLAR accepts written comment and welcomes public comment at the meeting. Agendas are posted here.

Do you have questions on experiential learning programs available to students in New Hampshire? Do you have thoughts to share about new proposals like Learn Everywhere? Let us know at staff@reachinghighernh.org.